When the rain starts to fall it doesn’t seem so serious. It doesn’t look like it will turn into a deluge of water, gushing in alleys, sweeping debris, twigs and later trees, felling walls, breaching and defying everything man had tried to build in the face of nature. It seems like any other time it rained in Africa; a blessing. Because our rain feeds our lives. It turns the leaves green again with life, washes dust off our roofs and roads.
On the roads traffic built up and then subsided, most motorists got off the roads and then somehow it was just her on the road. Her edging against the brown guttural water, going against this “blessing” from the skies. The clock on the dashboard read after 6pm in glowing blue. Slowly, she nudged her way through the rains, parting the floods with the nose of her car, steam rising from the bonnet. The wiper waved furiously as she gently pressed her foot on the accelerator, feeling mother nature adamantly resisting her progress which by now had been reduced to 10km/hr.
She was passing a part of a neighbourhood dotted with mabati structures by the road; kiosks and vibandas, small wooden walled structures, a smorgasbord of blue collar dwelling. The sky had turned the colour of old asbestos; a little sinister but nothing worrisome. In fact, her only worry was that she needed to get home in time to look at the children’s homework and make sure they were showered and fed. Especially the youngest who didn’t feed well in her absence, joshing about with food in her mouth, refusing to swallow without the help of threats, cajoling, bribery and a little loving spank on his small diapered bottoms.
In the car her mind drifted towards the usual humdrum of life; she thought about what she would wear the next day for her presentation with a client. Pencil skirt or the dress with the white collar? Brown wedges or the new high fashion turquoise heels she hadn’t worn since Rita’s wedding? The last time she had worn her yellow heels and blue skirt. She hoped that the crazy bat from marketing with her big nest of hair would not make it for this particular presentation, not with her sarcastic and disparaging remarks during meetings.
Outside the rain drummed harder on her windscreen and the wipers worked even harder for her vision. She could hear the gushing water scratching under her car like a battalion of meleeing rats. The car radio played a song that her pre-teen daughter loved humming to.
At some point she realised that the car couldn’t move any further so she stopped it in the middle of this raging flood of brown water, sure that the water would abate in no time for her to proceed home. The engine idled. The windows steamed up and she opened her window a crack, letting in the sound of the floods like a bad omen in the Old Testament. She rolled them back up.
Suddenly the car started inching back, seeming to lose its control and for the first time she freaked out . It felt like the ground was moving, that her car had turned into a water vessel. Panic rose to her throat like a dark ball of rainy clouds. She could feel the car literally turning into a paper boat in the raging floods, lifting it slightly and curling the front in the swelling floods. She held tightly onto the steering wheel, fully realising the futility of her actions.
The car was now being swept down the road in rapid reverse even when the gear was on Drive! She let out a scream, or rather a loud abrupt yelp that now gave form to the gathering terror. Outside, by the roadside stood a group of people who had gathered to watch this freak show of desperation. A pitiful arena that watched nature pitted against man, or in this case woman. They say nature is a woman, a mother even, and so technically two mothers squared it off in the wet ring.
Her hands started shaking. She could hear the water, now sounding like an an animal on heat, thrashing against the body of the car, hugging it in an embrace of evil, rocking it, demanding for it to get out of its path. Then, suddenly the car stopped or was stopped by a hard obstacle. Her bosom frantically moving up and down she swirled in her seat, eyes wild with fear, and stared at the back window now covered with the mist of rising dread. Her heart beat so fast she could hear it over the radio. The crowd – rubbernecks – at the edge of the road had now grown, the men shouting and gesturing. Phones came up to record her. “Oh shit,” she thought, “I will be on Facebook by the time I get home.”
Of course this was when she still had held and comprehended the concept of hope and redemption. She was still in a place where death was still this, this, thing, that we kept away in a dark corner where we all stuck everything that we thought implausible or incomprehensible, the same place we store anything science fiction. This was when she was still certain of the possibility of looking at her children’s homework and making it for the meeting the following day in her turquoise shoes. But terror was still knocking at her door.
She opened her window and saw with increasing panic that the water was slowly inching up her door. The sound was even scarier; this sound she had never heard before in her life, an angry, vengeful and malicious sound. She felt cornered by it.
She didn’t realise how perilous her situation was until water started finding its way into the car. It came in through unseen openings, spilling into a small puddle at her feet. She couldn’t believe that this is the same water she has showered with all her 45 years of life, water she has boiled to make spaghetti, water she has used from a hosepipe to water her frangipani, water that removed the dirt off the backs of her children after school. Now she was getting trapped and imprisoned with it..
Of course she was terrified and her fear was even more illustrated by the massive crowd at the shores – because that’s what it felt like now, that she was at sea and the rest of watching humanity were at shore. She felt that she had stepped away from the land of the living and now somehow was crossing the Rubicon towards this ominous island of doom. She knew she was in grave danger when she saw the women staring at her cover their mouths, piety and sorrow on their faces.
She really should have learnt how to swim, she thought in those final moments of terror.
She called her husband. It rang eight times – “Don pick up!” – she cried. There was no answer. She then called her father who had taken a second wife and had thrown the proverbial spanner in the family. The last time they spoke she had told told him passionately, “dad, she is my age!” He picked. Oh he picked! The irony wasn’t lost on her. “Dad,” she moaned, suddenly turning into his little girl not the woman who pointed his errant ways, “I’m going to die!” The father who she hadn’t spoken to in over eight months was alarmed by the premonition in the tone of her voice. “Call Don!” she said over and over in tears as the she felt the cold water rise up her calves. My shoes are getting ruined, she thought.
The car was officially flooding.
People were now screaming at the shore. This could not possibly be happening to her. This was someone else’s movie and it would end. A song was playing on radio now, she didn’t know it then but the song was Waves by Mr Probz. A soundtrack of peril.
…My face above the water/
/my feet above the ground/ ..
/I’m slowly drifting away/
/wave after wave/
and it feels like I’m drowning/
pulling against the stream/…
The car started to shift again, it spun slightly to the left, and then to the right, the rain dislodging it from whatever Angel that had initially stopped its backward movement. In panic she dropped the phone, and it sunk into the puddle of water at her feet, drowning the voice of her father and her last bridge to anyone who knew her name. Hope waned quickly like evening light in July, the sky taking the colour of a fish’s gums. She couldn’t swim, neither could the people at the shore, to save her. She was helpless, trapped between a car and a very wet place.
Her helplessness dissolved into wails. She started banging the steering wheel. God why? Why are you going to let me die in this car like this? Why do you want me to leave my children? Don! Don!
In that brief and fleeting moment of desperation and horror, the water jerked the car violently and we see her in that final moment, throwing the door open maybe as a last ditched attempt to salvation, maybe with the half mind to jump from this soon-to-be coffin with a number plate into the raging devilish water. And that’s the last we see before the car plunges on its back and the water seems to win, dragging it, swallowing it, sweeping her away like it had the twigs and the walls and everything that had tried to stand in her way.
I saw that video on social media. A most dreadful video and how ruthless, cold and dedicated death can be when it seems to have cornered you. How people watched helpless as that woman got swept away in that Rav4. I thought about the terror of that moment. The sheer hopelessness of her situation. How many calls she might have made and how many of those calls went unanswered. How she might have known at the final moment that her number might have been up and she was never going to hold her children again, or check their homework again or wash their hair. How they might learn that their mother might have died in the rain, alone in a car she might not have finished paying for. Dying in debt, like we all do. And how Don would spending the rest of his life tormented by those missed calls, the guilt peeling off the weight of his bones and hollowing out his eyes in the ensuing months or even years of mourning.
I wondered what I would have done if I were in the same situation with my children strapped at the back, water was slowly rising in the car, around the feet of those poor terrified and screaming children certain that this was death lurching at the car and eventually it was going to leave with all of us or two of us or – if gracious – leave with only one of us and me hoping and praying that it would take me and leave them because there is no way I could find it possible to be able to live without one of them, not through the guilt and nightmares and pain and the a horde of therapists who open their mouths in therapy but only smoke comes out because surely nobody is yet to invent the language of those who have lost a child.
It’s unimaginable terror.
I have asked around about what happened to the lady in that car, even googled this incidence: Flood casualty in coast area/ woman in coast floods/ car owner swept by floods in coast/. It’s like a needle in a haystack. I took the futility of this exercise as a sign that maybe by some miracle the Good Lord had interceded and guided that poor woman out of the way of that sticky situation and away from the shadow of death.
I hope that she survived and eventually got home safely to her children’s homework, albeit in soaked shoes.