Chapter 13: The Battle for the Sewer Systems
Friday afternoon at Breezers, the pub is situated on the mouth of the Amanzimtoti river.
John and I left early from school to complete the story.
The sun is now down.
Streets are back in control of the dogs.
The color of the streets is dull and gray. Surrounded by small houses with a few lights. Street lights in the streets do not work the darkness facing me is complete. Until the moon will find his path across the skies.
I am now dragging my lifeless legs through the dog controlled streets under the lightless streets in my search for a storm water system. It will allow me to move at any time day or night. But also a system where I will be without direction, without the assistance of stars in the night sky, without the guidance of the sun and moon. But I will have time to recover and build up strength.
I know that I need to feed myself, build my strength I need to find clean water to drink to keep my mind going, to keep my body recovering. All this is on my new wish-list my new quest to survival.
As I drag my body forward without the protection of the cardboard box, I feel how the tar stones wear my dress.
I feel….., for a moment I stop, I feel a sensation of pain in my one leg. The most wonderful pain that I have ever felt. A pain of hope and of joy that my legs will recover.
With this joyful feeling, I continue on the road, the road to my freedom, to my sanity and to my survival.
Under the tree in front of me, I can see a small opening on the sidewalk. An opening that may lead to the sewer and storm water systems.
I become aware of a small body that is walking with me. A body that tries and comfort himself in my flowery dress.
“It is one of the pipe puppies, a puppy that decided to follow me on my journey. Feeding and caring for the little fellow will be challenging.
“There is also the danger that the mom will follow to find him,” I think
I try to chase the little animal, but with no effect, the little dog is stubborn, stubborn like me. He has made me his bitch. I have to pick the little fellow up, and so I do. With the puppy now on my back, I continue to the little gap under the sidewalk.
Moonlight has now broken the eastern skies. The yellow half-moon does not color the gray from the streets. But it gives me enough light to see the entrance of the storm system. In the weak moonlight, I look at my new companion. His tiny pleading eyes stare at me. Little puppy dog eyes I think they say.
I am now at the opening, an opening packed with rubble plastic and leaves from the trees. My hands and fingers start digging to open it. To make the gap that will fit my skinny body and that of my new puppy through. A puppy without a name but if the small fellow survives the night I will have to name him. The new naming game will be a game of wait and see. I cannot afford emotional attachment at this stage of my life.
“I cannot afford to get attached to some little body, to a name and then lose him too,” I start my train of thought.
My body now slip through the opening under the sidewalk, the little fellow crawl onto my hand and I assist him to enter with me. The darkness of the small water collection chamber swallows us.
I cannot see the sidewalls or my environment, but I know that I will find the pipe that will lead me away from eyes at the bottom. It will be a tight fit but with legs out of commission, the slide through the pipes will be no different than me sliding down the roads.
On my voyage, through pipes, I expect rats, insects, spiders and snakes that might make my journey difficult, but no enemy eyes.
Before I enter the pipe I will have to orientate myself. Find proper direction and then work a system out that will keep direction for me in the dark. With the assistance of the Southern Cross and two little stone, which I have picked up. I start my orientation by placing the stones on the concrete next to my new door. My head drops to line my eyes up with the stone closest to me to ensure that I am looking South. I now determine East on my left, west on my right and North behind me. I pull my head back and feel with my hands for the wall of the water chamber that surrounds me. With the stone, I scratch the directions into the concrete walls.
I now close my eyes and visualize the markings that I cannot see in the dark. Satisfied with new directions my hands start to dig into the rubble at the bottom to search for the pipes
There are two pipes at the bottom their directions are not ideal one is running in a western direction while the other in an eastern direction.
I decided to follow the pipe that will take me west towards the sea and through the city.
“If I can follow the pipe to the sea, I will be able to exit on one of the beaches. With my little new companion on my lower back, I start the crawl. A crawl that will be fine as long as there are no major rainstorms, water that fill the pipes water that will drown the two of us.
I know that it is not raining season and my mind accepts the risks of an unwanted storm. Other than above ground I now dig my elbows into the mud at the bottom of the pipe. Into the debris that litter the pipe to propel me forward.
I can hear the squeak of rats that occupy the pipes and sewer systems.
“I will have encounters with these little animals, they might be my only source of protein for the next few weeks,” I think.
“That is if I cannot find any food on my short night journeys above ground. Journeys that will only have the purpose of fresh water and food.
I need to find another new chamber where I can check direction, and where I will decide on my way forward. Without the push of my legs, my progress is slow and painful.
I will need to keep my mind occupied with positive thoughts and visions of better places, better times, times that will only ever be relived if I succeed.
I have to place my mind in a happy place, a place of peace, while my elbows and arms dig through the rubble and mud.
Except for a few rats the first day in the storm-water system went without any serious problems.
The darkness became my companion, the pain in my legs my hope, and the concrete pipe around me my security.
In the distance I can now see light; I know that it will be a street opening. The intensity of the light tells me that the sun is now out that the night has passed.
It tells me that the street dwellers above will start their daily tasks, that the dogs from hell would have left the streets a while ago. Soldiers will patrol the streets and that my pipe cover will be my only den for me and the little dog.
I remember my promise to name the puppy if he survives the night. Naming him will be like adoption papers that I will sign a bond that will be sworn in the darkness of these pipes.
I can feel how the little fellow sucks on my neck.
My arms and elbows crawl forward towards the new light, towards the water collection area under the pavement. An area where I will be able to hide and see, see the condition of the little fellow, the condition of the now painful sores on my arms and torso.
I smell the muddy sewer smell in the water that surrounds me. Through the storm-water entrance, I see feet passing, truck tires driving. I see the world that I am not part off, that does not know me.
My hands are now holding the little brown dog. I rub his little dirty skin, a skin riddled with fleas and dirty sewer mud.
His little teeth are chewing on my fingers. My eyes dwell to the sores on my stomach I see the red swelling around the sores, swelling that spell infection from the dirty water and infected mud. On the sores on my arms, I detect movement. In the half light, I realize that the movement is caused by little white maggots from the blue flies that feasted on me while I was lying in my mass-grave.
I know that the infection in my wounds can cause my death, cause a fever that will slow me down.
With a new little rock that I found on the floor between the debris, I start scratching the directions, as I remember them into the walls of the chamber. I remember the adjustment that I need to make and do it. These markings will be checked when darkness bring the stars around.
Time to sleep, to forget the hunger and thirst until I can move into the world of the road dwellers during the night.
With my arms around the little dog, I close my eyes and allow my mind to drift into the darkness of dreams with my new best friend in the pipes.
My mind slips through history, thoughts of the cause of me being here.
I see the churches filled. Cars parked to listen to stories of those behind the iron curtain, who smuggle Bibles within Russia. I hear the stories of suppression, stories of mutilation, of torture if they catch them. Church goers donate generously to the cause, to a course of Christianity, a course that will become the will of God. Pulpits are filled with stories of the red threat, “die rooi gevaar” (red danger) threatening our own existence, threatening the borders of our country, the people that I love and care for.
I learn that black and white citizens are different and should stay apart. But then in the war, we are united against the red dangers of a Russian invasion.
I see the bombs explode in the streets of Pretoria the mutilated bodies and the dead. I feel how my emotion climbs, how the school system succeeds to turn me into a good soldier.
But then I see the little black boys mutilated for their course, the course of a red army, the same one that I should hate. I see the children soldiers fighting for a course; a course that they do not understand, a course to fulfill the greed of those who sit in chambers. Leaders without compassion for the people on the ground.
My mind removes itself from the dream and thoughts, a dream that played like a history book through my mind, I wake up to;
Night two in the storm-water systems.
Darkness falls over our sleeping chamber. The chamber where the little Jackal dog and I slept in the sewer mud. Through the small opening, I can see one of the few streetlights that are still working, the half circle stripe that it paints over the dark pothole filled tar road. I see the shades that fill the empty streets. A baby cry in one of the nearby houses. A house that will have food and perhaps a tap for fresh water. I know that I will have to get my legs working. I will need to break into a facility where I can get medical supplies, fresh bandages, and antibiotics for the infection that are now festering my body. I need some milk and soft food for my four legged friend, water for us while we are in the dark pipes. I need clothes that will suit my new lifestyle in the pipes. All this can only be done if I can move if my body can be carried by my legs while my hands can do the stealing the opening and the defense against those that might catch me. My toes can now move, but my legs are still numb from the waist down.
I push my head through the little gap and pull my body into the street.
The baby crying house and those of their neighbors are now visible. Small houses some lit by candles and other by electricity. I notice that the other working street lamps are much further down the street. With the moon still hiding behind the horizon they are pretty much the only light beside the lights from the houses. During the day I hurt the sound of chickens that may lay eggs and eggs that can keep my partner and I filled with protein.
I have to guess which house, behind which fence I will find the nests of these chickens. I have to work a way out to remove eggs without disturbing the peace.
I am now crawling out of the hole and drag my hungry body onto the grass-less sidewalk crawling towards one of the houses that are lit by candles.
“The house with the screaming baby,” I think.
The little dog is following and playfully bite and pull on my dress.
Behind the house, I see the wooden backdoor protected by a metal security gate. Through the candle lit window, I see the shadow outline of a lady carrying the crying baby. In none of the other windows can I see any life or movement.
My hand is now touching the back door but it is locked, my eyes dwell to the window next to the door and I can see that the small top window is open.
“To get there will, however, be a great challenge without legs,” I think while summing the situation up.
With half a bread a packet of cold meat and a half bottle of milk in a plastic bag I am now on my way back to my dark life under the city. I crawl as fast as possible with the limbs that I have, and I can feel the exhaustion in my shoulder.
The little-unnamed dog is still dragging on my dress growling and crying.
“He is hungry and thirsty,” I think.
I am now at the entrance to my pipe-world and without much effort, we slip through the opening into the dark.
“We will call you Pipes,” I talk to the little dog, while I hug his head against my chest.
“Together we will conquer, we will hunt, we will live and we might die,” I continue to declare my new found love to Pipes. His little tongue is now leaking milk from my hands, his tail is wagging and his eyes, I can imagine, are filled with joy.
The control of the sewer system plagued by rats, snakes, and mosquitos remain a survival fight. During this time Pipes and I grow close. We became friends and companions keeping each other alive