Saving Africa on the Way to Meeting Jesus

Box Hill, some Tuesday night and I was a depot Tram. All I wanted to do was get home but that wasn’t going to happen now because moments away from leaving some junkie had knocked on my door and was now pointing at a large African woman slumped on a seat. The African woman had a bright red scarf twirled around her hair. And so I looked at the African woman and then I looked at the junkie and asked: Are you sure she's dead?

Touch her, the Junkie went. She's freezing.

I did. She was. Shit.

She could have OD’d, said the Junkie. I’ll see if she has any track marks and confident at what she was doing she pulled up the woman's sleeve and checked her inner elbow. Yeah.


But all I could see was an elbow. Isn’t she a bit fat for a junkie? I asked.

We need to get her down on the floor, said the Junkie. C’arn, give us a hand.

No no. Let's just call an ambulance, I said and picking up the Tram’ phone I called fleet to get them to do just that. That was the procedure and as I called I watched international students hurry past wrapped up against the cold and the homesickness in several layers of summer clothes.

Are you sure she’s dead? The fleet guy asked, and he sounded as though he had just woken up.

Yeah, well I don't know, I replied. Maybe.

Well look, do you have your mobile?

Yeah. Why?

Well could you call the ambulance, because you're breaking up and if we call an ambulance they're gonna want all this information and if you’re breaking up that could be difficult to give. But you're not breaking up, I said. You're coming through perfectly.

Sorry driver, what was that?

And so I called 000 and after I was told an Ambulance was on the way, the dispatcher, who also sounded as if she had been roused from sleep, asked me if I had any First Aid experience.

After listening for a wee bit longer I looked at the junkie and said, they want us to put her on the floor.

Phone in one hand, the Junkie and I manhandled the woman to the floor, and after I kicked a discarded coffee cup away, we lay her on her back.

Okay, I told the woman on the phone. Now what?

Is she breathing?

I’m not sure. She doesn't look like it.

Okay, she said, well this is what I'll need you to do.

And so I listened again and then I looked at the junkie and said: They want us to give mouth to mouth.

I'll do it, went the junkie and down she went.

It was hard to pick the junkie’s age because she clearly had more aging to her face than her years. Her eyes too had issues that looked irremovable, and yet here she was fighting like a medic in the trenches to save a stranger as I stood above her and held onto the phone.

Time passed and the African lady did not wake up.

The ambos, both men, walked towards us with cowboy swaggers and as they put down their packs and attached their sensors to the African woman’s finger tips I vacated the Tram and moved out onto the stop.

On the shelter there was a poster of a young man leaping into the air. He was doing this because he was so happy with the new pair of underpants he was wearing. No matter how good my new underpants were I’d never felt that way. My underpants now, the ones my wife had bought me, were printed with comic strips. I was worried that if I was in an accident instead of being saved I’d die on the operating table because the doctors were too busy reading my underpants.

And then the Junkie came back.

They told me to go away, she said. I was telling them what I’d done, but they told me to move to the other end of the tram. If it wasn't for me, she’d already be dead.

She's not dead? I said.

She shook her head. I was almost a nurse, she said. I did a year and a half before I had to pull out.

I nodded but didn’t ask the obvious for I took her glassy eyes for the answer. And so instead we stood together and watched the paramedics, who appeared to be in a hurry, work. So, I said, to break the silence, what are you doing out here? And I asked this because Box Hill at night was not known for its Junkies.

I got a job in a pizza store on Middleborough Road.

Oh yeah. Well that's good. What are you doing now, going home?

Yeah, I'm living in a shelter in Kew. The Salvos run it. It's where you stay when you first get out.

I nodded to this, and then after a pause I said. It’s cold, huh?

Yeah, she said as she watched the ambos stretcher the woman out of the tram.

What do you think it is, I asked one of them as the Junkie half hid behind me.

Nothing, he said. She's just faking it,

Faking it? I said. But why would she do that?

Who knows, he shrugged and grinned as he did: Attention, drugs, or maybe she's nuts.

On the trip back to base the tram was empty bar the Junkie who six seats back glared out of the window. Outside all the pretty middle class houses were passing, their porches lit by security lights. And then her mobile ring.

I couldn't hear everything because my heater was droning but near the end of the conversation I overheard her say. So what, we’re fighting again?

Near Kew she came to the front and waited for her stop. As I slowed down I opened my door and she said to me, I don't think she was faking it.

Neither do I, I replied.

So she said. If she was faking she would have woken up when we were putting her on the floor.

Yeah, that's what I thought, I said.

Why would they say that then?

I dunno. But here, I said, and turning in my chair I offered her my hand. You did well tonight. Yeah, she said, and without sounding chuffed she took my hand. So did you. And for a night that was as cold as this her grip was firm, and warm.

Off the tram she threw me a little wave then, bent forward to offset the cold she strode away into the street-lit dark.

That’ll be 40 minutes overtime Tim, I said.

Cool bananas, he replied. Is everything okay now?


Good, but before you go you should write a yellow.

Do I have to? I whined.

Cover your arse, Benny, he said. Cover your arse.

And so I grabbed a yellow and then I asked, what’s that?

In the starter's office, which was warm, Tim and John were looking at the office computer screen which was on the desk at the rear of the room. The screen was all yellow with odd black smudges that looked like a ball which had been eviscerated. Keep watching, said John. Just keep watching. And so Tim and I did.

After a time the screen went blank.

Now quick, John said. Stare at the wall.

Wow! went Tim, look at that, and as John nodded with all the becalmed surety of a traveling prophet, Tim exclaimed, it's a miracle! And he said this because upon the wall both he and I could now see the face of Jesus.

Let's do that again, said Tim and grabbing the mouse he returned to the screen.

In the staff room I looked down at the yellow form thats title read: “Special day Report.” There was a box for my name and another for the date and below these was the main box in which I had to briefly describe the incident and as I looked at this box, all I could see was the Junkie trying to breathe this life, with all the life she could muster, into that cold and quiet stranger as over her shoulder, upon the scratched window of the Tram a shadowy Jesus just looked at me as he slowly dissipated.

Michael Gray Griffith

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