Cape Town - On Thursday, my friend’s baby stopped breathing. Or so it seemed. She’d been lying on her mother’s lap, gurgling and gazing around with new blue eyes.
As my friend gently eased a syringe of medication between her lips, the baby suddenly opened her mouth. There was a pause and then the baby’s eyes closed, her body became floppy and she lay unresponsive, one arm dangling towards the floor. My friend patted her. Nothing. My friend shook her. Nothing. She grabbed her car keys and handbag and raced up the stairs to her car, dialling the paediatrician’s number as she ran, the baby limp in her arms.
There was no time to work out logistics. There was no child seat in the car – the baby would have to lie in her mother’s lap as she drove, or lie on the floor in a jersey, or lie on the passenger seat, held in place by her mother’s trembling hand.
Just as my friend emerged on to the pavement, a car pulled up. The man wound down his window. “Can you take us to the hospital?” my friend asked. The man nodded. As they sped off, a woman on the pavement yelled: “Hey! That’s mine! I’m going to be late for my meeting!”
Uber works in mysterious ways.
The man drove as though it were his own child in need – urgently yet with caution, casting worried glances at my friend. The baby woke up en route and began crying. My friend began crying. The driver may have begun crying. Just before the hospital, he introduced himself. “I’m Douglas, by the way.”
Once at the emergency entrance, my friend leapt out of the car with her baby. She looked back as she ran – at the passenger door flung open, at Douglas’s concerned face. “Just go!” he said. “Don’t worry.”
“What’s your surname?” my friend hollered.
“Chaplin. Douglas Chaplin.”
The doctor said the baby’s throat had closed when the medication streamed in. She had merely fainted.
At 2am on Saturday, I woke up to the dogs barking. I was alone in the house. My heart thumped, the dogs rushed to the back door. They only bark if something is there. “Oh f***,” I whispered. “It’s happening.”
I got up, peered into the gloom of the garden and let the dogs out. They scrambled past me and ran around the corner of the house, whining and barking and growling. I heard a low moan, a hiss, the sound of claws against bark. The dogs returned, their tails wagging. One more neighbourhood cat sent on its way.
Wired and still jumpy, I made tea and switched on the TV. And there was Paris, filled with sirens and ambulances, gunshots and blood.
Two hours later, I went back to bed and had trouble breathing and felt unsafe. I thought of the world: every unfair street, every sharp word, every piece of shrapnel, every fist, every bloody alley, every blasted village, every kidnapped schoolgirl, every flying weapon, every missile explosion, every vicious rumour. And I wondered how we would carry on.
On Saturday, I sat at a pavement café drinking cappuccinos. An elderly woman wearing a faded dress and shipwrecked shoes asked me for money. I told her I didn’t have any cash, only a card. She looked at my half-empty cup, looked at me and continued walking.
On my way to the car, I saw the woman standing outside a supermarket. I asked her what she needed. “Bread, milk and Rama,” she said. I bought her bread, milk, Rama, stewing meat, tins of beans, avocados and peanut butter.
Later in the day, I held my friend’s baby in my arms. Her tiny hands clutched at my shirt as her eyelids fought sleep, feathering open and closed. She eventually became heavy and I watched as she slept, her long eyelashes clamped against new, perfect skin. I thought about Paris.
I thought about the baby’s future; how the world would be when she is 30, 40, 50. And I thought about Douglas, driving his car somewhere in the city.
Douglas’s act of kindness won’t stop Islamic State from slaughtering people, and buying groceries for someone won’t prevent the deaths of civilians in Syria, the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, the murder of students in Kenya, the blasting of people in Beirut.
But in an increasingly unsafe world, the one thing we have left is our shared humanity.
By not shrinking away from one another, we have won a small battle: we have not given in to our blind spots. And that victory has the power to grow and make ripples.