When I was ten years old I almost died*.

It was a Thursday afternoon at 4:50pm. The very last episode of my favourite show in the world, The Littles, was starting at 5pm and my mother had just asked me to go to the corner store and get bread and milk.

I suggested that it could wait until the show was done, and she suggested that it wouldn’t take long and besides, it would be darker at 5:30pm.

I had walked to the corner store many times by myself. I had also calculated the most efficient route where I’d cross the road fewer times to get there.

From our house I would cross the road immediately, then walk on the opposite side, around the corner, down the street, until the gas station and the store, and then I would cross back over. This would avoid crossing the road three times, which I’d have to do if I stayed on the side of the road where my house was. Of course those crossings were all at intersections, whereas my method was jaywalking. Hindsight is wonderful.

So on this day, I took my mother’s message to to mean “run”. She didn’t say I should run. Let’s get that on the record. On most days, I was easily distracted and tended to walk slowly (“Randolph, stop dawdling!” and “Randolph, stop fidgeting!” were common refrains for this undiagnosed autistic child), so she just meant that if I didn’t slack off as usual, I’d be back in ten minutes.

I crossed the road outside our house and began to run to the store. I rounded the corner and carried on running until I saw the gas station where the store was.

Now this is the part of the story where you know what’s going to happen. I even put it in the subject line and suggested I had a near death experience, so I’m really delaying the inevitable. However, I need to explain something about South Africa, that cars drive on the left side of the road, and I was running in the same direction as traffic. Just before rush hour on a weekday afternoon.

Randolph, at the age of ten, running to the store to be back in time for the finale of a TV show, didn’t look before crossing the road.

Now I want you to understand that I thought there were no cars, because I have very good hearing. It’s scary good because I can hear everything at the same volume. So, unless a car had, hypothetically speaking, slowed down to a crawl because there was a child running down the sidewalk and not looking at traffic, I would have heard the crunch of tyres on the asphalt.

There were no cars in the opposite side, which I could see given the direction I was running.

So I crossed the road without looking.

With eight minutes to spare before my show was starting, I trusted my excellent hearing and ran into the side of a car that had slowed to a crawl after seeing a child running down the sidewalk, and then once the driver had decided that the child was not going to suddenly change direction, he sped up.

There’s a sound that a ten-year-old child makes when they bounce off the side of a car. There’s another sound they make when their head hits the ground so hard that their skull dents. There’s a lot of blood, and after regaining consciousness, a lot of screaming.

The way my mother found out is lost in the mists of time, but depending on which story you hear, it was either one of the builders who was working on our house that saw me, or the corner store themselves who happened to know me and had our land line number on file.

Either way, with my head cradled by one of the black women who sat on the sidewalk in the 1980s for reasons that a middle class white kid never understood (they were probably waiting for transport to get back home for the day), some time passed, and a woman doctor arrived just before my mother did. It couldn’t have been more than five or ten minutes. I remember my mother crying and the doctor saying “the skull bleeds a lot”.

One ambulance ride later (hard wooden board, C-spine collar, straps), we arrived at the JG Strydom Hospital, colloquially known as Jy Gaan Sterf (You Will Die). I was X-rayed a lot, and I had to open my mouth really wide so they could see if I sustained any damage to the top of my spine. As we discovered in a later car accident, I had.

Then the nurse had to clean my wound. She prepared me by saying it was going to be really painful, more pain that I was feeling now, and that I could punch her if I needed to. I didn’t punch her, but it was quite an exercise to shave my head at the site of the wound, clean out the gravel from where I had hit the ground, and establish that yes, my skull was indented.

The doctor sewed me up with an inside stitch to close the flap, and ten or eleven stitches on the outside to keep it closed. They bandaged me and said I couldn’t wash my hair for four to six weeks.

I made a full recovery. Aside from a mild concussion, I have a dent in my skull that freaks people out. I travelled overseas for the first time in my life a few months later, and there were no long term effects on my brain that we are aware of (concussion aside).

If don’t wash my hair every day, I get a little grossed out. And I still haven’t seen the last episode of The Littles.

  • I’ve almost died on several occasions. This was neither the first nor the last time.

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