An afternoon in autumn, 1996… The policeman’s hand’s outstretched and raised to indicate I stop. Steering wheel gripped white-knuckle-tight, I curse, I pump the brakes. Serenely in the glowing sun and noting number plates, policemen move from car to car booking drivers one by one. Still rolling to a stop, still cursing, I bang my shoulder to the door. The door swings open. The hinges creak. Whites of eyes glow white-hot as I struggle from my seat. The officer’s face is calm and blank, a notebook’s in his hand. His lips part matter-of-factly as if about to speak. ‘NO!’ I bark, ‘you listen,’ I shout, ‘I’ve got no time for this.’ The officer’s back is quickly straight. ‘My daughter’s in the back,’ I say and jab a finger at my car. ‘She’s sick. Get us to the hospital. NOW! NOW!’ Still calm but eyes alert to me, the officer meanders round the car. He peers in. He sees Mui tightly held by Tina forlorn and tiny in Tina’s stiff embrace and barely conscious. Dried curls of peeling skin are peeling dryly from Mui’s face. ‘HURRY!’ screams Tina from her seat. The officer turns tail and runs. I jump into the car. Seconds tick-tock loudly in our ears. A pair of motorcycles roar off on either side of us lights pulsing in our windows as we roar too. At traffic lights both patrolmen beside both motorbikes block traffic and wave us through. Oblivious to sense and caution on we hurtle. No time to waste and Tina’s running from the car towards the hospital with Mui hanging from her chest to where the doctors are preparing. To where we’ll wait. Only of course, that’s not how it really happened…
An afternoon in autumn, 1996…. Mui sits in Tina’s arms barely conscious on Tina’s lap. She’s running a high fever. Rolling eyes suggest a blood infection. I’m driving and I’m cheerfully telling quirky stories while Tina sings because Mui loves it when we do. It distracts her. She vomits into a bucket on Tina’s lap.
Tina and I share glances in the rear-view mirror that betray our crippling fear. It’s the time for silent prayers. Our glances give each other strength. We continue with the cheerful, quirky stories and the songs.
Up ahead the traffic slows. Three lanes of static cars. Hard shoulder’s free. Impatient drivers take a chance and use the shoulder as a shortcut round the bend ahead. ‘Should we do that?’ ‘You think we’ll be ok if we do?’ ‘Police could be waiting round the bend.’ ‘If they book us we’ll be even worse delayed.’ ‘Then let’s not risk it.’ The traffic crawls. Minutes tick-tock loudly in our ears. Round the bend and sure enough a backed-up row of cars are on the shoulder drawing to a halt as an officer holds up one hand. Policemen move from car to car booking drivers one by one. Tina and I grin high-fives in the mirror. Traffic clears. On we hurtle. No time to waste. I pull up at the hospital. Tina’s running from the car with Mui hanging from her chest. We’ll stay nine days in hospital this visit.
When later we tell friends about the drivers being stopped and booked for taking the hard shoulder, they both look puzzled. ‘Surely the police would have waved you through. They’d have probably brought you to the hospital with an escort!’
In the autumn of 1996, Mui’s hospitalisations, her unstable health, were constant challenges but that’s just the way it was. We didn’t expect special favours, we just got on with life with a smile like everybody else. And though the challenges are different now, we still do.
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