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msafiri fiction 138 The old lady worked her gums, staring straight ahead. She wore a faded green button- up dress, a hand- knitted cardigan, elasticised knee stockings and slippers. Grey hair caught in a meagre bun. Lynn came closer. " Um," she began. " Hello?" Afrikaans? Lynn's Afrikaans was embarrassingly weak. " Hallo?" she said again, giving the word a different inflection. Ridiculous. No response. Poor thing, she thought, someone just left her here. Would the old lady even know about the explosion? " Sorry … Tannie?" she tried again. She'd never seriously called anyone ' Tannie' before. But it seemed to have some effect: the old lady looked at her with mild curiosity. Small, filmed black eyes, almost no whites visible. A creased face shrunken on to fine bones. An ancient mouse. " Hi. I'm Lynn. Sorry to disturb you. Ah, I don't know if anyone's told you – about the accident? In Cape Town." The woman's mouth moved in a fumbling way. Lynn bent closer to hear. " My grandson," the old lady enunciated, slowly but clearly. Then she smiled faintly and looked away, having concluded a piece of necessary small talk. " He told you about it?" No answer. So. Now there was another person to consider, an old frail person, someone in need of her help. Lynn felt her heaviness return. " Tannie," she said – having begun with it she might as well continue – " There's been an accident, an explosion. There's chemicals in the air. Poison, gif. It might be coming this way. I think we should go out front. There might be people coming past who can help us. Cars. Ambulances." The old lady seemed not averse to the idea, and allowed Lynn to take her arm and raise her from her seat. Although very light, she leaned hard; Lynn felt she was lugging the woman's entire weight with one arm, like a suitcase. Rather than negotiate the complex series of doors back through the station, they took the longer route, clockwise around the building on a narrow track that squeezed between the back corner of the garage and the wire fence. Past the ladies, the gents, the café. As they walked, it started to rain, sudden and heavy. The rain shut down the horizon; its sound on the forecourt canopy was loud static. Lynn wondered how tainted the falling water was. She sat the old lady down on a sheltered bench outside the shop, and fetched some bottles of water and packets of chips from inside. Then she urgently had to use the bathroom again. The toilet was no longer flushing. Her empty guts felt liquid, but strained to force anything out. The headache was back. When she