Engel in n pelsjas

Drie jaar gelede kontak ‘n dokter van MSF my: kan ek ‘n dogtertjie uit die DRK evalueer?  Sy is drie jaar oud, maar praat glad nie.  Hulle gaan haar en haar gesin van Kinshasha na Johannesburg vlieg en soek na ‘n Franssprekende spraakterapeut se dienste.  My verskoning dat my Frans vér van perfek is, tel glad nie.  So beland Cassandra* (nie haar regte naam nie), die dokter en die hele gesin een Woensdag by ons huis.  Toe die twee motors vol mense buite stop, trek die Jack Russels los en blaf hul longe uit.  Niemand roer om uit te klim nie.  Ek moet die brakke toesluit om die hondbevange mense die huis in te kry.

Die studeerkamer sit kant aan wal. Almal wil ‘n inspraak hê.  Die geboortegeskiedenis word in skrikwekkende detail oorvertel.  Dat die kind leef, is ‘n mirakel.  Nou is dit my beurt, beduie die dokter.  Ek vra of ek haar alleen kan toets. Maar die goeie dokter voel dat hy moet assisteer en die mamma weier botweg.  Die res tou weg sitkamer toe.  Dis aardig om dopgehou te word as jy in jou derde taal aansukkel.  Vir aande lank het ek al my taaltoetse in Frans oorvertaal, ek het nuwe handpoppe gekoop en ‘n pophuis uitgepak.  Geglo dat ek slaggereed was vir die Franse dametjie.  Maar klein Cassandra sit met oë soos lukwartpitte na my en staar.  Ek kruip onder die tafel weg, hou vir haar ‘n poppespel.  Maar al my manewales kan nie eens ‘n glimlag ontlok nie.  Van die kant af por haar ma aan en gee die dokter raad.  Cassandra is soos Lot se vrou:  bewegingloos. Ek probeer eetgoedjies.  Lekkers. Stukkies biltong.  Sy prop alles onseremonieel in haar mond, maar haar gesigsuitdrukking bly onveranderd.  Sy kon in Madame Tussaud’s gestaan het.

Dan bars die studeerkamer se deur oop.  Een van die gaste het die badkamer gesoek en per ongeluk die honde uit die strykkamer laat loskom.  Die honde is ekstaties oor hul vrylating;  die kleinding histeries.  Beide sy en haar ma spring op hul stoele en skree.  Dit kos baie om hulle tot bedaring te bring.  Maar dan steel ‘n hond een van die stukkies biltong op die tafel.  Die eerste woord ontsnap uit die kind se keel: Non! 

Selfs in die pandemonium besef haar ma dat Cassandra iets gesê het.  En “nee” as eerste woord is glad nie sleg nie!  Encore, encore!  Moedig hulle aan.  Ek besluit dat ek eers die situasie kalmer moet kry.  Sit, vra ek, en kyk net hoe soet hierdie honne is;  hulle luister as ek praat.  Met ‘n stukkie biltong beveel ek “Sit!” en albei honde sak op hul hurke neer.  Ek loer vir Cassandra.  Sy kyk grootoog.  “Lê!” en die brakke gaan lê.  Die stukkie biltong word op die mat neergesit.  “Wag!” beveel ek.  Hulle wag.  En wag.  Tot hulle die towerwoorde hoor: “Vat maar!” Cassandra se gesig straal.  Sy lag en klap haar hande.  Sy wys na die honde en brabbel onverstaanbaar.  En net daar wys ‘n plan sy gesig.

Ek vat weer ‘n stukkie biltong, maar gee hierdie keer die bevele in Frans.  “Assis!” vra ek vir Jan.  En hy gaan sit. Nushka volg gedweë. “Couchez-vous”  beveel ek, en hulle gaan lê.  “Attendez!” en hulle wag.  Natuurlik!  Honde luister na jou stemtoon en jou lyftaal, glad nie na die woorde nie.  Ek tel Cassandra op my skoot, gee vir haar die stukkie biltong, en:  “Assie…” kom die woord krom en skeef uit haar mond. Dan “couche…” ‘n bietjie duideliker. En klokhelder vra sy die honde om te wag: “Attendez!

Daar was baie trane die middag.  En baie vreugde.  Jan en Nushka was die steekbaard-sleutels wat daardie dag die wonder van taal vir haar oopgesluit het.  In die drie opvolgsessies voordat hulle terug is Kongo toe, het sy elke keer meer nageboots, maar telkens eers as sy die honde bolpens gevoer het.  Iewers in die voue van haar brein het aksone en dendriete mekaar gevind en begin skakel, oordragstowwe is afgeskei, impulse is oorgedra.  Patrone het begin vaslê. Die wonder van taal het gebeur.

Dis nou drie jaar later.  Die gesin kom steeds twee keer per jaar met spesiale toestemming van die Verenigde Nasies se gesondheidsprogram hierheen om haar dokters te sien, medikasie aan te pas en terapie te doen.  Daar is geen pediater in Kinshasha nie.  Ook nie ‘n Spraakterapeut nie.  Cassandra begin in September in Première Classe, ons ekwivalent van graad 1.  Sy is ‘n jaar ouer as haar maats, want ons het besluit dis beter as sy teruggehou word.  Maar laas Woensdag het sy die hele alfabet (in Frans, natuurlik) opgesê en geskryf.  Dít met Jan wat styf teen haar op die stoel sit, angstig vir enige krummel wat na sy kant toe mag kom.  Sy deel alles wat ek haar aanbied met hom. Die higiëne van die terapiesessie is twyfelagtig!  Maar hy’s haar beste maat, verseker sy my.  “C’est mon ami.”

As ek na Jan se snorrebakkies kyk wat op die tafel rus, reg langs Cassandra se regterhand, dan moet ek glo: Honde is soms engele in pelsjasse.

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