Living on the Edge

Two years ago our guardian, Osman, whom we inherited with the house, decided he’d chop down a tree in the garden. The axe wasn’t sharp, and so he took the angle grinder (a bright yellow tool he and the others had begged me to buy for them months before), and he went to work. Holding the axe in one hand and the grinder in the other, he attempted to put a blade on the hatchet. All must have gone well for a moment because in my subconscious I heard the whirring of metal. But then catastrophe struck. I was outside the house at the time, about to bundle the kids into my car for a little cruising down near the Corniche. It was then that one of the other guardians emerged. His face was white and he moved so fast that he seemed to glide through the air. ‘Osman’s cut his hand,’ he said nervously. I frowned, told him where to find band-aids in the house. He shook his head, then blinked. A stray tear rolled down the edge of his face. At that moment Osman came jarring through the garden door. He was in shock. His hand was hanging off. We moved into slow motion, like one of those cheesey 1970s movies where second rate slomo was still acceptable. I looked at the wound. Then my knees went. It’s not like in the movies… not even those ’70s flicks. What struck me was the detail. The grinder disk had sliced across the width of the hand, at right angles to the fingers, sawing through all the bones, tendons, muscles and sinew, until it reached what looked like his palm the other side. The tendons had bunched up near the base of the fingers, a detail I had never imagined. I pulled him into the car, blood squirting. He was pressing down with an old sheet of leather he’d picked up. And on that drive out through the shantytown at high speed, he fazed in and out of consciousness. I won’t go into the highs and lows of the days, weeks and months that followed. Not here anyway. Except to sat that the lowest low was when I thought he had died of blood loss on the back seat, and when all the surgeons suggested he go for straight amputation. (We found the best hand surgeon in North Africa and, after footing colossal bills, and dropping everything for eight months, had the hand fixed on and working again). And that was the highest high… seeing Osman fluttering his fingers again, after more physiotherapy sessions than I can remember. I should add to this that three weeks before this dreadful accident,Osman’s mother and father and brother and nephew were all killed when their communal taxi struck another car at night in fog on a coast roast south of Casablanca. They were en route to pay their respects to a relative who had lost her husband in an accident. And their taxi was on the wrong side of the road. Why recount it all here, today? Well, it’s because as I got to my desk a few moments ago I saw Osman in the courtyard outside. He is standing there now, on a ladder propped again a towering palm tree. The base of the ladder is jammed against an old milk crate. And the crate is askew on a jumble of tangled wires and rocks, stuff that no one could be quite bothered to move. As I watch, Osman has climbed to the highest rung. He’s right up there now, his expression calm but a little tense like an amateur tightrope-walker trying his luck. As he stretches his right arm way to the side to reach the furthest branch, I close my eyes, take a breath, and pray for him.