Pan Macmillan has shared an exclusive excerpt from Father Michael’s Lottery by Johan Steyn.
First published in 2005, the novel was recently rereleased as part of the Picador Africa Heritage Classics collection—books that deserve to find a new audience and be read again.
Ian McEwan has called Father Michael’s Lottery ‘an important, must-read book’, while the late Justin Cartwright called it a ‘moving, bleakly funny … dispatch from the front line’.
Read the excerpt:
Morgan clearly remembered the day Mary was brought in. As always, the pick-up truck was spotted even before it started to reverse towards the entrance. The doors with the frosted glass panes were opened, orders were shouted and Rebecca went outside to inspect the cargo before the makeshift ambulance came to a halt. Casualty was chaotic as usual, but Morgan paused and watched.
On the back, wedged between two spare wheels, a drum of fuel and a toolbox was a bright, multicoloured blanket. The head of a girl rested on two white, dust-covered pillows. The truck reversed carefully until it was in the shade just outside the entrance. Rebecca waited, together with two nurses and a trolley. When the pick-up came to a halt, she commandeered two fit-looking bystanders to lift the girl off the back. She had obviously underestimated their enthusiasm and before she could stop them, both men had jumped over the tailgate. One of them scooped the girl into his arms and stood up, holding her like a baby, with her head resting against his chest.
Rebecca straightened her back. She put her hands on her hips.
Due to the noise in the room Morgan couldn’t hear what she was saying. Both men froze. The man holding the girl stood like a statue and his comrade carefully climbed down again. Then, with an air of exaggerated gentleness, they passed the girl from one to the other. The blanket slipped away. As it fell to the ground, Morgan saw the thin figure of the girl.
Rebecca moved forward and supported the head. They lowered the girl onto the trolley and Morgan saw a thin arm reaching out as if to assist in the proceedings. One of the men picked up the blanket and vigorously shook off the dust. It was a patched quilt of red, green, orange and blue. The girl lay f lat on the trolley and underneath her flimsy dress her pelvic bones stuck out like wings.
The driver of the truck walked up to Rebecca. He was carrying a brown envelope that he handed to her with both hands. She took it, pointed at the truck and shouted a command. One of the pillows was removed, dusted and placed under the girl’s head.
Finally, she was covered with the blanket and the procession came into Casualty.
‘Everyone is coming here today,’ Rebecca said as they came past.
She handed Morgan the discharge summary from yet another overcrowded hospital and took the girl to the resuscitation room.
He removed the file from the envelope, paged through the notes and read about yet another tragedy. The language was cold and impersonal, as always. A young teacher who had had an exploration for an abdominal mass. Diagnosis: Lymphoma. HIV positive, written in red ink. Patient refused chemotherapy. Discharged on relatives’ request.
The girl had travelled 200 kilometres.
Why the hell bring her here? thought Morgan. No one was going to salvage this girl.
‘Just help her.’ He heard a man’s voice above the noise in the room. Morgan looked up and recognised the driver of the truck; a big man with thick forearms, square, calloused hands, and a broad, weather-beaten face.
You fool, thought Morgan. You bring the girl here, on the back of a truck, in this heat. For what? Do you expect a miracle?