Authors: Trevor Noah
The light changed. I couldn’t even see the road, but I drove through the tears, thinking,
Just get there, just get there, just get there
. We pulled up to the hospital, and I jumped out of the car. There was an outdoor sitting area by the entrance to the emergency room. Andrew was standing there waiting for me, alone, his clothes smeared with blood. He still looked perfectly calm, completely stoic. Then the moment he looked up and saw me he broke down and started bawling. It was like he’d been holding it together the whole morning and then everything broke loose at once and he lost it. I ran to him and hugged him and he cried and cried. His cry was different from mine, though. My cry was one of pain and anger. His cry was one of helplessness.
I turned and ran into the emergency room. My mom was there in triage on a gurney. The doctors were stabilizing her. Her whole body was soaked in blood. There was a hole in her face, a gaping wound above her lip, part of her nose gone.
She was as calm and serene as I’d ever seen her. She could still open one eye, and she turned and looked up at me and saw the look of horror on my face.
“It’s okay, baby,” she whispered, barely able to speak with the blood in her throat.
“It’s not okay.”
“No, no, I’m okay, I’m okay. Where’s Andrew? Where’s your brother?”
“Go to Andrew.”
It’s okay, baby. I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine, you’re—”
. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine. Go to your brother. Your brother needs you.”
The doctors kept working, and there was nothing I could do to help her. I went back outside to be with Andrew. We sat down together, and he told me the story.
They were coming home from church, a big group, my mom and Andrew and Isaac, her new husband and his children and a whole bunch of his extended family, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. They had just pulled into the driveway when Abel pulled up and got out of his car. He had his gun. He looked right at my mother.
“You’ve stolen my life,” he said. “You’ve taken everything away from me. Now I’m going to kill all of you.”
Andrew stepped in front of his father. He stepped right in front of the gun.
“Don’t do this, Dad, please. You’re drunk. Just put the gun away.”
Abel looked down at his son.
“No,” he said. “I’m killing everybody, and if you don’t walk away I will shoot you first.”
Andrew stepped aside.
“His eyes were not lying,” he told me. “He had the eyes of the Devil. In that moment I could tell my father was gone.”
For all the pain I felt that day, in hindsight, I have to imagine that Andrew’s pain was far greater than mine. My mom had been shot by a man I despised. If anything, I felt vindicated; I’d been right about Abel all along. I could direct my anger and hatred toward him with no shame or guilt whatsoever. But Andrew’s mother had been shot by Andrew’s father, a father he loved. How does he reconcile his love with that situation? How does he carry on loving both sides? Both sides of himself?
Isaac was only four years old. He didn’t fully comprehend what was happening, and as Andrew stepped aside, Isaac started crying.
“Daddy, what are you doing? Daddy, what are you doing?”
“Isaac, go to your brother,” Abel said.
Isaac ran over to Andrew, and Andrew held him. Then Abel raised his gun and he started shooting. My mother jumped in front of the gun to protect everyone, and that’s when she took the first bullet, not in her leg but in her butt cheek. She collapsed, and as she fell to the ground she screamed.
Abel kept shooting and everyone ran. They scattered. My mom was struggling to get back to her feet when Abel walked up and stood over her. He pointed the gun at her head point-blank, execution-style. Then he pulled the trigger. Nothing. The gun misfired.
He pulled the trigger again, same thing. Then again and again.
Click! Click! Click! Click!
Four times he pulled the trigger, and four times the gun misfired. Bullets were popping out of the ejection port, falling out of the gun, falling down on my mom and clattering to the ground.
Abel stopped to see what was wrong with the gun. My mother jumped up in a panic. She shoved him aside, ran for the car, jumped into the driver’s seat.
Andrew ran behind and jumped into the passenger seat next to her. Just as she turned the ignition, Andrew heard one last gunshot, and the windshield went red. Abel had fired from behind the car. The bullet went into the back of her head and exited through the front of her face, and blood sprayed everywhere. Her body slumped over the steering wheel. Andrew, reacting without thinking, pulled my mom to the passenger side, flipped over her, jumped into the driver’s seat, slammed the car into gear, and raced to the hospital in Linksfield.
I asked Andrew what happened to Abel. He didn’t know. I was filled with rage, but there was nothing I could do. I felt completely impotent, but I still felt I had to do something. So I took out my phone and I called him—I called the man who’d just shot my mom, and he actually picked up.
“You killed my mom.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Yes. And if I could find you, I would kill you as well.”
Then he hung up. It was the most chilling moment. It was terrifying. Whatever nerve I’d worked up to call him I immediately lost. To this day I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t know what I expected to happen. I was just enraged.
I kept asking Andrew questions, trying to get more details. Then, as we were talking, a nurse came outside looking for me.
“Are you the family?” she asked.
“Sir, there’s a problem. Your mother was speaking a bit at first. She’s stopped now, but from what we’ve gathered she doesn’t have health insurance.”
“What? No, no. That can’t be true. I know my mom has health insurance.”
She didn’t. As it turned out, a few months prior, she’d decided, “This health insurance is a scam. I never get sick. I’m going to cancel it.” So now she had no health insurance.
“We can’t treat your mother here,” the nurse said. “If she doesn’t have insurance we have to send her to a state hospital.”
What—no! You can’t. My mom’s been shot in the head. You’re going to put her back on a gurney? Send her out in an ambulance? She’ll die. You need to treat her right now.”
“Sir, we can’t. We need a form of payment.”
“I’m your form of payment. I’ll pay.”
“Yes, people say that, but without a guarantee—”
I pulled out my credit card.
“Here,” I said. “Take this. I’ll pay. I’ll pay for everything.”
“Sir, hospital can be very expensive.”
“I don’t care.”
“Sir, I don’t think you understand. Hospital can be
“Lady, I have money. I’ll pay anything. Just help us.”
“Sir, you don’t understand. We have to do so many tests. One test alone could cost two, three thousand rand.”
“Three thousan—what? Lady, this is my mother’s life we’re talking about. I’ll pay.”
“Sir, you don’t understand. Your mother has been shot. In her brain. She’ll be in ICU. One night in ICU could cost you fifteen, twenty thousand rand.”
“Lady, are you not listening to me? This is my mother’s
. This is her
. Take the money. Take all of it. I don’t care.”
You don’t understand. I’ve seen this happen. Your mother could be in the ICU for weeks. This could cost you five hundred thousand, six hundred thousand. Maybe even millions. You’ll be in debt for the rest of
I’m not going to lie to you: I paused. I paused
. In that moment, what I heard the nurse saying was, “All of your money will be gone,” and then I started to think,
Well…what is she, fifty? That’s pretty good, right? She’s lived a good life
I genuinely did not know what to do. I stared at the nurse as the shock of what she’d said sunk in. My mind raced through a dozen different scenarios.
What if I spend that money and then she dies anyway? Do I get a refund?
I actually imagined my mother, as frugal as she was, waking up from a coma and saying, “You spent
? You idiot. You should have saved that money to look after your brothers.” And what about my brothers? They would be my responsibility now. I would have to raise the family, which I couldn’t do if I was millions in debt, and it was always my mother’s solemn vow that raising my brothers was the one thing I would never have to do. Even as my career took off, she’d refused any help I offered. “I don’t want you paying for your mother the same way I had to pay for mine,” she’d say. “I don’t want you raising your brothers the same way Abel had to raise his.”
My mother’s greatest fear was that I would end up paying the black tax, that I would get trapped by the cycle of poverty and violence that came before me. She had always promised me that I would be the one to break that cycle. I would be the one to move forward and not back. And as I looked at that nurse outside the emergency room, I was petrified that the moment I handed her my credit card, the cycle would just continue and I’d get sucked right back in.
People say all the time that they’d do anything for the people they love. But would you really? Would you do anything? Would you give everything? I don’t know that a child knows that kind of selfless love. A mother, yes. A mother will clutch her children and jump from a moving car to keep them from harm. She will do it without thinking. But I don’t think the child knows how to do that, not instinctively. It’s something the child has to learn.
I pressed my credit card into the nurse’s hand.
“Do whatever you have to do. Just please help my mom.”
We spent the rest of the day in limbo, waiting, not knowing, pacing around the hospital, family members stopping by. Several hours later, the doctor finally came out of the emergency room to give us an update.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
“Your mother is stable,” he said. “She’s out of surgery.”
“Is she going to be okay?”
He thought for a moment about what he was going to say.
“I don’t like to use this word,” he said, “because I’m a man of science and I don’t believe in it. But what happened to your mother today was a miracle. I never say that, because I hate it when people say it, but I don’t have any other way to explain this.”
The bullet that hit my mother in the butt, he said, was a through-and-through. It went in, came out, and didn’t do any real damage. The other bullet went through the back of her head, entering below the skull at the top of her neck. It missed the spinal cord by a hair, missed the medulla oblongata, and traveled through her head just underneath the brain, missing every major vein, artery, and nerve. With the trajectory the bullet was on, it was headed straight for her left eye socket and would have blown out her eye, but at the last second it slowed down, hit her cheekbone instead, shattered her cheekbone, ricocheted off, and came out through her left nostril. On the gurney in the emergency room, the blood had made the wound look much worse than it was. The bullet took off only a tiny flap of skin on the side of her nostril, and it came out clean, with no bullet fragments left inside. She didn’t even need surgery. They stopped the bleeding, stitched her up in back, stitched her up in front, and let her heal.
“There was nothing we can do, because there’s nothing we need to do,” the doctor said.
My mother was out of the hospital in four days. She was back at work in seven.
The doctors kept her sedated the rest of that day and night to rest. They told all of us to go home. “She’s stable,” they said. “There’s nothing you can do here. Go home and sleep.” So we did.
I went back first thing the next morning to be with my mother in her room and wait for her to wake up. When I walked in she was still asleep. The back of her head was bandaged. She had stitches in her face and gauze covering her nose and her left eye. She looked frail and weak, tired, one of the few times in my life I’d ever seen her look that way.
I sat close by her bed, holding her hand, waiting and watching her breathe, a flood of thoughts going through my mind. I was still afraid I was going to lose her. I was angry at myself for not being there, angry at the police for all the times they didn’t arrest Abel. I told myself I should have killed him years ago, which was ridiculous to think because I’m not capable of killing anyone, but I thought it anyway. I was angry at the world, angry at God. Because all my mom does is pray. If there’s a fan club for Jesus, my mom is definitely in the top 100, and this is what she gets?
After an hour or so of waiting, she opened her unbandaged eye. The second she did, I lost it. I started bawling. She asked for some water and I gave her a cup, and she leaned forward a bit to sip through the straw. I kept bawling and bawling and bawling. I couldn’t control myself.
she said. “Don’t cry, baby.
. Don’t cry.”
“How can I not cry, Mom? You almost died.”
“No, I wasn’t going to die. I wasn’t going to die. It’s okay. I wasn’t going to die.”
“But I thought you were dead.” I kept bawling and bawling. “I thought I’d lost you.”
“No, baby. Baby, don’t cry. Trevor. Trevor, listen. Listen to me. Listen.”
“What?” I said, tears streaming down my face.
“My child, you must look on the bright side.”
What are you talking about, ‘the bright side’? Mom, you were shot in the face. There is no bright side.”
“Of course there is. Now you’re officially the best-looking person in the family.”
She broke out in a huge smile and started laughing. Through my tears, I started laughing, too. I was bawling my eyes out and laughing hysterically at the same time. We sat there and she squeezed my hand and we cracked each other up the way we always did, mother and son, laughing together through the pain in an intensive-care recovery room on a bright and sunny and beautiful day.