WHY SEPTEMBER 1ST IS A DARK DAY FOR MY FAMILY

CW: gun violence.
  1. 1 September 2007 was a Saturday. Living in South Africa, we unofficially call it Spring Day.
  2. I was in Grade 11. I lay in bed with the early morning sunshine seeping through my bedroom curtains.
  3. I was texting my then-boyfriend. We were planning to have sex later that day.
  4. Our house phone rang. It rang like any other ring, but somehow it felt wrong.
  5. I heard my dad answer. I heard that it was a friend of his that he hadn't spoken to in a while.
  6. It was like we all sensed something. My mother was already in the room, and then my two siblings (age 9 and 12) and I appeared there too.
  7. We heard my dad go quiet and ask what happened. My mother asked, "What happened? Who died?"
    We knew someone had died. The sunny day had gone dark. It was the first time I ever understood the feeling of having all the air sucked out of the room.
  8. My dad hung up the phone and said, "Liz is dead."
  9. She was my mom's younger sister by 11 months. They had grown up like twins. They had many differences but they loved one another so much. My aunt had had a messy divorce and my mother was fiercely protective of her.
  10. That was the first time I heard the wail of the mourning. I cannot describe it, but every time I hear a relative scream out when hearing of a death at hospital, it takes me back.
  11. My mom tried to run. I don't know where. My dad held her tight and we three kids came into their embrace.
  12. My aunt had worked at a micro-loans company. It was meant to be temporary, just till she could get back on her feet and find something more permanent.
  13. There was a syndicate in her city that was targeting micro-loan companies. They befriended security guards to find out who would bring the daily cash, then they targeted that person.
  14. They found out that a woman in a silver car brought the money in the mornings and that she was usually the first one there.
  15. They did not find out that said silver car was a BMW. My aunt drove a beat-up silver Toyota Camry.
  16. She was not scheduled to work that day, but she wanted to make some extra hours so that she could treat her two young daughters to a Spring Day afternoon. She didn't have a lot of money but she spent everything she could on my cousins, then 9 and 15 years old.
  17. She was not supposed to be early, but she misjudged the lack of traffic on a Saturday. So she got there first.
  18. She arrived at work and tried to open the remote controlled gate. It wouldn't budge because the syndicate had deactivated it.
    She rolled down her window and leaned out, trying to get closer to the remote box.
  19. This was when the men approached her. We have seen this all on a security recording. They had a gun. She panicked and reversed. The staff entrance was in a small backroad and she reversed into a wall. While she tried to get away, one of the assailants fired shots.
    One shot went wide into the passenger seat, which was thankfully empty. Sometimes on weekends, my youngest cousin would join her mother at work.
  20. The second shot hit true. It penetrated her heart and her left lung.
    She died before the paramedics arrived.
  21. The syndicate members ran to open her trunk. They realised the only thing there was a bag of dirty laundry. No money. Then they ran away.
  22. They told us she died instantly. But in med school I learned that very few deaths are truly instant. I have now witnessed deaths from gunshots to the heart. She may not have suffered long, and the surge of adrenaline may have prevented her from registering too much pain, but she would have taken a minute or more to die.
    I don't tell my family this. I don't think it will help them.
  23. My aunt was a little bird of a woman. She could never reach a high enough weight (50kg) to donate blood. She had no fat to protect her. She had very little reserve.
    I have seen people survive injuries similar to hers. But they had more tissue as protection. They had greater reserves.
  24. I remember busying myself in the kitchen, making my mother tea.
  25. I remember us having to inform my grandmother.
  26. I remember when we arrived at my gran's house she was waiting for us stoically, and she said, "I'm okay," and in the next second she and my mom collapsed into one another's arms, weeping.
  27. I remember the difficulty of reaching my youngest aunt, who was living in New York at the time.
  28. We drove the three hour trip to my aunt that day, to be with my two cousins.
    With the bravado of a 17 year old, I told them we would take them in. I promised they wouldn't have to live with their estranged father. But in the end, I couldn't keep that promise. They had to go back to him.
  29. It was the darkest day for my family, and in many ways we have not recovered.
  30. For the past few years, I have always been on call on 1 September. I always hope that the lives I save on this day mean something a little more. Even if only to myself.