The other evening, on the way home, I was stopped at a robot, as usual with my window open. A young girl who flits between the robots in that area approached my window and asked for money?…nope…food?…nope…please…I’m sorry, smile, I really am, but no.
She had a baby with her, held on her back with a wrap that showed she must be Mozambican or Malawian. It is something about the type of material that people from those two countries use.
She moved onto the car behind her, where there was some middle-aged friendly-enough-looking woman. This woman did not even look at her as the young black girl stood on the other side of the window. Divided by a piece of glass. Inches away. The woman practiced perfectly the “Sandton Stare”, as my young brother jokes about it. “There is no one standing staring at me on the pavement. No one. Just go away No One. Leave me to my own world. You are making me nervous.” (Nervous about what? Is what I wonder.)
As I watched the scene in my rear view mirror I wanted to scream, Just regard the bluddy kid. Just acknowledge that there is a human being so close to you. You don’t have to give her anything. Sure, be on guard; be ready to pull off should she swipe out a sawn-off shotgun from between her and the baby. But at least look at her face; not even into her eyes. You do not have to do anything for her, except recognise that she exists.
Can you imagine how degraded you must feel. How powerless. How much of an identity of “nothingness” you must experience when a person will not even glance in your direction. You are not even the scum of the earth to spit at. You are plain nothing.
The girl came back and stood at my window and she and I just looked at each other. What to fcking do.
I do not agree with giving cash out every which way, it is not solving the greater problem…teach a man to fish and all of that. But I have learnt through the kindness offered back to me of others that to be acknowledged does help a person’s existence.
At another robot on my occasional route home there is a man selling HOMELESS TALK and trinkets. I have never bought a thing from him, I can’t even be sure if I have said a word to him. But every time he sees me, even with a car swap, he gets the biggest smile on his face. He never punts his wares to me. We wave at one another. In turn we do thumbs up to say “Are you ok, I’m cool thanks”. That’s about it. But we both feel good after the encounter. And this happens at least once a week.
My friends laugh that when it is said that I know everyone, it does mean EVERYONE. Age, race, social position, sexuality, job type, beauty standard, can all be damned. I was on first name terms with the Congolese Car Guards in my varsity town. I visited my first place of work the other day and the cleaning lady and I still had to do a catch up on one another’s lives. At that same job, I became friends with one of the Zim guys at the robot, to the point that he would bring me back presents from Zim after trips home. During nights out I get massive hugs from giant West African bouncers, and the coat ladies want to chat to me about my last night out. I know shop assistants, and even if I don’t we still talk like we’re best mates. One old man working as a petrol attendant in my area always comes over to my car to say, “You know you’re my Number One”. A bit odd, but still, his excitement makes me laugh. Security guards at Mock-Tuscan complexes. Waitresses and their employers, who so sweetly give me extra helpings or free starters. The barman who had to serve me litres of coffee and coke while I always waited out my family's golf games in the clubhouse lounge, to the point that should I need to quietly buy a sneaky bottle of wine on a Sunday years later, it was not a problem.
[The ADT guys also know me, but that might be for a whole different reason why.]
I have not known it any other way.
Perhaps it was through walks with Paulina (my maid who is my second mom) to the shops as a kid, and that she greeted everyone along the way, no matter if she knew them or not. My mom also has always had this element of friendliness and care, as did her mother.
People will and would always go out of their way for these women, just because of the “human” element added to interactions. Apparently when my crazy grandmother died, people across the Sandton City area cried more than our family did. A small daily interaction with someone was suddenly going to be lacking from each of their lives.
Many of my good friends are like this as well. Who are known the town round, and not just within the “usual” circles. That we speak to people when we interact with them, whatever the setting. It is not that we are special, that we have a unique skill, it is just that we do not know how not to relate.
Perhaps I take it to a new extreme, but I cannot get out of me that there is a person just inches away from me, who has as many emotions & thoughts & stories & ideas & love & hate & family & friends as me. It is just that their life is being lived parallel to mine. And imagine if you get to cross back and forth over such lives! How much you will learn, teach, grow, help, and exchange. Even if just initially by looking the person in the eye.