An African Conversation

“I saw this guy today…do you remember that guy who used to beg on Liesbeek Parkway by the corner of Durban Road?”

“The coloured guy with the long beard?”

“No. Not him. I still see him there sometimes.”

“Always polite.”

“Yes. He’s never pushy. Anyway this other guy, also coloured, used to be on the other side of the road. Going towards the highway. He had a sign asking for food, money or work but he had great difficulty walking. Some problem with his foot I think but he used to hobble along very stiff-legged. Do you know who I mean?”

“I think so.”

“Well he hasn’t been there for months, maybe even a year, but I saw him today on the corner where I turn to the new office – where you turn for the gym. It’s one of those streets that’s been renamed from D F Malan or Hendrik Verwoerd or something…”

“Christiaan Barnard?”

“Christiaan Barnard. That’s it. Anyway that guy was there today. He was standing in between two rows of cars leaning down on a stick. I don’t know how he managed to get there because the poor sod could hardly move. Whatever illness he’s got has really taken hold. I felt terrible for him.”

“Did you give him something?”

“No. I couldn’t. The light was changing so I had to pull off. If he’s there tomorrow I’ll give him something.”


That conversation happened about a month ago. I haven’t seen the man since.

I won’t be falsely dramatic and say every day but most days when I get to the lights and see he isn’t there I wonder if he’s still alive. I also think for a moment and remind myself how small and insignificant my challenges in life are in comparison to so many others.

What struck me about him on the day I saw him was the complete and utter absence of hope in his eyes. He looked like a man queuing up to die.

I’m not sure if I want to see him again. If he was as ill and as hopeless as he looked I hope he has found some peace.

It changes nothing, but perhaps writing about him is my way of saying I saw you, and you matter.

2 thoughts on “An African Conversation

  1. How very tragic. We have a man in our neighborhood that lives on the streets and is always seen walking frantically as if he’s running late. Also hadn’t seen him for ages and then heard via someone that he had been taken to hospital for pneumonia, but he apparently has a mental condition and was refusing treatment. I also wonder every now and then if he has found what he was always running late for. Or some peace for that matter. You are so right, our problems are paltry in comparison to what some people have to go through. At the very least we have shelter. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad this struck a chord with you D – I wonder how many people who see these people on a daily basis really SEE them. I buy Funny Money from a specific gentleman who I pass most days on my way home – we chat at the lights almost every day whether I’m buying or not. He’s just a guy with a family trying to provide for them and I have a lot of respect for how hard it must be. I hope if I stop seeing him it’s because something better has come along for him. Thanks for reading and commenting – and yes, our lives are very protected and simple in so many ways x


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