I met Auntie some years ago. Actually, it was more like she forced her introductions onto me. She is a homeless lady. The scenic streets of Cape Town are laced with more homeless people than anywhere i’ve ever seen. Clearly photoshop comes in handy for the brochures. Anyway, that’s not the point of the story.
Auntie is a very tiny, old colored lady. A gaunt, small face with deep set eyes, high cheek bones and a mouth full of gum and no teeth. She is crippled. Her legs work funny. Like someone who had polio. When she walks her legs do a little jiggle before they land on the ground. So she walk with a cane or a broom stick or your hand or whatever she can find. Sometimes I find her sliding along the wall like she is on the ledge of a very high building.
As is the norm with homeless people, or bergs (pronounced in Afrikaans) as they are called in Kaap Stad, you walking past is an invitation for them to ask for something. Food, money or as is the case with my long dreads; “ganja ayaa”. Auntie was no different. Well, actually, she’s quiet different. More often than not, all she would ask you for is a conversation. “My friend”, she would squeal as she frantically waves at you. “Come here. No, I don’t want money, I just want to talk”. But she not give you some sob story about the injustices life has dealt her. On the contrary, she’d most likely give you a parable about the abundance of her blessed life. She once called me over just to tell me a joke.
On one particular day I was walking past when I noticed a tiny person seated flat on the pavement waving at me. “My friend!”, she shouted. I was not in hurry so I went over. “You know I never ask you for anything, right?”, she began her guilt trip. “Yes Auntie, you never ask for anything”, I responded. “Yes, des right yes. But if you can spare anything today I’ve be very grateful.” I was faced with that weird moment when you want to give someone small change but all you have is paper money. But I didn’t hesitate. I took out a R10 note and placed in her hand. I was surprised then, when my gesture was met with a frown.
“You don’t do that my friend”. I standing looking down at her, lost as to what I had done wrong. “That’s not how you give someone like me money.”. I was a bit perplexed but I let her continue. “This is what you do; you kneel down, take the money out and as you give put in my hand you pray. You thank God that you are in a place in your life where you have enough money that you can spare some of it for someone else”.
I didn’t really know what to say so I kept quiet. I did as she told me. I bent down on one knee. Put the money in her hand and said the prescribed prayer. In turn, she prayed for me too. Thanking God for my existence. When we were done I got up and prepared to leave. What I will never forget is the beaming, gummy smile on her face and the twinkle in her eye as I walked away.
“Thank you my friend. See you tomorrow!”, she shouted behind me.