by Mandy Bodart
Some years ago I lived in a Victorian “street-front” house in Cape Town, South Africa. These terraced houses have a small, paved front area, about a metre wide and four metres long, between the front door and the street. Where I lived, the street was a major walkway for vagrants on their way to shelter under a nearby fly-over.
Barely a day went by but someone knocked on the door asking for food. One very cold winter, the knocks became so frequent that I kept a stack of “vagrant bags” next to the front door. Each contained the fixings for a thick soup/stew and clearly labelled “2” or “4”, according to how many people could have a decent meal from each bag.
The system worked like clockwork until one evening when I opened the door to an atypical vagrant — a young Rastafarian who didn’t have the weathered face and calloused hands of someone who’s been on the streets for years. He apologised for disturbing me and seemed embarrassed to ask for food — also very unusual!
As I automatically reached for a “2” bag, it occurred to me to ask him if he had cooking facilities. Our regular vagrants are as organised as cross-arctic explorers, but he just looked so young and inexperienced. “No,” he replied.
The next evening he was back. And the next, and the next…. This went on for three weeks.
As “You-can-call-me-Bob” had a hearty appetite, I began to fear I wouldn’t be able to continue feeding him daily, and decided to suggest that he vary his choice of “restaurant”.
That evening he appeared at his usual time, but before I could say anything, he thanked me for my hospitality over the last few weeks, explained that he had been stranded in Cape Town and now had a bus ticket back to his family in Port Elizabeth. He would leave in an hour.
At the end of this (for him) lengthy speech, he said he wanted to give me the only possession he had of any value. He pushed a large bag of dagga into my hand and ran off before I could say anything.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. There I was holding a large quantity of illegal drugs in my hand, knowing I couldn’t burn it because the neighbours would call the cops. I didn’t dare put it in the garbage in case it was traced back to me, and at the same time I was so touched that ‘Bob’ really was giving me his most prized possession!
In case you’re wondering, I eventually mixed it with sand and dumped it in a municipal bin under cover of darkness. And yes, I remained touched by his generosity, greater far than mine — for he gave his greatest treasure.