Can I ask you Something

I sometimes bump into a woman walking around in Sea Point. She looks old, her mouth puckers because she is missing quite a few of her front teeth, and her white hair is trimmed short.  She always wears black and white clothes, usually too warm for the weather, but she doesn’t look like a homeless person, she always has reasonable shoes on or crocs.  Whenever I see her she comes up to me and says: “Can I ask you something?” , then goes on to tell me that she doesn’t have enough money for transport into town and asks if I could help her out.

The first time I talked to her I think I turned her away, but then I saw her several months later and I gave her money out of guilt. After that I saw her many more times. She always had the same appearance, and the same question.  I must admit that at this point I started turning her away regularly. I felt that she does this act out of habit, not necessity.  It appeared to me that she always addressed me as if she sees me for the first time, and I thought that she didn’t take note of people she asked or people who turned her away because she asks “something” out of everyone she sees.

Yesterday I saw this woman again, not in Sea Point this time but in Gardens. She walked across the road from my ex’s place while we were getting ready to drive back home.  As usual her face did not register anything, but when I said to her: “You do get around don’t you?”, she came up to me saying: “Can I ask you something?”. I said: “No not today, I do know you from Sea Point,  and you do make it all the way here to town?”. She said: “Yes, I walk because I look for work”. Her answer made me feel a bit guilty, maybe I am being uncharitable, but she walked away and I did not want to budge.

Imagine my surprise when on New Year’s Day I see my friend again! I could not believe it was her, so I walked again past the orange facade of the new Italian restaurant on Main Road Sea Point, and there she was. Sitting at the bench facing the street in her usual attire and crocs. This time she recognized me, as she looked up from her food, still chewing on toothless gums; she smiled and raised her hand in salute.  I greeted her back and continued on my way.  The funny thing is that I have been avoiding this restaurant since it opened last month. I felt that it would be too expensive, and that I could not afford it. Clearly though, asking for something, netted this lady enough money or perhaps an invitation for lunch. Good for her I say; if you want something just ask.

Disclaimer: I do not mean to be unkind to any person living in poverty and who is reduced to asking for handouts. In this instance however I have a strong suspicion that this old lady does not fall under the aforementioned categories.

Cape Town on January 1st

In South Africa the first of January is when most people especially Africans head to the beach. I do not know where this custom came from, but it is a fact mentioned often even as far up the coast as East London.

Today I decided to investigate this phenomenon myself and walked towards the promenade with Robert.  The first thing we saw was a very long queue in front of Sea Point swimming pool, then we witnessed the crowds that were already enjoying a swim there. Of course there were many more people occupying the shaded area on the promenade. For the occasion the city council prepared extra portable loos to relieve the pressure on the existing washrooms.  So I was dismayed when I actually had to visit a washroom to attend to my son’s nappy (I was prepared to change the nappy anywhere but I had a hard time finding a private space on the grass amongst the picnicking masses). To my surprise, or perhaps because it wasn’t noon yet, the washrooms were not busy and still fairly clean. I was able to change Robert quickly and there was even toilet paper to complete the cleaning task. For his part, Robert did not like lying on the hard bench in the changing room,  he howled inconsolably while staring at the mouldy ceiling and the broken fluorescent lamp. Maybe the place was not up to his standards,  he is part snob of course.

I was not planning to stay the whole day at the beach.  Today I wanted peace and quiet, away from the crowds; this was the last day of my holiday and tomorrow I have to start working again. I headed with Robert towards Mount Nelson Park, which is always quiet on public holidays. Today we had it to ourselves. Robert slept in his buggy for over an hour and I relaxed and read my book.  When Robert woke up he got to enjoy playing on the swing, running around and looking for sticks (tick). It was a great way to start the year.

We returned via Main Road, Sea Point which was bustling with people, so different from the quiet deserted streets on Christmas Day. Stores and most businesses were open, and people were just in full party mode.  More people were still streaming to the beach, and there was still a long queue to the swimming pool. For Robert and me though it was home time, we had to get ready for a long day tomorrow.