Tuesday, June 16, 2009

how to see people

his name was scott. the nerve.

heartbreaking time after heartbreaking time, i'd turned my head from scores of beggars, theatrically wiping my eyes as though i had mascara to hide.

indian women who were heroin-chic thin. corpses with babies. 5-year-olds with gap teeth and lisps. old men with limps. i'd trained myself to ignore them all, and i'm sure they all had more interesting names than "scott." tribal names. Xhosa names. names like Mgati and Kanyisa.

The guy who tried to mug me at knife point at least had the courtesy to look like a "Clayton."

The punk who stole my empty Coke can and tried to take my cell phone was speaking Zulu; I bet his name was way more badass than "scott."

but there Scott was. 30 something and handsome. Hardly tragic looking, save for being a little slim to pass as masculine in these parts and having a strange, lizardy patch of gray on his left cheek.

"Please look at me." He smiled optimistically. He'd noticed that I'd developed the strut of a local, plowing across the street to my destination without looking at the hopeful who were sleeping in the doorways. Somehow,he knew he only need to ask.

Yeah,I lookd at him. We talked for nearly an hour, mostly about me. He was genuinely interested in my schooling, my internship, my interests, my family- he grinned eager and gracious throughout.

And then he told me his story. How he had worked as a carpenter a few months ago and had lost his job and wife within a few days of each other. He had been staying at the park down the hill, but his makeshift home was flooded out when all of the rain gathered at the bottom. Now, he was looking for a place to stay for a few nights until the storms stopped and he could piece his life back together.

He and I strolled on to the local shelter, the conversation shifting to our favorite books. (he was a salinger man. *melt*)

I had a couple hundred rand left over (about 20 bucks). It was transportation money Dr. McDuff had given me that I never used as I pretty much walked everywhere. I handed it to the manager at the shelter and we arranged a place for scott to stay for the next couple of weeks.

and scott. 30-something and untragic-looking scott. he kissed my cheek, gave a misty-eyed thanks, and walked out of my life and hopefully into one he'd find manageable.

as i walked home, i thought about the gray patch. and his ex-wife. and how this was my best day in cape town. and how i remembered dignity, how to look everyone in the face, even if you're going to say no.

1 comment:

NL said...

Intriguing story.