Friday, April 25, 2008

No guarantees!

While I was on holiday in South Africa, I spent a week in East London, where I spent many years of my childhood. Many of my childhood friends are still there, most of whom I haven’t seen since my teens. On several occasions, I saw faces that I was sure I recognised, but I couldn’t be sure whether or not I really knew and if so, where from.

On one occasion, however, there was no doubt in my mind, and it caused me enormous grief.

My husband and I had taken our boys down to the glorious Nahoon Beach for a swim and, as we parked the car, I noticed a hobo rooting in the grass next to the parking lot. Even from the side, I knew who he was. There was no speculation this time. Not only did I know that I knew him. I knew how I knew him and what his name was. He was in my class in std 4 (grade 6) and his name was Luke Delport (not his real name). He was completely unaware of my presence as I stood staring at him. Totally engrossed in whatever it was he was trying to dig out of the soil, he was blissfully unaware of the quandary in which I found myself.

He was filthy and dressed very warmly for such a sunny day. His clothes were as filthy as he was and in poor repair.

Should I go up and say hello? Would I be able to speak without crying? Would he know who I was? Did he even have a clear idea of who he was?

Impatient to get to the beach, my family was urging me to get a move on. Torn between reluctance and relief, I dragged myself away, just as Luke began to mime playing basketball.

Like a dog with a bone, I worried at the matter all the time we were on the beach. What had become of the 11 year old boy I used to know? Scenting the potential for a story full of pathos, my boys asked me questions about him, hoping to hear about a brilliant scholar, outstanding sportsman, popular child. Luke was none of these things. He was a poor performer academically, a fair tennis player, often in trouble with the teachers, not particularly well-liked by other kids and with nothing to make for a suitably tragic hero.

Nevertheless, he had been a little boy, like any other. With his whole life ahead of him. And here he was, ruined and broken and digging in the grass for some imaginary treasure.

I looked at my boys, at the other children on the beach and realised that none of them come with a guarantee. There is no assurance of a bright future. No guarantee that they will remain sound of body and mind. We just have to do the best we can. Parents, teachers, community members.

When we left the beach, Luke was not there. I went home and tearfully told the story to my sister who assured me that, whoever I had seen, it was not Luke. Luke was a successful businessman, married to a trophy wife after the failure of his first marriage. He had a brace of ill-behaved children who were poor performers academically, fair tennis players, often in trouble with teachers, not particularly well-liked by other kids…


Rina Tripathi said...

Though there is anticlimax but whoever it is, you made me cry Karyn. Why I ask often there is so much pain. These days I am full of doubts even my meditation does nothing to calm these. Blessings to you now I know I am not alone in my doubts. No guarentees indeed.

Anonymous said...

Rina - thanks for your comments. Apologies if you felt let down by the anticlimax. I realise it weakens the story, but since this was a real life incident, rather than a fiction, I thought it best to be honest.

On the other hand, is the tragedy any less because the broken man was not someone I knew as a child? I don't think so. Whoever he was, he was once somebody's little boy with hopes and dreams...

Rina Tripathi said...

You are right I felt the same but it would have hurt even more if it was the boy you studied with. I feel I am crossroads in my life Karyn, I never posessed clarity and now when I see compromises in everything about life, I feel most of the things are quiet unfair. Ignorance is bliss earlier I would not know who was sarcastic that saved lots of anguish. Now when I know and escalate things to protect myself it brings so many tensions. Hope I will be wise like you when I am forty. Blessings and thanks, I read your older blogs too they are awesome!

Anonymous said...

Bless you, Rina, I would hardly call myself wise, but thanks for the compliment!

It seems you are at that painful place of realising that the world isn't all black and white and clearcut boundaries. But you will no doubt reach a point of balance and come to terms with it. Don't despair. Bear in mind that you are looking back on days of innocence, but for your child those days are now. You can revisit the joy and excitement through those eyes but use the wisdom you are gaining so painfully to protect and guide.