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 NahoonBeach 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…
After more than 25 years in a respectable career, I changed direction. I am now to be found in either my workshop or my studio, crafting, creating, upcycling and all manner of related activities. I am usually covered in paint or sawdust...or both.