The prodigal Rashid has returned. It happened a week ago. I was sure I saw him while driving past the house. Lo and behold three days later he was on our stoep again. This time I was not going to let him storm off a mystery. He has also promised me he won’t leave again before he says goodbye.
I chanced upon one of his sane moments when I came home this afternoon. Rashid explained to me that in his absence he had gone to his sister Faiza, in Athlone. He had returned to our stoep because his sister’s husband, who is a high school teacher and on tik (not ideal) would not let him stay unless he paid R1000 a month just for a room, no food. As we know already Rashid is 100 percent anti alcohol and does not have that kind of money, and so the brother in law “who is messed in his head” is not Rashid’s favourite person.
When I began to ask about his story, Rashid revealed that he was a commander in the police force before the wine went to his weak head and he started getting tattoos. He has dice on his neck and the cartoon on his wrist. Rashid has official documents: an RSA identity document and a SASSA (South African Social Services) card. Rashid has a birthday: the 27th of October 1951. That makes him 62 years old this year. Happy Birthday Rashid. He also showed me his Nedbank card which he tells has almost enough money to afford the R760 to stay in the shelter which provides a room and food.
Rashid tells me has always been single and he is happy that way but he has charm with the ladies, don’t I agree? Abashed, I said ‘yes you do’ (what else could I say?). Rashid then told me not to worry, when he’s got the money he’ll come back for me. I am not terribly convinced as he also mentioned this morning how my tall limber, blonde, male digsmate was “very sexy”. As well as the other shorter guy. “Are you in love with him? With both of them?” – said with astounding audacity.
For a good thirty minutes I stood in our doorway and repeated questions to Rashid, trying to get the semi-intelligible truth out of him. We were treading a fine line between Rashid taking a seat on our couch and me politely excusing myself by saying I was late. He has also started regularly asking for food which is unusual and strange after last month’s events. I am adamant not to give in because to be honest, next thing I know, Rashid will be helping himself to the contents of our fridge. I know he will be ok as someone down the road feeds him.
As I closed the door I felt a bit sick. I was treating Rashid like any other beggar. Offering him acknowledgement and conversation, perhaps even abusing his story for this one, and closing the door on him. He laughingly asked if we had Halaal food and I at this point really had to leave Rashid outside and go inside the house. I said ‘no we don’t Rashid I must go’, and closed the door on him. What was I meant to do? At that instant he said ‘don’t irritate me’ and crawled back into his corner. I knew he was referring to the way in which I deliberately ignored his hints at finding enough money and giving him food. I am torn between wanting to save this man from the outside and doing whatever is within my power to get him into a shelter. And on the other hand mayber it is wiser to let him be and not get involved in something that is well beyond my comprehension.
Knowing that he has a family changes things. Why have they not helped him? His sister Faiza is clearly not going to save him. Who am I to him, and how are we connected? Just the blonde twenty-something privileged white who lives in a gentrified house in the Bo Kaap. A gentrified house that, it turns out, used to be Rashid’s family home. Rashid says that he was born down the road, in 20 Jordaan Street. His family moved here shortly after and left the house in 1980 when Faiza sold it. And that’s why he chose this stoep. Rashid, may the summer come soon so that you may not have to lie on this cold stoep and get irritated by me because if I were you, I’d be irritated too.
Written by Candace Gawler for a now-defunct section of Platform called ‘Reality’.