Blue Monday: Going Home

It’s our last day in Cape Town. Our flight leaves tonight at 10:30. It’s time to pack, to clean up the apartment and the car, to empty the fridge, carry out the garbage, and say goodbye.

Sue’s worked it out so that we’ve eaten almost all our groceries. Scrambled eggs for breakfast, a few crackers and some cheese (we’ll have that for happy hour with the remaining gin and tonic), and my little bag of biltong (I’ll take that with me on the plane for snacking.

After breakfast the clean up started in earnest. Out came the suitcases. As soon as the ‘white’ load of laundry was finished washing it was hung out on the rack on the balcony to dry. I packed the golf clubs and a few pairs of shoes into the big travel case. Then we headed down to the garage to clean and park the car. We washed it and backed it right tight against the back wall so there’d be room for a second car to park in front of it. I did my best to disconnect the battery and lock up the car the way it was when we first arrived — I’m not sure I got it back to the way it was though. The first time I disconnected the cable the remote door locks still worked! So I tried disconnecting a second cable that was still attached to the positive battery post — and then the car’s alarm went off. Full blast! Pretty loud down there in the garage! Okay, that can’t be right. So I reconnected the second cable, locked the car, and we put the big car cover over it. Done.

Back upstairs it was time to vacuum. The sheets were now dry so Sue could make the bed. I gathered up all my computer and TV cabling and paraphernalia and packed it away. We moved most of the furniture and kitchen things back to where they were when we got here. Showered. Now the towels could go into the washer.

I’d seen my buddy Mike down below and arranged that we would go out for lunch today. By 11:30 I was ready to eat something. I went downstairs and there on the sidewalk beside our building were Mike and another ‘car guard’ trying on and dividing up some used clothing they’d just received from a tenant in the building across the street. After 2 cool and rainy days, they both needed some ‘new’ clothes, and today was their lucky day! I went back upstairs and looked through the pile of now clean and folded clothes we were taking home — and dug out a few shirts and a red blanket we’d brought from home. The boys were happy to receive.

I took Mike to Rocomama’s, the hamburger place just down the street. He was extremely grateful. No one, not even his father or mother, had ever taken him out to a restaurant and bought him a meal. We ordered two big fancy burgers and a couple of small Castle lagers. And then Mike began to share a bit of his life’s story. What a sorry tale!

A blurry photo of Mike and me taken by the waiter at Rocomamas.
A blurry photo of Mike and me taken by the waiter at Rocomamas.

Born in South Africa, his mother soon took him back to her native Congo. He first met his father when he was 8 years old. That’s when his father showed up and took Mike back to Johannesburg, South Africa and ‘gave’ him to another family there. Many years later Mike learned that his mother had died shortly after he was taken away. He went to school but never really fit in with the new family. He showed me the scars on his hands, where, after getting caught stealing food, his new ‘mother’ dripped a burning plastic bag to teach him a lesson. He next moved in with his father, who now had a new wife. The father never said a kind word to Mike, and the step-mother was an alcoholic who conveniently blamed Mike for everything that was wrong in her life. So when items in the home ‘disappeared’, it was Mike who got the beatings. Finally, at the age of 12, Mike was kicked out of the house and began living on the street. His father told him that he never wanted to hear from him again. Mike eventually ended up in a “refugee camp” in Johannesburg. Nothing good came of that either — especially since Mike has no official documentation. In fact, according to Mike, the South Africans mistreated the refugees something terrible! He is an illegal, even though he was born in South Africa. He has no birth certificate. He can’t prove anything. He can’t afford a lawyer to help him either. He finally came to Cape Town early this year, hoping to find work, and he’s actually had a couple of jobs. But as soon as the South African workers find out he’s an illegal the union steps in and the company has to let him go. He’s taking away jobs from the South Africans.

So I asked Mike what he hoped for. Where would he be a month, a year, 10 years from now? He said he was determined to NOT be a beggar on the street — that as long as he was able he wanted to EARN his keep. And he believed in miracles. In fact, every morning when he opened his eyes he thanked God for that small miracle. Every day you can watch the news and hear about people who have died, who will not open their eyes again. So he was full of gratitude and full of hope. And what did he need most right now? He needed a roof over his head. He believes that if he could just scrape together one month’s rent he can manage to ‘earn’ enough parking cars to pay the next month’s rent — and that will give him security and the chance to put his resume together and hopefully land a job. Right now he needs to bring his backpack with him wherever he goes, even to a job interview, because he has no save place. And the security guard at the apartment across the street from ours has offered him a small 1-room ‘apartment’ for 400 Rand a month — that’s less then $40 Canadian.

I paid for the meal, asked the waiter to take a photo of the two of us, and we headed back. I gave Mike the 250 Rand I had in my wallet and told him we’d see him tonight when we go out for supper. He was overwhelmed.

Back in the apartment Sue was all finished packing. I carried another big garbage bag downstairs to the bins. The towels were nearly dry out on the balcony. The fridge was all cleaned out.

We had our last gin and tonic and some crackers and cheese and watched a bit of TV. We listened to the outdoor music concert that was happening all afternoon in the park across the road. The sun was shining and the temperature was 22 degrees. Not hot, but not cold either.

We went out for supper at around 6:30. We weren’t really hungry but figured we had to eat on our street one last time. Sue had a bowl of soup, I had calamari. On our way back to the apartment we stopped to say goodbye to Mike and to give him another 200 Rand. He was ecstatic.

Up in the room we did one last check and then hauled our bags, including a big heavy golf bag, down the stairs. I had to lock one set of keys into the mailbox which proved to be a bit tricky. Then I contacted Uber for a taxi which showed up at our door 3 minutes later. Mike was there to load our luggage into the Toyota. He says, “I miss you guys already.” And off we were.

We got to the airport plenty early, but Sue was determined to collect back our VAT tax and we’d read online that if we presented our receipts and showed what we’d bought to the desk at the airport we could get some credit. I was expecting the worst — a long line up and lots of hassles, but no, it really went very smoothly. There were several German tourists in the line ahead of us — they travel to South Africa more frequently and know their way around. In the end we got $31 US dollars credit on a credit card. I’m not sure it was worth the half hour we spent there, but Sue was pleased.

We boarded our plane at 10:30. It left at eleven. Right after take-off the KLM crew served us chicken wraps and quinoa. And by midnight we were snoozing peacefully on a completely packed Boeing 777 (in fact, they were looking for five volunteers to postpone their trip out of Cape Town by one day — but we declined: too many connections, too many obligations waiting at home, etc).