He sat there, hugging the window tight, with a hint of melancholy. Head rested on the window pane, eyes staring at a distance in pensive thought. His head peering outside as if searching for something, perhaps a treasure map to a path leading to a pot of gold, I thought. Whatever it may be, he was caught in his own world and we were but a fragment of his imagination. In that world he was a King, actor or better yet a programmer but guess it didn’t matter as long he had an abundance of money.’ Money!’ yes, the sweetest scent, cure to life’s many problems. The train jerked to a stop, and the passengers trolled in silently, in dual precision.  He didn’t budge, he just sat there, a lone figure as the passengers scrammed else-where for seating. His clothes, were in tatters but that seemed the least of his worries, he reached for an object in his bag and within seconds a toothpaste lay firmly in his hand. Using the red KFC spoon he digs out the last of the toothpaste. Gently, he resumes brushing his teeth in circular motion. With his other hand, he digs deeper in his bag for a bottle of water, he sips some of the water, gurgles and spurts out the toothpaste infiltrated water, out the window. With the train in motion, I sat there, staring at him from the seat adjacent to him, he was oblivious to my presence but all I could see was the face of embarrassment carved on his face; I guess embarrassment from the situation he found himself in, in essence it was the feeling of disassociation from society due to his lack of I assumed. I continued staring at the people walking past the seat next to him as they scrambled for seats elsewhere. The train came to a halt at Steurhof station and he dashed out like a bullet. Without giving it much thought a part of me ran after him.

“Hey wait up!” I called after him. He just kept running.  “Hey!” I screamed, breathlessly. “What that fuck do you want!” he spat back with a heavily accented voice. “Uhm”, I stammered. He turned around and resumed a brisk steady walk with his head bowed down, and his hands in his pockets hiding out from the chilly weather. I followed a step behind, “Hey,” I called out. He turned around spat at my feet and as he wiped the spit with his sleeve he shouts out with such venom “wat sook jy!” “uhm, directions” I innocently reply. “Los my uit,” he screams back. “I just wanna talk.” I pleaded while trying to catch my breath. The air was dense, sharp, crisp and a bit chilly, with the morning rays of sunshine creeping out from behind the mountains, a perfect Cape Town weather.  He had jumped of the train and jetted of without looking back, he had no idea I had followed him. I just wanted to know him, find out who he was, guess my conscious needed to be cleansed, I thought. I had looked past the stench, his dishevelment and all I saw was a boy trying to get by life. He appeared 14 or 15 years of age, he was just that, a boy. “Hold up will you!” I screamed back. He slowed down caught his breath. Turned around and shot a bullet of saliva at my feet. “I just want to talk,” I reiterated.” Talk about what,” he spat again. I could sense disgust in his voice. “I couldn’t help but notice that you were out of toothpaste,” I lied. In truth I was curious to know what fostered him to this life. “So!” he replied. “Can I buy you one?” I asked. “I don’t need charity!” he spat. “Ok, I get you, how about we chat and I buy you toothpaste for your time, tit for tat in that way it wouldn’t be charity.” He toyed around with the idea, while he bowed his head, hands in his pocket, with his backpack firmly rested on his back. “Ok, what do you want to talk about?” He asked. Let’s grab some coffee I offered. We made our way towards Mozart café, up the main road. “So what should I call you?” I asked sheepishly. I took a look at him and realised he hadn’t taken a bath in a while sadness masked his face and the bag appeared to be the only thing he possessed.

“Hey, I’m Lebz short for Lebo, and may I add I don’t usually ask guys out on a date,” we both chuckled as I waited for him to tell me his, but after a moment of silence I realised he intended keeping his name to himself.  “So, where are your parents?” I asked. I could see a tear forming in the corner of his eye but I looked down at my brogues for some distraction. “Damn these shoes need a polish,” I said trying to break the ice. “Here I got it,” he replies as he kneels down and takes a cloth from his bag. He began polishing my brogues in circular motion, though I couldn’t brush off the idea that he was trying to avoid tearing up in front of a stranger. “You good at this shoe shining thing”, I joked. “Well I car wash occasionally for some cash, not all of us steal for a living,” he adds. That stung but “it’s really society’s misconceptions about reality,” I replied. ‘They box us and imply we hooligans, that we animals, their kids should stay away from us. They throw their left over food out the window of their fancy cars but they feed their dogs better than us. We apparently appear ominous. We told we dirty, we should clean up, and we shouldn’t make shelter under the bridge. In a nutshell we treated as barbarians, we judged for merely being part of the have not. I didn’t choose this environment out of choice, circumstances led me here and should I have been born to a sea of wealth I wouldn’t be scrapping at the bottom of the barrel,” he lashed out  All I did was lend an ear, I listened. I couldn’t even begin to understand the life he lived, at his age I was in some cushy school eating croissants for breakfast; I trailed of track in thought. “My dad is incarcerated in Polsmoor prison,” he continues. “Like most of us coloured mense by die Kaap hy sit in die tronk. My mother is a druggie who spends most of her time sleeping her way for drugs. I’ve a step dad who enjoyed pulling my pants down to indulge in his sordid fantasies. That was my life and I pace the streets for refuge, for an outlet, a means for an escape. Sleeping under the stars isn’t as warm as people perceive it to be. It’s cold, wet and dirty but it beats sleeping and wondering if you will be getting uninvited guests sneaking in your room. ‘Suicide’ we told it’s blasphemous to think about it but living this world behind is a song that beats ever so sweetly in my mind. But I have hope that maybe just maybe there will be a rainbow at the end of this storm better yet a pot of gold with my name on it.” “You see this? He asks while he holds up a necklace with a cross, this is a daily reminder that there is hope, that there is a God high up between those stars,” he says while pointing towards the sky. “You think people like me don’t have problems?” I ask. “Yes, what problems do you have meisie kind? he asks, because you pouncing here dressed in your designer suit, smelling all Coco Chanel, what problems do you have? You can at least remember your last meal, the last time you showered in hot water, or how about a roof over your head. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the basic necessities of life. I’m just a kid but I’ve had to grow up pretty fast to deal with grown up issues.” “Money just simplifies things but it isn’t the answer to life problems,” I interject. “I had a mother who beat me up, I whisper as I fight back a tear. I look away staying fixated on a man cycling at a distance. Yeah, she once beat me up so bad my face was swollen, I came up with some story that I tripped and fell. My face has been sandwiched between a tile and a foot. I used to pray and ask god why she despised me so much, I contemplated suicide couple of times but here I am,” my right hand massages a scar on my left hand. “This scar I got it fighting her off while she severely cut my hair off, the t-shirt I had worn at the time was covered in blood from the contortions I succumbed to while wrestling her. Her hatred was deeply rooted and it manifested in my very existence. The lie I conjured up when approached at school about my new haircut; it was time for a change.” “It’s nothing compared to what you going through,” I added but I know what pain is. I wiped the tears and blew my nose. “I hear you, he sighs but at least you have a cushy bed to go home to this evening.” “Touché, I manage to snap, I did go to a cushy school I continue but my school mates failed to smell the gas stench I wore secretly. You see the electricity at home had been disconnected as the finances hadn’t been adding up. For months we made use of candles and a gas stove, the fridge and lounge suite were repossessed. Every day I would go to school see my friends being dropped off in fancy cars. My dad put down two jobs to make ends meet so at least we could have something to eat. Television that didn’t exist either, I would listen to my friends relaying an episode of generations and I would come up with some story about going to bed early. That’s hardly the half of it,” I could feel a hand pressing my shoulder but all I could muster was a sigh. It was the first time I had ever opened up about my past to a stranger. “These clothes bury the pain I’ve endured; the pricey scent covers the gas stench I can’t seem to shake off. He listened and hardly felf pity. “How about that coffee,” I offered as I spotted Mozart café a block ahead. He nods his head as I lead him to the coffee shop. There was more to my story however skeletons are best left in the closet, I thought. As we walked in, the patrons in the café began conversing in hush tones, hands fanning the odour making it’s way from my guest. I could see it made him uncomfortable, “how about a take away?” as I turned to face him I caught a glimpse of his back on his way out. I turned and ran after him but I couldn’t keep up.

“Hey doc,” as I knocked on the door with my head peering in. “You ready to see me?” “Sure come in.” he replies as his left hand beckons me in, while he takes of his glasses and rests them on the table. “How you feeling?” he asks with a concerned look. “I’m okay, keeping it together, taking my meds, how you though treating the lady in your life like a queen I hope. Remember a lady deserves the best,” I reprimand with a wag of the figure as we chuckle. “Always, my back can’t take sleeping on the couch, ask any man thrown banished to the dog pound,” he adds with laughter.  “Back to business,” he clears his throat as he picks up a file in front of him. “It’s not looking good, I’m afraid,” I hear him say as he clasps his hands and rests his chin. The words are like daggers, each blow leaving me breathless so this is what it feels like when your life daggles by a thread, huh. He walks over, takes a seat, with my hand in his, he whispers “You ok.” I nod my head and snuggle it warmly on his shoulder as I let the words settle in.

I see him, but he doesn’t see me, I look at him, but he doesn’t see me, I eye him but still he doesn’t see me. The rain drops dance on the window pane, streaming down the gutters, I eye him and he doesn’t see me. Pitter, patter, tit- tat, the droplets hit the ground but he still sits there. Whish- whash the tyres glide ever so gently as the cars drive by but still he sits there, oblivious to his cold damp surrounding. Is it mind over matter, maybe he is day dreaming about some distant grandiose picturesque getaway with his bikini clad partner by his side. But in reality he sat stooped under the tree taking refuge from the rain. I sat from a distant studying him, a part of me wanting to reach out and offer a hand, a roof over his head to dry him against the rain, a plate of food, some warm clothes. Tomorrow he will find himself in another corner strapped between cardboard boxes while embracing a bottle or better yet a container with some glue to help numb the pain. It’s a bitter sweet cruel world for some out there, for others like me we fortunate to have a means of bringing home the bacon, white crisp sheets to lay our heads, the trees we see are meant to beatify our spaces rather than shelter us from the harshness of reality. He was gone, but not forgotten. He had left a footprint engraved ever so deeply within the grey spaces in my memory bank. As society we care much about the tags on our clothes, the keys on our straps, how many followers we have on instagram but in reality who are we without the finer things in life, when our brothers and sisters are but flies on the wall due to their lack off. How we look away in contempt and disgust while we block our noses from the stench as we fear to contract whatever filth that comes with them. None of us if given the chance would choose to have their address at a designated street corner landmarked by a tree with cardboard boxes being our mattress and bedding and trolleys our storage compartments. “Lord life is truly something ain’t it?” I sigh as I open my umbrella to shelter myself from the lashings of the rain. He had no idea I was there but a part of me had to find him.

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