I was in Cape Town recently and while visiting the Waterfront, I was approached by a woman, asking for some change. She said she was homeless, and hadn’t had anything to eat that day. It occurred to me that she was about my mother’s age or slightly younger. I didn’t have any change to give her and told her so. She then asked if I would buy her something to eat. I realised then that she really was hungry and just wanted some food. Usually when beggars approach me, I do give some change, or if I don’t have any, try and politely move away, without wanting to be offensive. But this lady somehow made me want to help her.
We then walked to a little foodstall and I ordered a pie and something to drink for her. She told me she was Muslim, when she found out I was one too. I wasn’t sure about whether I should believe her or not, but then asked her about how she became homeless and whether she had children. She said she had 5 children, and they had all been taken away by social services, in addition to her having lost her home because of hard times. Of course there were many more thousands like her, but somehow I felt at that moment, she had prayed for someone to help her that day, and I had happened to come along.
As I was paying for the food, she tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “please can you buy me that” and pointed to one of the glass cases. I looked over and saw that she was pointing to a tray of freshly made koeksisters. I looked at her face, and I felt as if, had one of her children been there, that is exactly how she would have asked. So I bought 2 koeksisters, one for her and one for me, and we shared a moment.
It occured to me that in those few minutes that I shared with her, something quite sad yet also profound had happened. My heart broke when I thought about the fact that she would probably roam the streets that day, and maybe get to a shelter. There are so many homeless people in the world, and those of us that have homes to go to, perhaps don’t give much thought to what it would it be like to ask a total stranger to buy them food. But this lady had no choice. It made me appreciate my place in the world, melancholic as it may occasionally get.
I wonder though if she has had anything to eat today ?