It was ten days before my wedding, and my new parents-in-law were arriving from Poland, keen to explore South Africa.
Blame it on pre-wedding jitters, or a worry-wart bride, but I was concerned that their time in the country should go without a hitch. This was their first time in Africa, the first time meeting my parents, the marriage of their first son and only child – a whole host of firsts, and I was eager that we all should impress.
They had elected to explore Cape Town on their own before joining a German tour group meandering its way up to Johannesburg – and the wedding.
What worried me most was their safety. They didn’t speak much English, and had “tourist” branded all over them, right down to their functional attire, adorned with money belts and cameras. They were prime targets for someone wanting to chance their luck, or so I thought.
My fiance and I made sure we were at the airport to welcome them on the day of their arrival.
I feared the worst when
I feared the worst when, exchanging money at Cape Town International, they walked away from the teller still counting their wad of green. I, and the long queue of people awaiting service, ogled as they split the notes – approximately, as one might a pack of cards – and stuffed one half into a coat pocket, the other into a handbag.
I’ve never been a body-guard, but as we walked to the parking lot, I came to understand the stress of this job. I literally danced around them, shielding them with my body any time I thought I recognised someone from that bank queue. “This can only end badly”, I lamented.
With wedding preparations pressing, we had to fly back to Johannesburg the next morning, leaving the parents to their own resources. We equipped them with South African SIM cards and promised to check in once in a while, further urging them to err on the side of caution.
Subdued but safe
This is precisely what they did the first few days, taking guided tours around the city. They travelled up Table Mountain, to the penguins at Boulders Beach, into Simonstown. “Good”, I thought, “Very Good” – theirs will be a more subdued but safe travel experience.
And surely a shopping outing to the V&A Waterfront is similarly tame? That it was, until they came out of the centre late one evening, and decided that the cool summer evening would be well spent on a walk back to their City Bowl hotel.
With one map between them, along with the day’s shopping, they set about their journey. But when they’d been walking for close on an hour, it became apparent that they hadn’t a clue where they were.
Four figures emerge out of the dark
Imagine them there: two strangers standing on the edge of a highway, squabbling in Polish over an open map about who is to blame for getting them lost, when four figures emerge out of the dark and head straight for them.
I’m not altogether sure what passed between those six figures, shrouded by night, or in what language.
But what I do know is that four construction workers, on their way home from a long day’s labour, escorted my parents-in-law right across the highway (horns blaring, bright lights flickering), through town, to the very door of their hotel.
And then, as suddenly as they appeared, they left.
Angels doing construction work
As they related their story the next day, I was struck with this thought: that even while our country has many difficult challenges ahead of it, and a tragic past behind it, generosity, goodness and hope reside stubbornly in the heart of its people.
My father, when told of the event, set about convincing me that this was an act of divine intervention. He argued that four angels were watching over my husband’s parents as they walked those city streets.
Human angels doing construction work in the City Bowl? Just maybe – and where else but in South Africa?
Judith Browne is a South African living in Singapore.
Story submitted to SAinfo on 13 April 2008