There have been few moments in my life that have made me stop dead in my tracks, to think.
But one of those moments has stayed with me. It was the reaction of a homeless man when I gave him my leftover food.
I was in Newtown, inside my car at the Market Theatre’s parking lot, early for a play. While I was faffing about in my car, he came to my window.
I wasn’t surprised. I had seen him going to other cars to ask for food and I knew that he would eventually come to mine.
He asked me for something to eat, in such a humiliatingly humble way I was embarrassed for him. I could have saved him all that begging if I had simply gone to him and given him my leftovers.
But still, I waited for him to come to me.
I reached over to pick up a polystyrene take-away box and, as I picked it up, the lid flew open and he looked inside.
His eyes widened and he gave a toothless grin … He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. I briefly thought I had offended him with my offering, but his smile was genuine and he eagerly reached for the box.
“Oh my goodness, it’s wors!” he said with an enthusiasm that made me think he had been dreaming about it. For him, the true joy within that moment was to eat wors, something that he perhaps hadn’t had in a long time. He put away the packet of cold, old chips he was holding, saying he could eat those the next morning. Tonight he was having wors.
His reaction reminded me of a song:
Here, have a dollar
In fact, no, brotherman, here have two.
Two dollars means a snack for me
But it means a big deal to you.
So go the lyrics of 1990s Afro-soul band Arrested Development’s hit song Mr Wendell.
Mr Wendell, that’s his name.
No one ever knew his name coz he’s a no one.
Never thought twice about spending on an old bum,
until I had the chance to really get to know one.
The singer saw the humanity in Mr Wendell, as I saw the homeless man’s simple joy at being given food he rarely got to eat.
And it had been nothing to me. I could have taken that wors home and perhaps eaten it the next day, or given it to my helper, or simply left it in the fridge for a few days before throwing it away.
Our concepts of joy are different, I thought. His causes of joy are not the same as mine.
I would be happy if the man of my one day confesses underlying love for me, or if I finally got this side-mirror fixed and my traffic fines paid up. His joy was based on that moment. He knew he would eventually be hungry again, but for that night he would be able to forget hunger for a while.
I learned a lesson that day. I’ve slowed down a bit, and learned to appreciate the kindness I am shown by others. But I also learned, more importantly, that any kindness shown to others should never be mentioned and no appreciation must ever be expected, because none may ever be shown.
I’ve learned to appreciate the ability to have a conversation with anyone, about anything. Whether I know something or nothing about it, I can at least try to listen and understand, put in my two cents’ worth and just have a moment with another human being.
There is a lot of warmth in a lot of people, although we live in a world that discourages us from showing it to others and feeling it from those who show it to us.
These moments of connection can happen every day. In heavy traffic, I catch the smile of a child in a passing car. Sitting at the back, parents oblivious in the front, the child just smiles at me and, as the car turns the corner, waves goodbye.
Or catching the kiss of a construction worker sitting at the back of a truck, facing me. It’s embarrassing to try not to look at workers in the back of trucks or bakkies as they unashamedly stare at you, so sometimes it’s best to humour them. I blow the kiss back. He catches it with a smile and yells something back at me as I zoom past the slow, heavy truck packed with cement, ladders, toolboxes, pipes – and him.
It feels good to share these moments with perfect strangers, in a sincere and pure way with other motive than to make them smile. That’s when joy comes naturally from within, and is shared with another.
Khanyi Magubane is a journalist, published poet, radio broadcaster and fiction writer. She writes for Media Club South Africa, and brings with her an eclectic mix of media experience. She’s worked as a radio journalist for stations including Talk Radio &702 and the youth station YFM, where she was also a news anchor. She’s been a contributing features writer in a number of magazines titles including O magazine and Y mag. She’s also a book reviewer and literary essayist, published in the literary journal Wordsetc. Magubane is also a radio presenter at SAfm, where she hosts a Sunday show. She’s currently also in the process of completing the manuscript of her first novel, an extract of which has been published in Wordsetc.