Note: The following story has been translated from my Greek book ‘From Cape Town to Alexandria’ narrating an overland trip from side to side of the African Continent.
Quite a few hours must have passed since the moment we were clinking the first beer glasses, in an Irish pub, until the next vivid memory I have: wondering “Where the hell am I?”, while drifting wasted along a narrow dark street. Only a few blurry pictures remained in my recollection from the void interval in between: A Rastafari guitarist playing a Gibson off the drummer’s beat and singing blissful stoner songs. A band of South African virtuosos playing some frisky cape-jazz rhythms. A beautiful black-eyed female violinist shifting her fiddle to an fro, producing mellow melodies. Music and dance! Different people, in different places, moving their lips up and down, making sounds, they too, which must have been words. Glasses clinking. And yet more clinks. That’s pretty much all I remember… and, of course, a constant alcohol effluvium. I have no idea how I, finally, ended up lost, alone in that narrow street, in the middle of the dark night.
I continued moving in search of something familiar around me, or someone to ask for directions. Even though it was night, I could not say that the city was deserted. Many human voices were resounding frequently around me. As I was crossing a junction, I turned my head to the right and saw a bunch of about a dozen guys, apparently homeless, turning around to look at me, all at the same time. I did not find it a particularly good idea to ask them and tell them how I was lost; I thought it wiser to keep on my way straight.
Another guy was walking against me now. I could only distinguish his spindly silhouette in this dingy back street. Only when we passed from next to each other, I was able to see a glow from his eyes which were looking directly into mine. I also saw a prison tattoo on his throat, which was rendered visible by some dim light, for a fraction of a second. After a while, I’d found myself in a well-lit street – relatively well-lit. I detected the presence of a young girl walking down the street. She seemed to me, mostly instinctively, like the right person to ask. I proceeded straight to her.
Eventually, we’d wound up in a park, consuming a bag of beers. We shared that park with many other homeless people.
“Do not worry about them” – she told me after we had sat. “Here’s their home. I know the most of them. They are good dudes. Once I was also staying here.”
“But you do not anymore?” – I asked her.
“No! Now I have a job and I rent a room” – she told me as she turned to look at me, pride radiating out of her eyes.
“But you used to be homeless too, yes?”
“Yes,” – she said indifferently – “I grew up in an orphanage. Then I lived on the streets for some time. Now I have a home.”
“Your parents? If I may ask…”
“I never met them. I don’t care.”
“Life can be hard sometimes, eh?”
“Life’s nice.” – she said after she pondered it for a while.
I gobbled down a fat gulp from my beer and fell into my thoughts for a spell.
A police car drove by the road in front of us at a crazy speed, its siren screeching madly.
“Criminality levels must be high around here, eh?”
“Yes, indeed, very high.” – she said, giving an affirmative and categorical nod. “About a dozen people are being murdered daily in Cape Town, on average. Robberies, beatings, rapes… You do not do well rambling around here all alone, in the middle of the night… You know, poverty… that’s what’s to blame.”
“Poverty, yes. I have already noticed. As a matter of fact, it does not take much to notice it. But who do you think is responsible for it?”
“How should I know?” – she said after she cast a perplexed gaze straight into my eyes. “Some say the government, others say the whites, others fate, others God… I do not know.”
Such things we spoke about, we emptied two or three cans of beer each, and we proceeded to leave; it was going to dawn soon. Soon after we left the park, a gang of four or five guys, who did not seem to be particularly friendly, began to advance towards our part from behind. My friend pulled me by the hand to pick up the pace. When they finally reached us, scurrying along with us, my friend turned about abruptly, and, in a thundering voice, told them something in some African language of theirs. I have, of course, no idea what exactly she could have told them. Whatever it was, however, it worked; so that they stopped following us at once. “She has some guts!” – I thought. Some twenty steps later: “They wanted to rob you.” – she turned and told me. “I know, I understood that.” – I responded.
Soon after, we were on the Main Road: where I had asked her to lead me to, in the first place. My home was about a kilometer straight from there. She offered to accompany me all the way, telling me how dangerous it is, that they will rob me, and so on. I assured her that there was no need, I will be fine, and the rest. The truth is, I was not really worried about getting robbed, as all that I was carrying with me was my cheap clothes, a tobacco, a lighter, a few coins (leftover from the beers), and a dagger.
So did I bid her farewell and started walking up the Main Road.