The Roeland Street Fruit and Veg. is a wonderful shop that is always overflowing with good, fresh produce and bustling with shoppers and sometimes, mid-week on afternoons or on weekends (I’ve almost memorised her schedule now), the street-side of the shop serves as a begging spot for a particular homeless woman.
I’ve walked past her and have shaken my head at her requests for small change many times. During the first few months of my time in Cape Town, I avoided carrying cash with me – my logic was that, at least if I was ever robbed, my bank card could simply be cancelled, whereas I could not get back that R50 or R100 note – and so perhaps then I was exempt from helping her somewhat.
However, for the past two months or so, I have, on occasion, had cash on my person (so if anyone’s planning to rob me, now is the time)… but I still haven’t given her anything, not one of my freshly-baked paninis, nor a ‘spare’ R5 coin in my small velvety purse.
Yes, every time I walk past her, I try to avert my eyes, I shake my head the moment she opens her mouth and begins to speak and I feel that irrepressible feeling of guilt festering in pit of my stomach, it burns like acid… if only temporarily.
I could easily stop – as a few but never very many people do – and give her something. It doesn’t have to be something ‘big’… but the truth is, as a full-time, unemployed student, it’s hard for me to make ends meet on a weekly basis.
My parents make sure I have more than enough money but usually when I pay for a few groceries – I believe it was a grand total of four last time, three of which were basic essentials: milk, bread and the like – it amounts to R90 and were I to give small change out to every homeless person I passed on the street, as part of me very much would like to do (if I really thought it would help them, that is), I would very quickly be penniless too.
I could, as I said, help this woman and I’ve been sorely tempted to recently… but I feel that once I start to do it, she will expect money from me every time I walk by en route to someplace else.
How heartless of me, not so? Yes, maybe it is and perhaps one day I’ll burn in Hell for my sins because I surely deserve to. I’ve never had live and beg on the streets – and I hope I never do – so yes, I should help those less fortunate than me. I should take pity on this woman, even if I only ever do it once.
And perhaps one day very soon I will but the cynical part of me knows that even if I were to do so, it will not really help her when all is said and done.
It might give her a meal for today but tomorrow the vicious cycle will begin all over again. I will listen to her fighting (and managing some very creative uses of certain Afrikaans swearwords in the process…) with her fellow street people again tomorrow night and I will wonder if she’s just wasting all the money on liquor like the ‘bergies’ in my little ‘dorpie’, Montagu, do…
Maybe that’s why I don’t give her money – or maybe it’s just another bad excuse to soothe my conscious.
I don’t know the reason… all I know is whatever reasons I may have for not helping this woman, they are inexcusable and petty… but I also know that this is above me.
It’s above those two gentlemen that just stopped to give her some fresh oranges and a bread roll. It’s above the next woman, her arms laden with grocery parcels, that uttered a small apology as she kept on walking.
If Cape Town is really for us – for the people – then it needs to find a way to help the ones living on the street… and a soup kitchen on Mandela Day or night shelters that come at a price are not the answer.
I don’t have the answer but I hope that someone out there will read this and that they will one day be able to provide it for the Roeland Str. lady and all those like her… until then, I guess it’s just up to the people of this city to help themselves – or wait for small hand-outs from passing strangers.
[Date Written: 26/09/14]