Waiting for Warren to pick me up after work yesterday evening – enjoying a smoke in the company of ‘my’ tree – I was hailed from behind. I turned to see a young man of Indian extraction, willowy and fey, greeting me. Not by name,mind you, yet I still felt as if my name had indeed been uttered. Odd. I felt that flash of instant but fuzzy recognition, and at first thought that this was somebody I’d worked with in the past – somebody whose name I just could not, for the moment, remember.
But no. It rapidly became clear that, on one level, I had never seen this young man before in this life, and at the same time I did know him, had known him all my life.
He wanted taxi fare into Joburg, and without hesitation I searched the last of my coins from my purse. I also offered him a cigarrette, which he took with every sign of gratitude. He sat under the tree and we smoked, and I saw that in his mien which let me know his immediate past history as well as his probable future, in a flash, as if it were all written there in that exquisitely fine boned face.
Without a moment’s hesitation I found myself assuring him that he would be alright, as I had been. I relayed a brief outline of my own near death, lying on the streets of Joburg. This is not something I particularly tell to new-met strangers.
His face displayed to me all I needed to know. The death of hope, a desperate addiction, and the promise of a long hard fall from grace were all written there – although his clothes were neat and clean and new.
I promised him that he would come through the future – just as I had – and invited him not to believe my words, but to come tell me in a couple of years.
The tree listened, enrapt. The birds perched and gave ear.
And I realised, in this sudden meeting with this familiar stranger – who was now weeping silently behind his hand – that I had become that Gypsy woman who you meet on the road; the one who tells you your past, present and future. The one who gives you the strength to go on for just a few more miles, to your destiny.