Monday, August 13, 2007

A stranger in my sunroom

Sometimes I shock myself with my optimism for people. This afternoon a young man in his late teens/early twenties came by my house, looking for garden work.

My garden is desperately in need of someone to drag it out of the winter blues, and I haven't felt like gardening lately, so it was good someone was willing to do a bit of digging and cleaning up. That was about 17h30 and his request for a temp job was routine.

But it was late afternoon and I didn’t think he'd have enough time to do a decent amount of work. So I told him to come tomorrow morning if he wants a temp job.

Around 20h30, he came came back to my house, said he missed the train to Soweto, and asked for help. I know I’m supposed to be the hardass cynical journalist living in the big bad city who has seen it all, heard it all, done it all and doesn't fall for a con. And you don’t survive in Jo’burg because you’re blind and stupid.

But the fact that I’ve seen and heard most cons, and generally know when an interview subject is lying to me/hiding something even when I choose not to call them on it, is precisely the reason I decided to give the boy a break. You either learn to bend with life’s rough winds and maintain your internal core, or you become some hard and brittle you break. And I believe in giving people at least one break - if they don't deserve it, then too bad for the both of us. I've been right more than I've been wrong, so it all balances out.

Anyway, in lieu of giving the guy a break, I dragged a mattress into my sunroom, dumped a pile of blankets and pillows there and told him to sleep. Obviously I also had to provide supper – where else would he have eaten?

The sunroom is outside my internal electronic alarm system and I locked all the doors into the house after setting up his sleeping space ( he was outside the whole time I did that). So there was never any real danger to my person. For the night, he’s protected by the external/perimeter system, the locked gates and the locked door from the sunroom into the garden.

What remains to be seen is whether he will still be outside tomorrow morning or whether he'll be gone, taking my bed linen with him.

My take is, if he’s on the up and up, then I helped out someone in need. If he’s a shyster, then I’m a couple of sheets, a duvet, blanket and pillow poorer, and my spirit a little bit dented. But I’ll still be fine. Much better than reading in the papers about him being murdered, and wishing I'd done something.

So if it was you, what would you have done? Would you have told him to get lost/find a hotel room/walk more than 30 kilometres to Soweto/not your problem?


Jenny said...

On a Sunday afternoon a nice looking fellow rang our doorbell. His story was that he'd been tiling a neighbour's house, the neighbours had gone and hadn't paid him, could I lend him money to get home.

Being a doubtful South African I took his name and told him he shouldn't "cheat" me. He promised to bring back the money the next day, at 9am, he said.

Well, I'm still waiting. I have to confess feeling really saddened. Are we all a bunch of liars, is there no one you can trust?

Damaria Senne said...

I'm very sorry to hear about that experience Jenny. I think mostly we deal with liars and cheats, and as the conspiracy theorists say, "trust no one." I choose to help people knowing full well that they might be lying to me and try not to be bitter when they do.

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