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  • He works a twelve hour shift
    6 days a week,
    another foot soldier
    in the small army of security guards
    all across this city.
    Looking through bars of the gate,
    up and down this dusty street,
    he watches the university students lost in private soundtracks
    and hookers strutting their stuff.
    They pass, each lost in their own parallel dimensions.
    He watches the raggedy men
    pushing makeshift trolleys,
    shopping carts hitched together
    with rusty twists of wire,
    sifting the trash for paper and cardboard
    and the casually discarded scraps of children’s lunches .
    There, at the gates to the school,
    keeping the wider and wilder city at bay, he watches.
    Parents, students and teachers pass through the gates.
    Some without a glance
    as if the silently sliding gate
    is theirs by right.
    For them, Abram is invisible in his uniform.
    Others stop, encouraged
    by the radiance of his smile.
    They’ve learned the African handshake.
    They talk about the football
    Mamelodi Sundowns,
    Orlondo Pirates,
    Kaizer Chiefs,
    and hurry on.

    On Thursday nights when we practice tango
    he likes to tell me I am doing the old people’s dancing
    and we laugh.

    He asked if I had time today.
    Time to talk.
    Maybe you have seen Mr. Ben,
    Sometimes my mind is elsewhere,
    and I am not ready with the gate
    Maybe you have noticed Mr. Ben

    I have noticed 12 hours is a long shift
    but I wait patiently for him to finish.

    I see you Mr. Ben,
    you are like the father
    and all the people
    they come to talk to you.
    And this is good Mr. Ben,
    because it is not good to keep things inside.
    Not good to hold trouble in silence.

    Here it comes I thought.
    I wonder how much he wants
    and touch my wallet.

    My father he is sick
    and it is the sickness of HIV
    and so hard it is
    for me the son
    to see his father this way,
    as dead already instead of still alive.
    So hard to understand.

    And I see you Mr. Ben.
    How you speak to the people.
    How they tell you their troubles.
    And today, I needed this as well.

    Oh, it is a human chorus
    and an African lament,
    as old as the ancient sun glazed hills and fresh as yesterday for him.
    The walls and gates he guards stand stark
    but the line between smiles and tears is fine
    and, at times, so permeable
    that we pass between these domains
    without the formality of border crossings .
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