Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • I was four cars back at the intersection waiting for the light to change when I saw the feet in the air.

    I rubbed my eyes. This first week back at work getting the school ready to open is hectic.

    Looked again. 3 lanes in each direction. Dusty trash strewn island between. The usual litter of auto glass and car parts marking the scenes of past miscalculations.

    Ahead, a mini-bus taxi fully loaded. 16 stoic heads all aligned and the driver, arm out the window, calling to a comrade driving the opposite direction.

    To one side, a battered garden service pick-up loaded with lawnmowers, rakes, shovels, and sacks of refuse and trimmings. 12 black guys in blue overalls squat and hang on amidst and on top of the clutter. Three more are jammed across the narrow front seat.

    To the other side, a flash BMW, top down, the driver busy texting and glancing up from time to time to check the light. Shifting in his seat. If he doesn’t get a quick jump on the loaded scrap metal truck belching diesel in front of him he’ll be jumping lanes.

    There they are again, a set of feet flipping through the air. I lean out to see.

    It’s a young beggar. Barefoot. A ragged, crusty sweatshirt that might have been a green but now has gone to true earth camo. Pants that end a-dangle at mid calf. On a leggy blonde they’d be capri, on him they are just wrong. His face and hands are pale and as he moves up the line of cars I see he is plastered with whitish mud.

    I opened the compartment in the dash with coins and dig out several. It is all silver Rand coins, not the copper and bronze cents. He eyes the line, scoping out his chances. Biology is at work here. An individual is not going to work extra for no benefit. I’ve seen the intersection beggars put in 12 and 15 hour days. Cold and dark in the morning, bare feet on the melting asphalt by mid day and cold and dark to close it out. He’s not coming this far unless I make a move.

    I hold the coins out the open window. He trots up. Free hand holds the hand open to receive.

    Baaie danke, baas. God bless you baas.

    You’re welcome, I tell him.

    For a moment our eyes meet. The light changes.

    The driver of the garden service truck hollers out a question. He’s lost. Needs directions.

    Standing in the middle of three lanes of traffic just starting to move, the beggar calls out directions in three languages. A mix of Afrikaans, Sotho and English.

    The day before I rode the bus with Mr. Thomas driving to pick up new staff at the airport. We passed the same intersection. That day the beggar was moon walking and doing robotic break-dance styling.

    That guy, Mr. Ben, he jives all day, said Mr. Thomas. He makes a lot of money. People give him 5 Rand 10 Rand. He makes 100-200 Rands.

    I drive that way every day.

    I see the guy.

    He jives all day.

    I rarely, if ever, see a hand reach out.

    (The picture is another intersection on a quiet Sunday afternoon. He carries a bag to collect trash from the cars that stop at the light. I asked if I could take his picture. He wanted to know where it was going. I said I was American and had written a story but couldn't get a picture of the man I saw in the street that time. He said it was good that people know how other people are suffering. We shook hands when I left. I gave him 100 Rands.)
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.