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  • I walked through the neighbourhood Wednesday evening.

    The old Afrikaans beggar with one white eye walked down the middle of the street talking to God. He stopped me and asked for money for Polony and bread and a coke. He shook my hand for a long moment, gave me a fist bump and then demanded loudly that God bless me and pulled his worn Bible out of his plastic bag kind of like it was his gym membership card.

    His menu made me think of the food situation at home. The fridge was empty and about all I had in the house was the fixings for peanut butter and marmalade sandwiches. Seeing as how I had that for lunch I decided to stop off and buy a pizza on the way back.

    The pizza place is in the corner of the little shopping center just down the hill from the house. The tables sprawl out onto the walkway and tonight a piano man was set up in front of the hairdressers playing to the crowd.

    The beggar at the robot saw me coming down the hill. He left the bag he uses to collect trash from passing cars to mark his corner and intercepted me where he always does, at the stop sign across from the Engin garage and 24/7 Woolies. I gave him enough for his supper and watched him head in the Spar, barefoot but straight with his cash held out before him. No 'entry denied" today.

    I ordered a pizza and a glass of wine for while I waited at the counter and took a seat to listen.

    There were just three tables that early; an old couple, him with a walker and her with bright eyes and white curls, a woman in her 60s and on her own, and me.

    The piano man went round asking for requests. I made sure I had a request lined up for when it was my turn. I asked if he knew a tango. He played a couple of fast ones. The sort that made me think of Tom chasing Jerry through the house.

    The woman on her own asked for a moonlight serenade. From there he wandered south to Zorba. Between each song he smoked and told stories about the songwriters. Some were even slightly plausible.

    On my way out I give him a tip, I am guessing it is the only one he saw.

    He asks where I’m from.

    The States, I tell him

    Ja, but where.

    I never know where to start so I run through the list, Boston, St. Louis, Maine.

    He’s got a brother in Berkley and loves the golfing in the Carolinas

    What do you do he asks.

    A principal I tell him, a headmaster at an international school.

    That floors him, a headmaster he says, you don’t look like a headmaster.

    He takes a long drag on the cigarette he’s got handy by his set up. You look, eyes me up and down, too soft.

    The others agree and I’m not sure if this is a compliment or if I am lacking in some essential element.

    He asks how long I’ve been in South Africa. 14 years I tell him.

    Eish, he says breathing out a cloud of smoke, you’ve seen something then.

    Yeah, I say.

    And I walk back up the hill with my pizza warm in my hands and his tunes chasing along behind me and for a moment I feel I am in a movie and wonder what on earth the screenplay has in the next scene and who on earth I'm playing for, and how anyone knows if they get their lines right.
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