A different family

Amanda from Belgium

When the light shines, one does not look at the light, but at everything that is being illuminated. Today it is beautiful.

We walk up the hill – Bart, everyone with their dogs, and I. Spring is coming, because there are purple and yellow crocuses in the little gardens. At the top of the hill, we stand around and wait because Dimitri had to find a toilet real fast. (The dogs just left their SMSes on the pavement). They have time – a whole day’s worth. One of them helps an old lady to get up and offers an arm so that she can shuffle more easily over the uneven bricks.

We stand at the place with his name on it – it bothers them because the name is spelt incorrectly. But they even made a plaque which is right. The dogs lie quietly at our feet. Respectful.

On the horison the blue heaven bends down low and greets the earth.

‘Pop!’ – a bottle is opened and then another two. The beer froths and a little bit is poured on the ground, the bottle is lifted, a sip is taken and the bottle is passed on. Everyone gets a cigarette – I am also offered one – and then they quietly stand and smoke – the last time they will enjoy it with their friend, Micele. They don’t talk.

Jeremy stares at the wooden cross for a long time and then quickly disappears around the corner.

Bart and I greet them and leave them alone. 

Jeremy sits on his haunches. It is a deep, old sadness that cuts like a knife. Bart and I hold him close. His father died when he was 15 and they were very close. He never mourned for him, he told us earlier. And now Micele is gone. Micele was like a father. Some nights they shared a tent in the tent village of the street people. Micele believed more than he did and every Friday morning he brought him to the church to shower and have breakfast. Then he swallows, tries to keep everything inside,dries his blue eyes with the back of his hand and speaks in French to Bart. I don’t understand. My heart understands and it breaks for the young man who once again has to let a father go.

Micele was part of the ING (financial institution) group. It is not the group with suits, ties and modern sharp point shoes. It is the group with the dirty clothes and uncombed hair that smell of smoke and alcohol and who camp with their dogs in front of the bank.

One evening Micele fell down a sharp slope. And was only found much later. It was too late to help.

At the informal service with cans of coffee, ham and cheese sandwiches, they shared their memories of Micele, clearly uncomfortable, but still happy about the little bit of attention. There were a few photos of a handsome young Micele on the screen, photos of him and his mother, and of him and his beautiful daughter. A ‘normal’ family. But why were the ties cut? What was the final push towards the streets? I have to think of our family member who also strayed off the path… What kept him from choosing the streets?

It went wrong with this little group of neglected people, people with preferences and desires just like us. The street became home and there they found one another and sat together; a different family with a mostly drunk ‘father’ who pointed in the right direction, even though he looked through slit eyes himself. And they believed him. Somewhere there was still hope.

Every Sunday on our way to church we walk past the ING group. It touches the heart because it does not make sense in your mind – people for whom life became too overwhelming and the alcohol master clinging firmly, not inclined to let go. The easiest is to avoid eye contact and to just walk past. But our little Dolly child who lives with her heart, never walks past. From a distance she pulls and gestures and stops to talk to them. She talks and gestures happily and giggles nervously when the big dogs want to greet her, while they tell the dogs softly to stay calm. For a moment the red puffed up faces and the slit eyes are soft. She talks with her heart and they understand. Even though the rough night puts old blood and blue on their faces, their eyes lit up when our Dolly, and these friends, this different family, see each other again. The heaven bends down and greets the earth. It is beautiful.

Originally published in My Child and I, Spring 2019

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PO BOX 40526, Arcadia, 0007
012 325 3920
erheeder@savf.co.za
084 383 9417

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