This is how I came to fall in love with a homeless person.
My friend Sabelo has a mighty mane of dreadlocks and an ego so large he can barely get his Rasta shirt on, but he’s a friend and he knows things. We’re at the Apartheid Museum where Sabelo comes to flirt with hot foreign girls.
Outside, kicking back on the grassy bank in the easy breeze, we sip with straws on our Coca-Colas. All three of us.
Sabelo has acquired one Ljupka. Her hair’s made up of various angles and shades of unnatural. Saucer-eyed, she hangs on his arm and his every word.
”Vot eez dees Jacob Zuma theenk?” she inquires inquiringly.
”It’s all about the divide, my baby,” Sabelo answers.
Ljupka leans in closer,
”Betveen black and vite?”
”Yes, between black and vite.But also between rich and poor. Everybody is responsible.”
”Even you, Sa-be-lo?” Ljupka asks.
”Not me, my baby.” He puts a large, heavy hand on my shoulder. ”But he is.”
I admit to my therapist, Doctor Sen, that Sabelo’s words have been clawing at my soul like so many bad cats, steadily tearing strips off my sense of self, leaving me hobbling through a world where it’s all too obvious that I have more than I need, while so many have less than they deserve.
”If you feel you need it,” Doctor Sen suggests, ”deep-level hypnosis could rewire you to see all people as true equals.”
I’m listening closely.
”At the very least,” he continues, ”it will stop your damn whining.”
I give my domestic worker an immediate 500% raise, bringing her salary roughly in line with what she would earn in Sweden. Also, as recompense for years of exploitation, I allow her to beat me with a riding crop. (We first decide that neither of us will enjoy the activity.)
For two years I’d been driving through the intersection of Jan Smuts and Bolton avenues in Rosebank and only today do I notice her. Only today do I blush.
She sells biltong in a yellow bib with blue block print that reads: ”I DON’T DO CRIME. PLEASE SUPPORT ME. SPONSORED BY WICKLOW SERVICE STATION.” Her hair is matted and her skin sunbeaten, but I look into her vagabond eyes and know we have to be together.
The same Friday, 2pm
After circling the block seven times, I finally build up the courage to speak to her. I stutter. I stumble. I ask if I can buy some biltong. I drive off with three sticks of droÃƒÂ« wors, two bags of spicy kudu and 3kg of biltong powder in 150g sachets. (I’m a vegetarian.)
Too afraid to ask her out, I book an ad in Homeless Talk declaring my love for the Biltong Lady of Jan Smuts and Bolton.
Sabelo explains that, a) Ljupka is moving in with him, and b) homeless people don’t necessarily read Homeless Talk.
He adds: ”Actually, nobody reads Homeless Talk. You want the girl? Go get the girl.”
I can’t believe she said yes! Her name’s Stella and she says that she’ll let me take her out to dinner tonight if I help bail her cat out of prison. Apparently it ate her neighbour’s chicken.
Having liberated the furry lil’ felon, I meet Stella outside a fancy inner-city restaurant. With a little dance and a lot of whistling, she helps me parallel park. It’s adorable. Oh, sure, people stare when I take her calloused hand and lead her into the restaurant. Some idiot at a table on the far end even shouts ”hobosexual!” What do they know of love?
Stella orders the seafood pasta which, given the splatter factor, is a courageous choice for a first date. That said, it’s hard to tell one stain from another when you’re wearing rags.
Later that night
I’ve never kissed a girl who is missing half her teeth, but it’s pretty nice having the extra room to work with.
Things move fast.
Stella invites me back to her place, a sturdy refrigerator box literally around the corner. She apologises for the empty glue bottles lying around — she’s really into scrapbooking, she says — but it’s easily the nicest hovel in the alley. Her dad, she tells me, owns a lot of property around here. He’s a regular Donald Tramp.
Starlight streaming in through the cut-out skylight, we make sweet, sweet love. It is, I feel, one of my finer performances.
The morning after
Stella’s all silent. After a nervous goodbye I get a text message: ”Kewl hanging out but I really don’t want n.e.-thing 2serious. K?”
I reply: ”I thought we had something special.”
She replies: ”No sparks, babe. Spot me some $$$ for sum things?”
I reply: ”I give to organised charity.” Then immediately call Doctor Sen.