A guy in his early twenties leans on a broom while he waits for all the commuters to pass by. His demeanour is pleasant and friendly. Everyone passing by is greeted with a: ‘Good morning. Have a blessed day.’ Not everyone returns his friendly gesture but he continues nonetheless.
A lady is overcome by a sneeze and she hurriedly grabs a tissue from her bag. “Bless you ma’am,” the sweeper quips. She smiles and nods in his direction with tearful, bloodshot eyes.
“It must be the change in weather irritating you,” he says sympathetically.
“Uhmmm…” she responds, not really in a talkative mood.
“Here’s the bin ma’am,” the sweeper says, quickly dragging the container closer. “You can’t put that back in your bag. The viruses are going to jump right back up into your nose,” he continues with a naughty look in his eyes. She laughs, clears her throat and disposes of the tissue saying: “Thank you!” in a soft voice.
“My pleasure,” he replies, bowing his head and smiling back at her. He puts the bin down, whistles a tune, quickly walks a few metres and starts sweeping again.
Meanwhile a few metres away a middle-aged guy is quietly observing this joyful character. The sweeper disappears into a carriage, sweeps under the seats, and appears again to collect the dirt bin. The middle-aged guy is following all of his movements with interest.
“Chips pakkies, cool drink blikkies, lekke papietjies; Denzil makes it all disappear,” he happily rhymes trying to put a hip hop beat together.
A smile appears on the middle-aged guy’s face. “Ek sê Denzil, you have time for a chat?” he asks as the broom loudly thuds against the steel frames of the seating.
“Just a minute Grootman,” he shouts back from inside the carriage. “The dirt is so happy to see me today, it somma jumps into the bin,” he says, looking out the window. The middle-aged guy shakes his head and can’t help laughing at the antics of the sweeper.
After a few seconds Denzil appears with a leap from the carriage. He makes a few dance moves, using the broom as a microphone stand.
“War is not the answer; fall in love and conquer hate,” he sings, quoting a line from a Marvyn Gaye’s classic song entitled ‘What’s Going On’.
“Yes die grootman; hoe help ek?” he asks the middle-aged guy.
The guy looks at him for a moment with admiration evident in his eyes. He leans back, looks at the sweeper standing in front of him for a moment, then says: “I’ve been travelling on this line for many years but this is the first time I’m seeing you here.”
The sweeper whistles in surprise. “Grootman you are right. I’m a new kid on the block but I enjoy it. Cape Town station is number one,” he replies with both thumps up.
The middle-aged guy’s eyes go narrow. “Where are you from Denzil; if I may ask?” he enquires.
“Auw die grootman, I’m from a little town called Warrington. It’s too small for me; has little or no opportunities for a young guy like me, so I left in search of a better life,” he explains for a moment, dropping his eyes.
The middle-aged guy keeps his gaze fixed on Denzil. “So what are you doing here?” he asks with curious tone.
“Die grootman sien… Ek kan choose between either loaf at the traffic lights, be a drug addict and a gangster and die young, or make something with my life. Ek vat maa die laaste een,” he says, looking at a piece of paper blown across the platform by a gentle breeze.
“So you work here?” the middle-aged guy asks, sounding even more curious.
“Yes sir, this is Denzil’s Clean and Care Services. I used to sleep at the taxi rank on the upper deck. In the morning at 5 am my job was to clean the taxis in order to make a living. One fine day the owner of this cleaning business just happened to start talking and he offered me a job cleaning the station, ma’ ek gooi soe nou en dan ’n waentjie as ’n pasella in.
“That good guy arranged accommodation for me at a lodge and he helped me get enrolled to obtain my Matric certificate. Die grootman sien, attitude determines altitude. I’m grateful and thankful. So I keep my feet on the ground and reach for the stars… but I must go; ôs praat wee. Blessed day to you sir,” he wraps up his life story and rushes off to the carriages in need of his broom and bucket.
The middle-aged guy watches him in silence and wipes away a tear.
die grootman The Afrikaans term for “the grown man” or “the big man” which on the Cape Flats is used as a form of respect when addressing an older man.
pakkies The Afrikaans word for “packets”.
blikkies The Afrikaans word for “tin cans”.
papeitjies The Afrikaaps version of the Afrikaans word “papiertjies” which means “small papers”.
waentjie The Cape Flats slang word for “train or train carriage” which is from the same Afrikaans word which means “little wagon”.
passela An Afrikaans word for “free of charge” which comes from an Indo-Malay expression.