It was the first of December and we were celebrating World Aids Day. The counsellor invited the Mayor to join him for the usual walk together through the township. He enjoyed seeing the chaos in the streets – taxis off to the beach with music being played at maximum volume. As well as the two men you dressed up as Ola ice-cream vendors who didn’t actually sell ice cream, but rather gave it away. They disguised themselves because they didn’t want people’s attention or to hear people’s complaints.
They walked through the centre of the township, Umlazi, admiring the efforts people make to make a living. They looked at the stalls selling fast foods and the men, women and children hurrying off to celebrate family holidays around a table laden with food.
On their way back, they passed through a poorer area, where the atmosphere was quite unique. There was no chaos, no taxis, and no delicious smells of food that was about to be served. There was hardly a soul in the street. As he did every year, the counsellor remarked to the mayor that he really must pay more attention to the poor in his township. The mayor nodded, knowing that the matter would soon be forgotten again, buried beneath the day-to-day bureaucracy of budgets to be approved and discussions with foreign dignitaries.
Suddenly, they heard some interesting fusion of poetry and music coming from one of the poorest houses. The hut was a ramshackle and the rotten wooden timbers so full of cracks that they were able to peer through and see what was happening inside and what they saw was utterly absurd. There was an old man in a wheelchair apparently crying, a shaven-headed young woman singing and a young man with sad eyes shaking a tambourine and reciting something.
“I’m going to find out what they’re up to,” said the counsellor. He knocked. The voices stopped and the young man came to the door. “We are vendors in search of a place to sleep. We heard the poetry and music coming from this house and saw that you were still awake. We wondered if we could spend the night here?”
“You can find shelter in a hotel in the city. Unfortunately we cannot help you. Despite the sounds of art, this house is full of sadness and suffering please go away,” said the young man. “And may we know why?” the Mayor asked.
“It’s all because of me,” said the old man in the wheelchair. “I’ve spent my life teaching my son Civil Engineering, so that he could one day get a job at a construction company. But the years have passed and no post has ever come up. And then last night I had a stupid dream in which an angel appeared to me and asked me to buy golden glasses because the angel said the mayor would be coming to visit me. He would drink from the glass and give my son a job.”
After pausing the old man spoke again. “The angel was so persuasive that I decided to do as he said. Since we have no money, my daughter-in-law went to the workshop this morning to sell her hair so that we could buy those glasses over there. The two of them are doing their best to get me in the festive spirit by singing and reciting, but it’s no use.”
The mayor saw the golden glass and asked to be given a little water to quench his thirst and before leaving he said to the family, “Do you know that we were talking to the Mayor today and he told us that an opening for a construction company would be announced next week?” The old man nodded, not really believing what he was hearing, and bid farewell to the strangers.
The following morning a post proclamation was read out in all the city streets; a new engineer was needed at Ethekwini Municipality. On the appointed day, the audience room at the City hall was packed with people eager to compete for that much-sought-after post. The Mayor entered and asked everyone there to prepare his or her paper and pens.
He said, “Here is the subject of this meeting. Why was an old man weeping, a shaven-headed woman singing, and a sad young man reciting?” A murmur of disbelief went round the room. No one knew how to tell such a story, apart from the shabbily dressed young man sitting in one corner, who smiled broadly and began to write. The vendors he had been about to send away were his ticket to success.