For the past couple of weeks, I have been working at a little boutique in a local mall. Carmen is the manager. But she is so much more than that label. She is kind and gentle. Hazel-eyed. Petite. Smiling and cautious. Talkative. Adventurous and anxious. She’s quite the paradox, and utterly lovely.
Carmen loves pearls and stud earrings. Desserts make her particularly happy, especially when she bakes them. She’s a dreamer. She longs to open her own store and to design interior items. Travelling is at the top of her bucket list. France, Italy, Spain…backpacking through Europe.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have come to care so much about her. She seems like she just needs someone to talk to, to tell someone about herself and her dreams. It’s a lonely job. I can attest to that. You spend hours by yourself. When you see a customer, you are so pleased that you just about tell them your life story.
Carmen has gently placed pieces of her puzzle in my hands, and I have tried to put that puzzle together. There is such a beauty to her. There is also such a beauty in getting to know people, their puzzles, their stories. There is an even greater beauty in making people feel loved and accepted, even if only for five minutes of their story.
Carmen does that. She listens. Accepts. Most people often simply need someone to talk to.
Recently, I was watching a documentary. The last line of the documentary is:
“Sometimes you have to ask yourself which part of someone’s day you want to be.”
Today, my dad and I decided to take a walk around a local nature reserve as part of an effort to get fit! We decide to get fit every year and it is usually forgotten about after a week or two. Nevertheless, as part of our tradition, we began the ‘get fit’ regime with enthusiasm and went for a short hike. At this time of year, Pretoria is especially beautiful. We walked through pathways of little yellow and purple flowers. Everything is greener. Fresher.
He was standing on a small bridge. Cigarette in hand. Leaning against one of the wooden poles with a kind smile on his face. Not one hair on his head. Circular glasses and grey braces. He seemed to have walked straight out of an era long forgotten as he nodded his head at us as we passed. I liked him instantly.
My dad and I could not decide which way to go. We heard him ask whether or not we had been to the nature reserve before. I detected a rich German accent. We chatted to him for about fifteen minutes. He told us about his favourite nature reserves and how much he loves his walks. He suggested a beautiful route through the reserve.
His name is Wilfred. He has a firm handshake and warm crinkles around his eyes.
We were walking through the picnic area about an hour later when we came across Wilfred sitting at one of the benches. Cigarette in hand. Staring at something in the distance.
“Ah, hallo! You walked very quickly! These days… I can’t walk so quickly. But, I still come here every day.”
“It is a beautiful nature reserve!”
“It is indeed. Have you seen the zebras? I like to greet them. I say: ’Hallo!’”
He continued to chat to my dad. I stood there watching them chat, laugh, connect. I don’t really remember what they were chatting about. I do, however, remember their happiness. The glow of reaching out and reaching back.
“We’re each of us alone, to be sure. What can you do but hold your hand out in the dark?”
—Ursula K. Le Guin
A lovely German lady who lives in my estate. Small and strong. Determined. Soft white hair resting lightly on her forehead. Green eyes which sparkle with youth. Blue eyeliner. A gold broach. She smiles with love, with trust.
Yesterday I was almost at my estate gate when I saw Gisela walking along the road carrying two heavy bags. She marched on determinedly in the midday heat. I got out of my car and offered to drive her to her house. And she told me her story.
Her name is Gisela and she is 77 years old. She says she feels her age. But her eyes tell a different story. She grew up in a small town in the south of Germany and immigrated to South Africa in 1967 with her husband and their first child. She told me about her children and her grandchildren. Her one grandchild, Anais, lives with her. She also told me about the love of her life. She lost him a year ago over Christmas time. As she said that, she looked at me with her youthful, searching eyes.
“But I cannot think of that now…I cannot hold onto it. If I do, I won’t be able to speak.”
I put my arm around her shoulder.
We arrived at her house and I carried her bags inside. She turned to me and smiled. I can still hear her accent.
“I cannot believe that I am letting somebody else carry my bags!”
She laughed with absolute delight while she brought her hand to her chest.
She welcomed me into her home and we continued to chat. When it was time to go, she put her hands on my shoulders and pulled me in for a tight squeeze.
“I feel like you gave me Christmas!”