An old craftsman I bumped into on Monday evening while I was having coffee with two dear friends. As I sit at my computer, he illuminates my imagination the way short bursts of lightning illuminate muggy evenings. A shiny caramel complexion and short dark hair. A few strands of grey in his beard. A broad and toothy grin which makes him seem much younger than he is. Only one crooked tooth which proudly pushes in front of the rest. Smiling. Luminescent.
I was chatting to my friends about something or other and suddenly burst into song (as is my habit). Hayati was walking past our table, stopped and said: “Ah! Sing more! I want to hear!” I stopped singing and, smiling shyly, acted like a clown in shoes far too big for her feet. We saw Hayati a few more times that evening. He eventually sat down at the table next to ours and offered to buy us all drinks. We thanked him but said that we had had enough to drink. It’s sad to live in a world in which we might be thinking: “I better not accept that drink…You never know what a stranger wants.” I know I thought it.
Hayati suddenly looked incredibly sad. He looked at me and shook his head. He said: “I don’t know why people don’t want to connect with other people.” His hand dropped to his side. “I just want to be kind, to talk to you, to connect.” Lovely kind eyes were looking at me – looking through me.
We landed up chatting to him for the rest of the evening. He told us about his life, his experiences, and asked us about ours. He left Turkey in 1992 and immigrated to South Africa. He is a craftsman and started a small business which he has developed over the past 22 years. He works in Johannesburg. I can tell you his story, which was fascinating in itself, but what I really want to share with you are the gems that fell out of the pages.
I can still hear his delicious accent.
“Over the years, I have been lucky to do what I love to do. It’s because I made a decision.”
“The thing is, we’re all given gifts. Depending on what you do with that gift, you become a hero or an asshole.”
“Life is too f**king short to not love people, to not connect with people.”
“I should have died 9 times by now. I think I must still have work to do.”
“Why is it all about the material, the material, the material? It does not matter what you have. They’re just things. People. People matter more.”
When it was time to leave, I turned to Hayati and gave him a hug. He was glowing. He had reached out. And someone had reached back.
Words seem inadequate when someone is unabashedly raw and unguarded, when someone shows you their indentations, their cracks, their beauty.
Today, I googled what ‘Hayati’ means in English.
‘Hayat’ means ‘life’.