Face #13: Franshuwa

This week, I met warmth personified.

After a long day in the little store where I work, Franshuwa walked in. Tall and smiling. Ebullient. He has fairly long grey hair, clear blue eyes, an encompassing smile. He was looking for a gift for a man he described as his brother. We eventually decided on a beautiful hour glass.

We just landed up chatting for what felt like hours. He told me about the past that shaped him and choices he has made since then. He is an army man who had to forgive himself for the past. He is a father of a beautiful daughter. He is a man who walked away from success 10 years ago to follow God’s plan for him.

I was lucky enough to spend some time with him and it is only too evident that he brings such an abundance of love to everyone he meets.

The thing is, he is larger than life. And larger than these words.

When he left the shop, he left with a gift for his friend.

But he left me with an even more beautiful gift.


Face #10: Gisela

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!”

Face #3: Ashley

A student who came running into my office once. I saw her again on Friday morning. Petite and powerful. Concerned, restless brown eyes with fairy eyelashes. Olive skin. A forehead all crinkled up with anxiety. Dark hair which is mahogany in the sunlight. Nervous. Vulnerable. Determined.

She hurried into my office on a quiet Thursday afternoon. She was a gust of energetic intensity waving papers and throwing questions into the air. I wondered when she was going to breathe. An anxious hour passed. And I am not even sure what questions I really answered. Every time I tried, her words were stumbling out of her mouth as she asked me a new question. Reflecting back on that moment, I think she probably just needed someone to reassure her that everything would be okay. I wish I had done that. I was too busy trying to make sure that I taught her all she needed to know. The sad part? She knew all of her work already. She left my office with a heavy backpack and an even heavier heart.

I saw her again on Friday morning. I was sitting on the steps outside our Humanities building when I saw her rushing towards me. She sat down right next to me and began unloading. I took her load away from her and put it on the steps next to me.

We put our arms around each other and remained still amidst the bustling throng filtering out of lecture halls.

Face #2: Hayati

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’.