"let your boat of life be light, packed with only
what you need - a homely home and simple pleasures, someone to love and someone to love you,
enough to eat and enough to wear
and a little more than enough to drink:
for thirst is a dangerous thing"

Thursday, 16 August 2012

hendrik van niekerk and "mr pfaff"

Everyone has a story.  Here are two short stories.  Hendrik van Niekerk, a vagrant in the Claremont area and Mr Pfaff (my name for him) a homeless man in the Lynfrae area.

My first story goes back more than 15 years ago when John, the boys and I lived in Parry Road in Claremont.  One afternoon the boys and I got home from afternoon sporting activities to find John and Hendrik clearing out our outside "maids quarters".  It transpired that John had got into a chat with Hendrik and had taken pity on him (he was not feeling well).  Hendrik needed shelter and "rehab" and this he was to find in our home.  I was sceptical and vocal about it but Hendrik was quietly spoken and very humble and John assured me that he would be helping around the garden while he recovered and he would be no trouble.

John was very much into alternative medicine at this stage.  After his hepatitis he read and researched all he could find out about the liver and how it functions and restores itself.  He did liver flushes, ate only apples for days and then swallowed cod liver oil.  He had powders, colloidal silver, green barley drinks and his "bestseller" Kombucha!!

Kombucha.  Not as well packaged and sophisticated as this but new to South Africa and a brown liquid that we had gallons of in our kitchen.  It was hellishly expensive but John was on a mission promoting this new "miracle drink".  Friends had to try it.  He added milk thistle, mint and other concoctions to it.  I personally found it best with a tot of gin!!  Hendrik (and Hendrik's liver) were going to benefit from it and John fed him rolled oats, grated apple and honey for breakfast with 2 tablespoons of colloidal silver and a green froggy pond drink.  He was under instructions to drink a 2 litres of Kombucha during the day.  For the rest of the day he was expected to tidy up the garden and rest.

It could not have been more than a week or so that Hendrik lived with us.  He started disappearing during the day (and did absolutely no work in the garden) and was usually at the Drop Inn on Lansdowne Road with his mates.  He arrived home for supper and was up bright and early with the broom in his hand (a show for John) every morning.

Things came to a head when John was out until late one evening.  I had closed our front gate and locked the side gate because Hendrik had not come "home" either.  It must have been after midnight when I heard a commotion at our front gate. I looked out of the upstairs window and it was a funny sight to see John pulling Hendrik up and telling him to leave and not come back.  What happened is that Hendrik must have got "home" before John.  He could not manage the gate so decided that the driveway was a good place to "rest" and pass out for the night.  John, arriving home late, swung the Kombi into the driveway.   Now being John and being pretty scared of the dark he nearly died of fright when he tripped and fell over Hendrik's comatose body in the driveway.  He then noticed just how close the wheels of the car were to Hendrik's body.  He could have maimed or killed the man he was trying so hard to rehabilitate.

Hendrik is always around Claremont.  He is a friend of Janey (read all about her here) who works at our office as a messenger.  We make him coffee (and sometimes a sandwich) and keep his blankets during the day.  He was knocked over a couple of years ago and broke his leg. He spent a few weeks in traction in Groote Schuur Hospital.  His picture appeared in the Tatler ("Do you know him" column) and Janey went off to identify him and help him get discharged.  He is pathetically thin at the moment.  I mostly refuse to hand out money to him but tell him to be at the office at 4.30 in the evening and I will take him to the shelter and pay for it.  He never arrives and tells me he sleeps at the Church.

Today I asked to take his photograph and took some details from him. I am going to try to get him an identity document.

Name:  Hendrik Andreas

Date of Birth:  3 January 1956
Place of Birth:  Colesburg

Lived in Adelaide Street, Colesburg and came to Cape Town "lank lank gelede".

The "van Niekerk" is the surname my sons gave him.  We have always called him Hendrik van Niekerk and I had no reason to believe that it was not his name.  I asked him where "van Niekerk" came from, thinking that the boys must have got it from somewhere.  He looked at me blankly and said "My name is Hendrik Andreas".  Everyone in our office calls him Hendrik van Niekerk.  He is Hendrik van Niekerk to us.

He is not a chatty fellow.  He has never been married but did have a woman in his life, once.  She had children, he never had children.  He never sees her anymore and she may have moved to Worcester.

I asked him if he ever remembered staying in our back room in Parry Road years ago.  He looked at me blankly and shook his head.  I tried to remind him of where Parry Road was and that our house was tucked away in a corner.  I told him that my husband's name was John and that we had 3 boys.  I could have gone on and badgered him a bit more but he had finished his coffee and was getting restless.

Only after he left did I think that I should have asked him if he remembered a kind man who gave him a bed for a week or so, fed him strange foods and a thick green liquid, made him drink gallons of an awful looking but surprisingly tasty brown liquid, who gave him new clothes and shoes and then woke him up late one night from a deep sleep on a driveway and sent him on his way.  That should have jolted his memory.

Maybe I'll ask him tomorrow?

Then there is "Mr Pfaff" another man who lives in our area.  Sorry I don't have a photograph but if you live in the area you will know exactly who I am writing about.

I remember him from way back when I was still at high school in the '70's.  A white homeless man with strangely combed hair. He has been around forever and I used to think he was related to our vice-headmaster Mr Powis because of his hairstyle.  During the '80's my father-in-law used to feed him every morning and he once told Bob that he was from the Pfaff (sewing machine) family and was disinherited. There were so many stories and rumours about him - a drug pusher, a psychopath.  He never looks drunk, never asks for anything but is always on the move.  He carries a plastic grocery bag with his belongings.  For a while I know he lived in a crumbling house in Nansen Road.

I remember him running.  He used to have an athletic and strong body with beautifully shaped legs. I seem to  remember a story about him running the 2 Oceans Marathon (maybe another rumour).  He now walks so slowly and limps so badly that it looks like his whole body is about to collapse.  He must be in terrible pain but he keeps walking, walking slowly with his plastic bag and his few belongings.  He does have shoes and a big warm (and dirty) winter coat.  He never stops and does not make eye contact. I want to ask him if needs any painkillers for his hip.  His hair is now grey and balding and no longer combed in that strange way.

If we are finding this winter cold, what about the very thin and frail looking Hendrik van Niekerk and "Mr Pfaff" and his aching joints?  Where do they sleep?  How do they keep warm?

I wish I was brave enough to stop "Mr Pfaff" and ask him for his story and take a picture or two.  I would love to listen to his stories and observations of "Life in Lynfrae".

Everyone has a story.

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