Monday 14th November 2011, Cape Town.
We'd been to Shack Attack, the only place to be on a Monday in Cape Town. The bar is spread over three floors and across a couple of buildings and it's packed with rockers hanging around the pool tables. It's thick with smoke and smells like piss. Your feet stick to the floor and you can't hear yourself shout over the music – I absolutely loved it. We'd been for a posh curry and dropped in for a few beers and a quick frame of pool as N was keen to show me the place she did most of her teenage drinking. My alcohol levels were bang-on perfect for a spot of Paul Newman-style pool hustling excellence, but somehow we managed to get beat by a couple of drunks. N was rubbish and I had a little sulk.
We left around 2am and headed home in our 1982 gold Mercedes 200, a real classic. As we drove up the hill we passed a girl walking with a baby. She appeared distressed and I stopped to ask if I could help. Cape Town is awash with beggars and debate rages over whether one should perpetuate the problem by donating cash. But this girl wasn’t asking for money. We circled the block and pulled up alongside her. She said she was on her way to the bus station her and I offered her R100, about 8 pounds. She burst into tears and was clearly overwhelmed. We offered her a lift and talked a little more.
Cherine had been at the hospital all day with her sick baby boy. He was 4 months old and had severe eczema that needed treatment. They'd been waiting for more than 15 hours without food and finally seen a nurse in the early hours of the morning. I checked to make sure the baby was warm enough and jogged across to the service station to fetch some food and water while Cherine and her baby waited in the car. Cherine told N that her husband had died – possibly of AIDS – before their baby was a month old and she was living with her husband's mother in a township on the outskirts of Cape Town. Her mother-in-law was a bully and resented having to help care for the baby now that her son had passed away. Cherine badly wanted to get back to her own family in Jo'burg, but knew she would never have the money to make that happen.
I should reiterate that Cherine never asked us to help her. It's so easy to be suspicious of scammers and I know that it sounds terrible to have ever questioned Cherine's motives, but you hear lots of stories, especially in Cape Town. But I believed her. After all, we had approached Cherine, not the other way round. I went back to the service station, withdrew R2000 and gave it to Cherine. She was overcome with emotion and started to sob uncontrollably. Eventually we drove them to the station where we waited as Cherine composed herself and hid the money. She promised to call us when she made it back to Jo'burg. We said an emotional goodbye and watched as Cherine carried her tiny baby along the dark and dodgy-looking busy terminal.
N and I drove home in silence. I didn't really see our encounter with Cherine as another episode of Wearelucky – and I certainly didn't take any photographs – but I desperately hoped that we had helped to make a positive impact on the lives of Cherine and her baby boy. Did we do the right thing? At the time of writing we're still waiting for that call from Jo'burg.
Questions & Answers
For obvious reasons, there's no Q & A for Cherine.