Thursday, 2 August 2007

Knock, knock, knocking...

So someone uninvited knocks on my front door this morning and my usual instinctive reaction kicks in: the barely controllable urge to fling open the door and scream, ‘Fuck off!’ to whoever’s there.

I don’t consider myself an unsympathetic or ungenerous person, but having lived in Cape Town’s hippie-or-hellboy suburb of Observatory, wedged between the railway station and a homeless shelter, has taught me tricks I’m not proud of.

Working from home (the car parked outside a dead giveaway) made me a patsy for the local hard-luckers, and word got around. And it wouldn’t have been so bad if they just took the cheese-and-tomato sandwiches I made them (or the money, when I had it), but no: I first had to listen to the whys and wherefores of their ultimate arrival on my doorstep. And this being South Africa, I am in no doubt that at least 80% of those tragic stories were true: houses burnt down, belongings washed away, wives raped and murdered, children never seen again, jobs lost, limbs rendered useless… I heard it all. Over and over again, several times a day for seven years. It took a lot of my time.

(Of course, there were those I came to know as chancers: ‘I just need train fare home.’ ‘Okay, you wash my car, I’ll pay your ticket.’ ‘Mmm, I’m just going down the road to tell my friend, I’ll be back.’ Yeah, right.)

Soon I was running an impromptu non-profit-making cheese-and-tomato-sarmie-kitchen and earning a living in my spare time. Something had to give.

It was my manners.

My admittedly antisocial tactic of answering unsolicited knocks at my door claimed collateral damage: my sainted mother dropping in for a mid-morning cup of tea, the local pastor collecting for the church’s roof fund*, two sweet-faced schoolgirls looking for sponsors for their Walk-A-Kay-For-An-Abandoned-Pet challenge.

But I got to know if the recipient of my furious invective deserved (or at least expected) it: there would be a weary sigh, and a turn away.

Those not thoroughly versed in the ancient art of doorstepping (as journalists call it), yet determined to tell their story no matter what, would act outraged. ‘Jissis, maar jy’s onbeskof!’ hissed one beggar – who managed to shame me into giving him food, if not money, and returned the compliment by mashing the sarmies I made him against my doorpost. (He’d actually wanted money.)

The innocents stabbed guilt deep into my heart, by stepping back, their hair flying, as if the very breath from my lungs had swept them willy-nilly into limbo. And of course I made it up to them by giving them far, far more than I could afford.

So this morning’s knock elicited the usual ‘fuck you’ fury in me, and I raced through to the front door, took an angry breath and threw it open. There stood a young man with angelic curls, a wide if nervous smile and a body odour that almost felled me. ‘I’m not asking for money!’ he bleated, holding out his hands like a supplicant. ‘I’m doing market research!’

Silly creature. If only he knew that the phrase ‘market research’ is almost as poisonous to me as ‘train fare’. But at least he wasn’t cold-calling me on the phone at dinner time; and he had such interestingly inky-black eyes, such beautiful mocca skin and such a bizarrely pungent aroma that I stilled my tongue.

He flipped open a notepad that looked very like something he may have ferreted out of a nearby garbage bin. ‘So… you shop at…?’ he asked, pen poised.

‘Speed?’ I guessed.

He laughed maniacally. ‘A sense of humour!’ he trilled flutteringly. ‘I love that! But really, where do you shop?’

‘Oh, where,’ I said. ‘Pick ‘n’ Pay.’ (I do. I blame my mother. She always shopped there and I can’t get out of the habit, no matter how good the deals are other supermarkets offer me.)

‘Excellent!’ he squealed, hopping from foot to foot. And I couldn’t help feeling chuffed for having pleased him so easily. (No money! No food! No long sad sob story!)

Anyway, so the interview went on, not for very long, and then he snapped his ratty little notepad shut and said, ‘Well, I’ll be on my way. Thanks for being so helpful!’ and he hopped, skipped and jumped off up the street.

I closed the front door feeling that old familiar pang of guilt. He was only young, he was only trying to earn an honest buck doing a shitty job, I really should get my mind around giving humanity the benefit of the doubt…

Two hours later he was back. ‘Sorry to disturb again,’ he said, ‘but I was just wondering… I need train fare home…?’

* What is it about churches and roofs? Why don’t they just build them properly in the first place?

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angel said...

oh my frickin word!!!
thats like the people who sell photo-copied recipe books in the mcdonalds parking lot!
just goes to show eh... don't stop answering the door the way you do!

meggie said...

Oh, You have no idea how often I dream of screaming that very response to people on my doorstep! They send our dogs into a frenzy of stipified yapping & barking & then stand like idiots grinning weakly as the begin to blab about rubbish i have no desire to have any knowledge of!!
Of course none of the people knocking on my door have real needs like some you have encountered.

meggie said...

It seems I have invented a new barking technique. I really meant stupified, of course!