Story be­hind a sign of the times

What leads a fa­ther of twins to swal­low his pride and spend his days at the traf­fic lights in Cresta?

Saturday Star - - LIFESTYLE -

“I did – but at the end of the day a restau­rant man­ager doesn’t have a life.”

Then he smiles rue­fully. “I’m not exactly hav­ing much of a life right now, but it was just the hours. I was only 23, I just wanted to be young.”

Later he joined RTT, a courier com­pany. “I pro­gressed in the busi­ness and at 25 I was the youngest branch man­ager in the group. Then I got an of­fer from Fast Freight Couri­ers, but they were liq­ui­dated and I ended up at Zil­met in Kyalami. I was their head technician and built their booster sys­tems.”

I’m strug­gling slightly with the num­ber of job changes, al­though he says he left them all am­i­ca­bly and he doesn’t drink and has never had a prob­lem with sub­stance abuse.

“Get­ting back to now; how did you feel when you first stood at the lights with your sign?”

“Em­bar­rassed,” he says em­phat­i­cally. “With­out ex­cep­tion, ev­ery time I stand at the robot I am em­bar­rassed to the core.

“But I have to sur­vive, I have to sus­tain my­self. I don’t want peo­ple to sus­tain me – it leaves a dent in my pride.” “How do peo­ple re­spond to you?” “I don’t bother peo­ple. They have a choice.

“They can read my sign or they can ig­nore it, but some peo­ple still make sly com­ments. The other day a guy said in Afrikaans, ‘ Nou ‘n ding soos jy maak nog sulke goed’ (‘a thing like you makes more of these things’), re­fer­ring to my kids. That breaks a per­son down. But if some­one gives me money, I tell them if they hear of any work they know where to find me.” I ask what his typ­i­cal day is. “I usu­ally get up at 5am. A bit later I check the ro­bots. I stand here or the cor­ner by Cresta.”

“How do you choose one?” I ask, think­ing I might be en­ter­ing the se­cret lore of the streets as to what makes a good set of lights to stand at. But it is not to be. “Oh, just gut feel,” he says, smil­ing. “Do you eat break­fast?” “No,” he shakes his head, “that is a luxury. Then I stand for three to four hours. I only buy one meal a day with money that peo­ple give me, the rest I send to the kids.” I ask what he nor­mally buys. “A R10 quar­ter.” “What is that?” “It is bread with chips and a piece of polony and sausage. It’s quite nice, ac­tu­ally. Oth­er­wise, if some­one gives me food I eat that, be­cause oth­er­wise it would be a waste of the money. I would rather keep the money for the kids.

“The other day a guy bought me a small pizza, which was nice. Or they give me sand­wiches. In the evening, if I don’t eat at the lights I go and buy some­thing small – not much. Just as long as I keep nour­ished.” I ask him what he does in the evening. “I read the Bi­ble or I sketch.” “Does that com­fort you?” I ask. “Lots. It gives me strength ev­ery day. I know God is not go­ing to leave me. I don’t blame Him for putting me where I am. The bad in the world that brings suf­fer­ing and pain is not God.” “So who do you blame for where you are now?” “Me. That was my wrong de­ci­sion. It was my bad – I have to rec­tify it. No­body else can.” Contact David Gem­mell Cell: 082 804 2943 E-mail: gem­melljl@gmail.com Twit­ter: @dav­e­wordguru Face­book: https://www.face­book.com/david. gem­mell.7

Jo­han Blom with his sign.

Ask­ing for help at the lights while cring­ing in­side with em­bar­rass­ment.

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