Bring in the new year with a bucket of water


When I got out of my car at the parking lot, the man sat diagonally behind me. The shabby clothes and sun-weathered face tell a story – one of a person without a home or hearth.

Next to him, in the only shadow spot, lies a large black dog. The man stood up and greeted politely. His four-legged babysitter immediately comes up with hair standing on end. I ask if it is safe to get the two of me out of the car for our walk here at the foot of Table Mountain, because this animal’s eyes warn: stay away from me and my boss. “Yes ma’am, he is very friendly with other dogs”. I am not convinced, but there is something in the man’s look and voice that reassures me.

He waits a moment: “Ma’am, can I wash your car for R20?”. He looks me straight in the eyes but I see the struggle to ask in those blue eyes. “Thanks, my car needs a wash,” I say. “We’ll be back in about an hour.” So walking away I wonder how old the man is? Probably still in his early thirties, but the hard miles already lay like train tracks on his face.

So I walk between mountain pools and fynbos with the car wash in my head and simply think of all the contrasts that have only become sharper over the festive season; that between rich and poor, cherished and lonely.

The hour passes quickly so in between the dogs’ capers and a few chats with the now familiar faces. Everyone is worried about the attacks on the mountain that increased in late 2023 and rob our walkers and cyclists of our freedom and joy.

Back at the car, the man has also just finished and stands and examines his handiwork critically. “Wow, it looks like a different car,” I say, not exaggerating because the silver car has picked up a lot of farm road dust in the last month or so. He just nods his head, but I can see my words make him feel good.

“May I ask,” I began a little hesitantly with the black dog’s hawk eyes on me, “what brought you here over Christmas time?”. He clears his throat: “I lost my job madam and then also my place to live.” There is not an iota of self-pity and I continue with my questions. So I hear that “Roedolf” was a car salesman and restaurant manager before things “went horribly wrong” in his life.

The two sleep at night in the mountain on a broken old inflatable mattress that he found on the street. In the morning at sunrise it is rolled up tightly and hidden somewhere and then he and his animal friend take to the streets. With sunscreen they are back on the mountain and then their “bed” is rolled out again. They sleep in a different place every night so that their tracks are light and do not leave marks that can be followed. Roedolf ​​says there are dangerous forest sleepers who look for anything to steal and will not hesitate to pull out a knife for a battered mattress or a slice of bread. “Once they know where you sleep it brings all the trouble, but luckily my dog ​​sleeps light, madam.”

The parking lot starts to get busy and I see Roedolf ​​start looking around for another customer. So with the greeting I give him something extra for his work and the spontaneous smile just makes him look young.

I don’t know what Roedolf’s full story is and where things went so wrong. What I do know is that every day he pushes that rock up the hill like Sisuphos, just so he and his dog don’t go to bed on empty stomachs.

But Roedolf ​​says that’s just for now. “Next year will be better, ma’am.” And I believe him.

I look in my rearview mirror as I drive away. Roedolf ​​sits and strokes his black dog.

The bucket of water is ready for the next car.

  • Lizma is an award-winning radio journalist and presenter and founding member of the Cape radio station, Smile 90.4FM. She has a master’s degree in journalism.