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24 JANUARY 2001
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street kids

Those street kids

Annette Cockburn

It takes a lot to embarrass me but truly I felt conspicuous! So many people staring – and not in admiration or pleasure!

I’d pulled up outside the entrance to Golden Acre Mall in Adderley Street when the parking attendant recognised me. “It’s Pali” he shouted and they all came running: stoned, and filthy, full of largely drug-induced excess and affection, kissing my hand, waving away motorists, stopping the traffic so that I could park more easily. The street was a shambles. Hooting and swearing all round. Of course I was glad to see them, in spite of everything, dropouts from many programmes, graduates of none, too old for any now!

“What If” and “China” and a dozen others. A traffic policeman pushed them aside and leaned in my window “Are you OK?”

“Yes yes, they’re our boys!”

“Your boys?” he asked wild eyed.

“Well in a manner of speaking!”

“In a matter of what?”

“Oh never mind.” I made my escape and then of course had to undergo a repeat performance when I reappeared. More hugs and great whiffs of thinners while the public stared coldly on, and the flower sellers had a lot to say.

One day Lippe came into our drop-in centre, Yizani, beaming. “Tammy” he said, “I’ve got you some new volunteers,” and promptly ushered into the centre, two reluctant and bewildered back-packer tourists!

“Sticks” is really quite sweet looking, a tiny child with foetal alcohol syndrome and an indomitable will. He never accepts “no” for an answer, and will fight to the death for his right to miss school, kick down the doors, and inflame every adult in his orbit. I must confess to having harboured dark thoughts of retribution and have been known to propel him with considerable force out of the room.

He can be the most exasperating child on earth, but thin and wild, cunning and poignant he has wound those stick fingers around our hearts.

One day Tammy and I and Annie were driving back from town. “There’s Sticks at the traffic light” I said. Shaking his tin he ignored us extravagantly. He had been sleeping out for days. “Sticks”, we called and cajoled. “Sticks come back!” “There’s fish for you at the Drop In Centre,” shouted Annie. “And sweeties” I added. “Come Sticks, come back,” called Tammy.

Other motorists looked at us strangely, curious and disapproving. Suddenly the door opens, he’s in the car “He smiles beatifically at us! “We've missed you, we love you!” “Irish wants you back.” “Carrie longs to see you.” And as we say it we know its true! Some days he believes us. He has to; we’re all he’s got.

The boy had returned from court. The charge? Theft from a motor vehicle. The case had been remanded and he was standing outside the Drop In Centre, when he noticed that my car was unlocked. “Close your windows Pali, lock the doors, there are plenty of thieves around here.” He was absolutely serious. I looked at him in astonishment.

We had recently moved into our new Strand Street building when we had a complaint from “Body Heat” just down the road. The customers didn’t like to see street boys on the pavement “in fact in “Body Heat's” opinion, having our Yizani drop-in centre there at all had lowered the tone of the neighbourhood!

We knew our Danish Volunteers were a great asset to our organisation. We also knew that they were invariably charming and very pretty. What we didn’t count on was their natural talents as fundraisers! Winnie, walking through town one day with the boys from the Bridge, was stopped by a very nice guy in a BMW who gave her a cheque for R2500 for “the kids”. An expensive introduction? Or a warm, impulsive act of compassion? We think it was the latter. In any event Winnie has stars in her eyes, and we are all grateful and warmly appreciative.

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