The man hobbled, clutching his black walking stick with one hand and his lunch bag in the other. This was a young man, not the age of someone who would need to use a walking stick.
He walked stiff legged, one leg shorter than the other, his gait skew, one leg pulling outwards before landing on the concrete pavement. His other leg was also stiff, his walk revealing, in all likelihood, the disability caused by childhood polio.
He wore the red overall jacket of a labourer or a petrol attendant at the corner station. His pants were tucked into black gumboots. Too far away from any mine, I surmised that he could not be a miner at that time of the day in that part of town. It was late afternoon, the sun setting, and people were on their way home, just like this man, just like us.
The minibus taxi saw him and stopped kerbside, a few metres further ahead. The man, seeing his ride, hurried to catch it lest the driver lose patience with his slow progress and pull off looking for another fare. He lifted his walking stick from the ground and ran, as much as he could run, a pained rolling gait to catch the taxi. He reached it and someone, one of the other commuters, opened the rolling door from the inside to let him in.
At this point Che and I drove past and lost sight of the man and the taxi. The emotions I felt witnessing that disabled man rushing to catch his ride home cut through my heart. I know I was saying something to Che at that time but I do not remember what. My thoughts turned to mush at the jumbled feelings roiling inside me. I kept quiet then, a lump in my throat.
When I regained my composure, not able to keep it in anymore I turned to Che and said, “You know that man…”
“Yes,” he said. There was no need to finish my sentence. He knew exactly who I meant. He’d felt the same knife to the heart.
Helpless, seeing another human being suffering.
Helpless, because childhood polio should not be an occurrence anymore.
Helpless, because the world is not always fair.
I’ve tried to reframe this – at least he has a job, at least he can walk, at least, at least, at least…it does not make me feel better. It does not change the world. What can change the world is systemic sustainable social change. For people to respect the humanity in themselves so as to be able to respect the humanity of others.
“You can use your skills and business knowledge to coach young entrepreneurs, to uplift people,” Che says.
Yes, yes I can.