Leader arrived on a Thursday in the pouring rain. He stood calling from the gate – and asked if he could wash my car. He was coughing horribly and drenched. I gave him some breakfast, tea and milk, soup and bread to take home. I added in R50 for the day clinic and told him to come back on Saturday, if the sun was shining, with a certificate from the clinic to say he did not have TB and then he could wash my car.
Which he did. He was TB free – but had a lung infection. So I fed him, he washed my car (beautifully) and I gave him money for his medicine and R50 for the car-wash.
Over the past four months he has come back regularly. Each time he cleans my car, and my brother's if it is there, gets some breakfast, some provisions and heads off into the Cape Town day.
A few weeks ago I tried to give him some groceries and he said he didn't need them. He had enough as his business was picking up. If he did take them, he said, he would only give them to the Zimbabwean guys who were sleeping rough near his shack. And he didn't feel it was right to take from me to do that. I said – take them and feed the others. I believe in paying favour forward. He said so did he.
One Saturday he asked if I would loan him R100 so he could pay off the final instalment of a lay-bye he had made at a clothes store. He showed me the receipt. And promised he would come back and clean both cars to pay it off. I said I would take him at his word. He came back, twice. He paid his debt.
Mark told me the other day that a cap was missing from the trunk of his car. He believed it was Leader as Leader was the only person, other than Mark, who had been in his trunk. I wouldn't believe it and listed all the reasons why I trusted Leader. Mark was initially adamant, it had to be Leader. But then after a few days – became less convinced. And we let it drop.
But something niggled. I keep change in my car which I use to buy the Big Issue or the Weekly Jokes from traffic light vendors. A couple times in the past; I had reached for the cash and found it not there, and just written it off as having been used up. But now I wasn't so sure.
So, I set a trap. I planted a R10 note in the centre console, and two R5 notes in my change dish. I even took a photo of what I had done so I could be sure I would be able to prove it. When Leader arrived today, I welcomed him. Opened the car, made him breakfast, chatted about his week. All as normal.
When he was finished I went to pay him and “realised” I didn't have R50 change. No problem, I said – I have some in my car. The flash across his face told me all I needed to know. He watched as I got into the car and looked for the money. And answered honestly when I queried where it was. I asked for it back and he took it from his purse.
Leader asked me to give him a second chance.
'This is your second chance, last week you took a hat from Mark's car'. He stared: 'Yes, I did.' 'And the money – this isn't the first time with the money either?'
A mixture of expressions chased across his face: annoyance at his own stupidity, a realisation of what was about to happen, entreaty, a smidgen of guilt. But no shame.
He kept asking for another chance, but this time – this first time since I have been living here … I was adamant: 'No – I tried to do my best by you and you stole from me. For you to do it once – that means you think I am stupid. For you to keep doing it – that means you think I am a fool.'
So, I paid him for his work. And sent him on his way. He looked at me with a rueful smile as he left and said: 'So, Sue, goodbye. Enjoy your life.'