I don’t know his name. I might have, once. I can’t remember. We were friendly. As friendly as a 19 year old white guy and a 30 or maybe 40something year old black, homeless and usually drunk black guy could be. We’d pass each other in the street in Sea Point and acknowledge each other. There’d be some banter. Some joviality, even.

Maybe it was motivated by my white guilt and the kind of social awareness and desire for justice that a university student has, but I felt it narrowed the gap between us. Between our circumstances, which, it still seems to me, we were powerless over. 

I lived in a Sea Point flat for quite a few years, and then in another Sea Point flat for a few more. About nine or ten years all together, which is a long enough time to build a relationship, which is what it was, of sorts. But it has been about twenty years since I left Sea Point. And yet, walking past him now, I still recognise him. I don’t know if he still recognises me, especially because he is drunk. Still drunk.

At the beginning he wasn’t always drunk, but at the end – twenty years ago – he was almost always drunk and fucked up, with some bloody gash on his face or with swollen lips or walking on crutches. I assumed he got into fights; what other explanation was there? 

I wonder if, in his drunkenness and through his injuries, he still recognises me. 

“Give me some money!” he slurs, abruptly, carelessly, callously, desperately, wishfully, what-have-I-got-to-lose-edly. “Give me some money!” he says again on slurry, wobbly legs that are miraculously keeping him upright.

I gesture that vague gesture that, in my mind, is the beginning of a probably unnecessary explanation and that, in his mind, is simply a “no”, which as far as he is concerned is all that is necessary.

Still wondering if he recognises me, I recall that this was always the basis of our friendship. An exchange. A mutual courtesy, for me born out of guilt, for him born out of a humiliating necessity. We would smile at each other, money would pass from my hand to his, and I would feel better about my humanity, and he would be better off by a few rand, briefly.

The answer is yes. He still recognises me.

“You grew up in front of me!” he reprimands. He judges me, either in moral disgust or a last ditch attempt to induce guilt, to induce my hand into my pocket.

This is not as it should be. He has always been my senior in years but never in circumstance or privilege. We both have reason to be outraged, but instead we have both surrendered. It is what it is, and it is what it will always be, until, I expect, he finally dies of drunkenness or in a fight, or both. And when it happens, it’s unlikely to be in front of me.

I don’t have any money. That is the truth, but I doubt if he cares.