Prologue (My Cryptic Life)
The beauty of Cape Town with its cool azure sea was a welcome change from the harsh Namib desert. After aimlessly drifting through the streets I came across a spacious park in the shadow of Table Mountain. Whilst admiring its splendor and with my thoughts wandering, a beggar sat down beside me. His back was bent from the misery and hardship that had become a way of life. The hollow gray eyes displayed contours like parched wells. Those once held dear had long deserted him. Even the torn clothes he wore were not his own. The motive for his company seemed clear. Instead, the weathered old man asked for nothing but to make easy conversation. His stories were well rehearsed but smacked of sincerity.
As he relayed his tales it struck me how he was completely emotionless. Not once did he smile and I knew he had forgotten how to cry. Of course I had no idea how much he shared was truth or otherwise, but it didn’t matter. When I later stood to bid him farewell … a simple “good-bye” seemed more apt. As I walked away he started sharing another story. It made little difference that he had no audience, that no one was listening. For as long as he could recall, that’s just the way it had always been. As he continued to speak the old soul looked up at the distant mountain, his only constant companion. It would not have been proper to leave a few coins behind. It was not hunger from which he was dying … it was the loneliness.
The old man’s humble demure left a strange and lasting impression. Probably his infinite stories could fill a book. With a bit of luck its harvest might have dragged him from his dungeon. Glancing at the passers-by, I realized in everyone’s heart lay a unique book. So, what made the old mans stories any different? Why should readers bother to trace the weary footsteps of an unknown tramp? His future was predictable. Like most, his prison door was unlocked. Sadly, he had given up trying to push it open. Before long his stories would accompany him to an unmarked grave, become his epitaph and be lost forever. Turning, I made a salute and a silent promise. If one day I had a history worthy of sharing, I would put pen to paper.
Twenty-six years later and at the age of fifty, destiny saw me search and find a once familiar spacious park. Little seemed to have changed. The bench creaked under my weight, testimony of the many seasons past. My once talkative partner was long gone … loneliness had won. Where he once sat I placed my manuscript “My Cryptic Life” … a tribute to an old man whose name I never cared to ask. The four years my book had taken to compile was evidence that his spirit, often my motivation, lived on. We had much in common and although I felt his presence, I wished he were there to accept my gratitude. As I stared ahead, the majestic mountain looked back at me through moist eyes … no longer alone.
Donald Els Alanby
(Alan D Elsdon)