I went to hand in some documents at the local high school this morning and on the way back to the car, I passed a red car that seemed to be jam packed with very large people. The door was open and there was a lot of shouting and noise coming from inside. My first thought was, ‘hillbillies’. There was a strong smell coming from the car, like you get when you pass by a bakers or a pastry shop but it was mixed up with the smell of musty body odour.
I went back to my car and was siting inside with my grandson, waiting to go into his school, when a few seconds later,I noticed a bunch of people walking up the same pavement I’d just walked along, they were arguing and fighting – ‘til they were almost alongside my car. I couldn’t hear their conversation because my car windows were shut and also my grandson was yacking away ten to the dozen about a funny passage in 'The BFG' which we are now reading every morning in the car before school.
There was a woman and three boys. They looked like her sons but I might be wrong on that. One of the boys was in his late teens or early twenties – he was the one having a big argument with the woman. One of the boys looked about the same age as my grandson (i.e. about 7) and the other one looked to be of primary school age.
To say they were all unkempt is a bit of an understatement. But I’m not making snobby judgements here. The woman was overweight (so what, there are millions of wealthy overweight people) she was wearing track suit bottoms that didn’t fit her and a top that was too short – so you could see her belly, she had a loose cardigan on over her clothes, everything looked dirty. She had dirty hair, it didn’t look like it had been brushed or washed in a very long time, her face was dirty with ingrained dirt that comes from when a person does not wash regularly. Her eldest son was also very dishevelled and dirty and his dirty stained clothes didn’t fit him properly either. He had a wild mop of black curly hair and very bad skin.
The two younger boys had school jerseys on with unrecognisable school badges – so they may have come from some other area and maybe were going to enrol at the same school where my grandson goes? I don't know, I couldn't see where they went after they passed my car, so it's possible they entered the school grounds and I didn't see them go in.
The younger boys looked a bit better off clothes wise but they were also dirty and one of the boys, the youngest one, continually scratched at his head, which made me wonder if he had head lice. It was the youngest boy that caught my attention the most. He was walking quietly alongside his family, looking down at the pavement, holding his hands in front of him, trying to hold his hands nicely and not fidget. He had yellowy blonde hair and such a serious face. I just wanted to scoop him up and take him home!
There are many things that went through my mind as I watched these people for those few seconds as they went past my car:
1. Why and how did they get to be so poor? Where had they come from? Were they ‘gypsies’, ‘travellers’, ‘hobos’?
2. They weren’t thin, so at least the boys were all getting fed.
3. I could see quite clearly that they were very poor but why couldn’t they at least have clean hair, clean clothes? It doesn’t cost the earth to keep yourselves clean. I have lived a very long time in South Africa – I often visited friends of mine who lived in African 'townships' and were the poorest of the poor – they did not have money for luxuries. But they were always clean, their clothes were clean, you could eat off the floor of their huts. Because you’re poor it doesn’t mean you have to lose your human dignity.
4. I knew that I couldn’t offer any help to the little boy, even if I wanted to. If the boot was on the other foot, I’m sure I would despise anyone who dared to assume that I needed charity or thought they could care for my child better than me. But nevertheless, my heart went out to this little boy.