| Perhaps it is the sea air,
the need for scenery after too long indoors, the desire to ponder or the need
for inspiration. For whatever reason, I regularly find myself emerging from my
apartment block to walk along the Sea Point Prom. It is a wide boulevard tight
by the sea, paved with bricks of assorted colours, separated from the road by
palm trees and stretches of lawn.
matter the time of day or night I walk the prom, invariably there is a man I
pass. He is a singular, restless and noticeable character, probably in his late
30s and stocky in build. The man has a thick wiry beard and a mass of bleached
blond hair. He walks leaning slightly forward, his head cocked with eyes fixed
steadily down ahead of him. His rolling gait is determined. He wears baggy
khaki shorts, grey socks and thonged sandals, a pair of sunglasses and a thin
tan jacket. It would appear that all day, every day, he walks back and forth
from one end of the prom to the other, a distance of three miles or so.
Perhaps it is not a dull life he has chosen,
because one can hardly become bored of the gentle lines of Signal Hill and the
proud massif of Lion's Head; nor the snatches of Table Mountain that appear
beyond the saddle of the hill. And the sea is always changing: at times so
still the gulls sit roosting on the plain water; sometimes proving the worth of
its name 'cape of storms' with the splash of thundering waves flooding the
promenade. The changing sunlight, too, might please him,
resolving the textures of the landscape from the softness of dawn, through the
starkness of the day to the lengthening gentle shadows of dusk as the sun sets
over the ocean in a new display of colour.
I have never been able to catch his eye, to
establish the first acknowledgement that might one day provide the opportunity
to stop him, break his relentless pacing and ask his name. He keeps his eyes
down and pursues his course like a definite mission. Why the constant activity?
What drives his restlessness? And what calls for such intensity of purpose, to
allow him no time to stop and talk in his desire to go back and forth?
Although he appears to be disconnected from
passing others, I wonder if he does observe us. Perhaps he recognises me as I
do him. Perhaps he knows a thousand others who regularly come to the prom. The
children who chase across the lawns to the swings and slides, the old folks who
look so cautiously before crossing the road. The Muslim ladies, covered in black from head to foot, the
numerous scantily dressed women and men with toned, and not so toned physiques
who exercise by foot or roller blade. The great spectrum of characters young
and old who wander alongside the sea every day from dawn to sunset. It is a
busy promenade with diversity true to the name 'rainbow nation'.
The prom is a little bit of South Africa.
The big blue sky above, the wonderful mountains and sea. The many shades and
shapes of people in the same place but in as many different worlds. And all of
them walking, outdoors, moving. I think there is something very 'South Africa'
about walking, just as there is something peculiarly English about sitting
the fire. Mandela took a long walk to freedom.
Long before his emancipation the Afrikaners literally walked out on British
Rule, to trek across the great Karoo, finally stopping on top of the gold rich
Witwatersrand. Long, long before them, but still to this day, bushmen walked
silently across the deserts stalking animals to feed their families and keep
their culture alive. And there is today a path on Table Mountain called 'Smuts
Trail' where the Field Marshall walked day after day alone, considering the
grasses, the world wars, the future of the country.
Sometimes when I am taking guests around the
country we pass someone in the middle of nowhere, walking. And they ask
'where is he going'? I am sorely tempted to tell them a tall story about a
strange aunt of his who lives over the next hill... But the truth is I don't
know where he is going. There is a chance he doesn't know either, but maybe he
has a home to go to, or perhaps he is looking for one.
If you stopped the man on the prom and asked
why he paces up and down, I wonder if he would have an answer. He could be like
the bare-footed man I knew at University, who always wandered about alone and
looked like an asylum escapee, but in fact is a brilliant academic. He could be
a writer preparing a great novel or someone, like so many people I have known,
trying to find inspiration and direction. Maybe he has decided to be a
journeyman, to travel for the excitement and beauty. Or perhaps he is
I wonder if, as spends his days pacing up
and down this South African promenade, he looks at passers by, like me, and
wonders similar thoughts.