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Restless Natives

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.

No 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. TheSunset from Sea Point 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,Sea Point Prom 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 around Nelson Mandela Voting 1994the 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 mad.

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.



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