Fully Human

A dark, isolated parking lot by the inner city’s train station becomes an unexpected place of beauty for Alison Kleinhans…

It was dark as we reversed into a parking bay behind Cape Town railway station that Monday night and eerily deserted, like a deserted movie set. Climbing out of the car, I noticed a man shuffling slowly along the middle of the road, using a single crutch and dragging a small wheeled case behind him. Hooked neatly over the case was a backpack.

I remember thinking, “You really shouldn’t be walking in the middle of the road,” before turning to walk into the station.

As I turned, I saw him fall full length on to his back, with one hand reaching pitifully to the sky, fingers strangely flexed. Almost against my better judgement, I found myself bending over him, “Can you hear me?” I asked.

His eyes were wide open but he seemed to be looking beyond me. He didn’t answer but his other hand began making odd movements.

At that point, a strong, trendily-dressed young guy joined me. Together, we bent over the patient, trying to fathom what was wrong.

We decided it must be a seizure of some kind (because he didn’t respond although he was awake) but still, we both had no idea what to do.

We then noticed that the odd movements he was making with his hand looked as though he wanted to write something. It seemed a long shot but we decided to try it.

No sooner had the decision been taken than another man appeared at my elbow holding out a red pencil. We put it and a notebook into the prone man’s hand and he began to write.

By now a small crowd had gathered around him.

Someone read out what he had written: “Diabetic Sweet Coke”

Aha! A mute diabetic!

Immediately, everyone sprang into action. Someone magically produced a brimming polystyrene cup of Coke. Another carefully lifted the patient’s shoulders and ordered the others, “Lift his legs. Gently now, hey!” as they moved him to the pavement.

Someone else put his backpack behind his shoulders so he wouldn’t hurt himself.

Still another put the Coke to his lips.

The effect was instant and dramatic.

Now the diabetic man took charge, getting his kit out of his backpack to test himself.

He found the result satisfactory so the question became, “What now?”

A security guard had joined us and offered to call an ambulance on his two-way radio.

“No,” indicated the patient and wrote his address and, in big letters, TAXI.

OK , then.

I asked the circle of men, looking at their concerned faces as they crouched around him, if they would see him safely to a taxi.

“Yes,” they nodded enthusiastically.

I should say here that these men were as tender with this damaged solitary mute diabetic man as a mother with her newborn.

It was incredibly touching.

And I need to say this – any South African reading this will understand why – all these were men of colour: it was dark: it was isolated and, I believe that most, if not all, these men were poor. I am none of these things.

But we shared something precious that night.

In the face of someone’s need, something bonded us: something profound and deeply spiritual happened among us. You see, despite our fractured past and present, for a moment, we were just people – broken yes, but beloved too and at last, fully human as we saw one another as nothing more or less than human.

What an unexpected moment it was. One I’m forever grateful to have been part of.

Alison Kleinhans