he was tall, lean.. with a face that radiated. he saw me from across a broad street. waved. came straight for me. i thought i should have known him. he assumed it.
he spoke fast, with a kind of excited warmth that was slightly unnerving, yet irresistible. his clothes were worn, but for his apparent poverty, quite stylish.
He plays music too, he says. And very well at that. I am in doubt. He is selling himself. But his broad smile let me concede the benefit of the doubt to him.
We must play together, he says. OK…? OK.. I’ll find you again, he says. I walked away with two thoughts. The one is that he did not ask for money. And the other is that i am glad to have the possibility of getting more acquainted with a black man. But how will he find me again?
A year passed. And he found me again. On the same street. With the same smile, the same enthusiasm. This time it was festival in town. He would get his guitar and we can play. And so we did.
He did not lie. He was good. He played and sang popular songs, some of his own creations, all well crafted and of a delightful variety. Most of all, his playing and singing, through all the cracks in his guitar and his voice, penetrated. He put life into his music. That is why he knew he was good. He could transport.
So I was quite chuffed with meeting him and playing with him.
Next thing, i moved to this town. I had an address there now. he soon discovered it. His friendliness did not dissipate, but for the first time, he asked me for some money. He had a serious tale to tell. On strength of his proven trustworthiness, i believed it and helped him out. And so a pattern kicked in.
His problems and tales surrounding it became frequent, his requests for money along with it. I could not keep up and told him, look: let’s play together and make money. I cannot go on giving handouts. So we played every now and then, me ceding most of the income to him. I also took him on as a teacher of Xhosa, from which he earned a weekly bit. Furthermore, we delved into his past, the fact that he lost his parents at an early age, that he became mentally unstable at some point and is on constant treatment for that. I also researched the history of Mohamed Ali with him to establish the impossibility that he could have been his father.
Indeed. I realized that i am dealing with a highly gifted man, now in his fifties, who suffered serious developmental constraints, who is under constant anxiety of not being looked after. He ploughs the better part of his amazing abilities into manipulating that care and is perhaps beyond the possibility of ever being satisfied. As a destitute man from a poor community, the single object that personifies such care, is money. As long as he can glean money from a friendship, he would feel secure.
Yet, i believed i was in control. We recorded a whole CD together that he could sell on the streets. Others helped with it and with his clever mouth, he did sell quite a number of them. I continued to believe i could look past his manipulations to the real man. He was stunned to hear my analysis about his past and present psychology. He seemed prepared to ditch the story of Mohamed Ali being his father who would one day be obliged to give him millions.
And then I left town. And it things turned for the worse. Telephone calls. Urgent, desperate situations. Being not able to provide him with work, at first i transferred some money. But the stream did not stop. And not that i was his only target. Others have helped entrenching his patterns by obliging his entreaties with substantial amounts of money. And to add this: he has two children. Most of his crises stems from their demands and – i gathered – similar manipulations with him.
I struggled with anger. Every time he called i became angrier. My humanity towards him faded. He seemed to be more than just desperate. He became adamant. He used others to phone me to try and substantiate his demands, and Mohamed returned to his imaginary family line. For once i slammed down a phone in somebody’s ear.
If you have the CD “HA!,” you’ll hear him sing on track four. “I did not know I would grow up without my parents.” A song that should make you cry. And do I wish I could still cry for him!
He phoned two days ago. I’ll pay him the balance of his royalties for the track in advance within the next two months. Then the tie would be broken.
A black shadow is cast within me. Sometimes, hope and healing slips. And we have to move on.