In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Forests of the Night
Take your mind off things, I told myself. Keep occupied until you need to be at the Airport. 2200 at JC Smuts International seemed a long way off. Sunday morning in Johannesburg, and there was only one place to be; the open-air market at Rosebank. The market was a swirling kaleidoscope of sounds, colours, smells, good and bad and people. Such people, black, white, brown and all shades in between. Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu and God knows what else.
I am an old Africa hand, loving and hating in equal measure, but this country, South Africa, had captured my heart. I loved her and I was leaving her after six months to return to my family. It was then, as I pushed through the bustle that I saw him. He was sitting quietly, motionless, his coat torn, stained and shabby. But the face, a face of incredible sadness, a face that had seen much of life and had not liked it. A face that expected nothing better in the future. The face had only one eye, deep-set in the impassive head. That eye held my gaze for long seconds. What was he doing here? Where had he come from? What happened to his missing eye?
I turned away with difficulty to continue through the market, but felt compelled to look back. That single eye was still staring into mine. I knew I would have to come back, I just knew. I hoped he would be gone with his sad downturned mouth and single staring eye. It was two hours later when I returned. I hadn’t needed to come back this way; there were other exits from the market. He was still there. As far as I could tell, he hadn’t moved. I spoke to the smallholder and pointed at the sad one-eyed figure.
“How much is the toy tiger?”
“Three hundred rand, man.”
Three hundred rand! Lordy, that’s a bit much for a tatty old tig. “That’s quite expensive.”
“No, not for a Steif; it’s quite cheap.”
I picked up the sad tiger and felt his ears. No buttons and no holes where the buttons should have been. No Steif this one. I turned him over. No label either.
“He’s very scruffy and battered.”
“No, man, he’s been well loved.” This guy recognised a mug when he met one.
I left with the one eyed tiger and missing three hundred rand. I named him Tarzan, and added him to my collection. I now have forty-eight tigers and eighteen Tiggers, of various sizes and material. Nearly all have names, all beginning with the letter ‘T’. What do you call a group of tigers? Not a ‘pride’ surely; that’s for their inferior cousins. What about a ‘majesty of tigers’?
I am, you see, a hoarder. I hate throwing anything away. You never know, it may come in useful one day. I have stamps from all over the world, although now I only actively collect Germany. I have the first stamp I ever put in an album, when I was six or seven
I have hundreds of matchboxes in a big basket. I own three or four hundred LPs, a similar number of singles, including 78s. Nearly all the music I have now duplicated on CDs, but do I discard the vinyl?
I inherited about forty photograph albums from my divorce, which was a very fair one. My ex-wife got all the money; I got all the photos.
I try, from time to time, to cull these collections. After a couple of days fighting with the books, I give three to Oxfam, three! From over a thousand! . I tried with the tigers to cut down their numbers. I had two white ones whom I gave to a little six-year-old girl who lived nearby. She returned them after a few days. “They say they are lonely, Brian, and miss their friends.”
I haven’t even mentioned the dozens, perhaps hundreds of souvenirs I have picked up on my travels. I have carved animals, paperweights, matrouskas, worry beads, musket balls, pieces of shrapnel, a French First World War infantry helmet, paintings, wall plates, a piece of volcanic rock, etc etc.
When I fall off my perch, someone is going to have a hell of a job to sort it all out. That will be the price they will have to pay for having a hoarder as a father.
Written by my Father B.M