“I will have a medium Quarter Pounder meal with a coke please,” I said in a rehearsed tone to the woman standing behind me at the counter, already dreading the way I would feel after guzzling my meal down. MacDonald’s is the heroin of the fast food world; you want it even though you know how it will make you feel and could very possibly lead to your arm having to be amputated due to gangrene (enter Jarred Leto in Requiem for a Dream…it wasn’t heroine people it was a Big Mac that did that to him).
Weighing up the consequences of my actions I walked with my tray of steaming food and attempted to find a table to no avail. Clearly I wasn’t the only poor soul trying to get my fix. Eventually I found a table where an elderly man blasting old jazz standards from a radio was sitting; he very graciously made space for me, perhaps an understanding amongst fellow addicts perhaps.
We made the usual small talk:
“ How are you?”
“What do you do?”
“How about this weather ey?”
“Where are you from?” I enquired admittedly only half interested.
“From Limpopo,” he replied, “I’m here because my granddaughter, she want to go to university here, she’s very clever, she teach herself matric because the teachers there, they don’t teach. Her parents they die of AIDS so I raise her, maybe one day she become a doctor and fix AIDS, make it better for South Africa.”
As he said this he wiped his mouth, smiled at me and got up from the table while pointing to his radio and said: “I love music.”
All it takes is a simple encounter with a simple man to bring you back down to the harsh realities we tend not to face in South Africa every day.