Every winter the orange tree in our garden bursts with an abundance of bright yellow fruit - so yellow in fact, that for years we thought it was a lemon tree. And every year hungry passers-by either request to be allowed to pick fruit or just enter the garden and help themselves without permission.
Thus, during winter, we have so much activity in our front garden, with people wandering in and out as if in a public park/garden. I really did not mind. The tree is popular and its produce bountiful.
I did not even mind when people came in, without permission, just to pick a few oranges and then left. Even when they ask for permission, I would agree and then go back inside, trusting that they will treat our property with respect.
Sadly though, many people have taken advantage of this freedom. A few years ago, the very youths whom I allowed to pick oranges, then decided to rip our garden tap out of the ground to sell it for scrap metal. When I returned outside to check up on them, they were dashing down the street laughing, leaving the water spouting wastefully about 3 meters into the air. Luckily Mo popped in from work a few minutes later and was able to stop the water by sealing the pipe.
There have also been incidents where people coming to ask for food steal from the premises while waiting for us to heat up their meals. Like the time a young man stole our plastic doorbell button. Why, I don't know. I cannot imagine any use this piece of plastic could be to him without the actual doorbell. On the other hand, losing this tiny object meant that we could not operate our doorbell.
Last month my kids were so upset when some children we'd allowed to pick oranges stole one of our goldfish from our pond as soon as our backs were turned. Each of my kids had had a fish - the fish they stole turned out to be Nuha (7)'s. She cried pitifully for more than an hour for her little friend, Marina. We comforted her, saying that we were certain that Marina would be well looked after and that we were sure that the children who took her were kind and caring (At which Shakeel (13) snorted cynically).
Every night we have people coming to the door for food or money. Usually they are the same people who return over and over. For the past few months, a certain gentleman has made it a habit to pop in late at night, bang on our security gate and scream loudly until we answer. Mo has, on numerous occasions, threatened not to give him anything if he did not stop carrying on in such a vulgar fashion; the man would then simply apologise, make off with his food/money and then return the following night to do exactly the same thing.
Last week, on Thursday night, he again banged on the gate and asked for money. He specified that he did not want food, but preferred the money. Since Mo was working late, I asked the gentleman to return at 14:00 the following day(Friday), since Mo would be returning from mosque at that time and could then give him whatever money he had to spare.
At 12:10 the following afternoon he returned. Not having expected this gentleman to return almost 2 hours earlier than agreed, I asked Elizabeth, the domestic worker, to answer the door and give whoever asked for assistance, the food which I'd set aside. Thinking that I was about to renege on our agreement of the night before, he became furious. He tore broken my little fence(surrounding my veg and herb patch) made of wooden logs and used one log to bang loudly (and frighteningly) on the security gate, screaming and cursing all the while.
I came out and when I saw that it was him, I am ashamed to say, I really lost my cool. He screamed that we'd had an agreement, to which I replied that I had not been expecting him at 12:10. Mo was not even home yet. I had no money to give him. He then tried to hurl the log at me through the metal bars, and threatened to harm me should he ever get me outside (This he obviously said in the most colourful language imaginable).
He then started bashing our dirt bin, which was outside for garbage collection. Cursing , swearing and threatening me, he walked off.
A few days later he returned for food. Deciding that he was probably sorry for what had happened, I warmed him some leftovers and then locked the gate behind him as he left the garden. He then proceeded to plonk himself down in our driveway to enjoy his meal. I did not mind. An hour later he finished his lunch, fumbled around a bit, then - after struggling to get to his feet - tried to toss his litter through the fence into our garden! Since he caught me glaring at him, he then opted to simply toss all his litter in our driveway and walk off.
I undertook not to deal with him again. I would only open for him if Mo was home. Two nights later I heard a loud banging at the security gate of our porch. I called for Mo, but the time he had taken to arrive must have been too long for the person waiting outside, because when we opened the gate, we saw that someone had kicked/bashed broken our garden tap once again, leaving the water to flood the half of the garden.
I was almost certain that the same guy was responsible. As stupid as this sounds, I was truly hurt. And disillusioned. Every time I'd opened my heart to this man (and many others) they've ended up disrespecting me and abusing my trust.
But despite advice from family members that I should just lock our outside gate and keep these people from entering altogether, I can't help but feel that doing so would be punishing deserving people for the deeds of others.
And I cannot help but wonder if my petty feelings of selfish hurt should perhaps take a back-seat to the needs of the people who approach us for assistance; especially in the light of the weather we've been experiencing now recently.
Two nights ago I lay awake guiltily, thinking of that man and others like him. I shuddered at the thought of having to emerge from beneath my warm bedcovers, so how on earth was he surviving? What keeps these people from succumbing to the effects of hypothermia?
I don't remember ever having experienced such a cold winter in my life. I am not the only one - many people have been saying that this is the coldest Cape Town winter they had ever experienced. And, like me, these people have solid secure homes, access to warm food and drink and the means to keep themselves warm (like heaters, warm showers, electric blankets etc).
I pray for God to provide some means of shelter, warmth and comfort to everyone this winter. And, that those of us who are by the means, find it in our hearts to assist these unfortunate souls in whatever way possible.
It is very easy to become annoyed at them 'bothering' us at the most inopportune times; at their ill-timed pleas for assistance disturbing us snuggling beneath our warm blankets. And this is perhaps when we must remember that ''there, but for the grace of God, go I''.
And, when I consider the adage that ''those who give selflessly are blessed'', suddenly my perspective changes and I realise that this bothersome orange tree is, in fact, our blessing.