The Knights of the Road

According to the Oxford Dictionary the term Knights of the Road  means “a man who frequents the roads, for example a travelling sales representative, tramp or formerly a highway man.”

Being a Preacher’s Kid, I have met and come into contact with many Wanderers or Knights. The manse or residence of a minister of religion is an obvious haven, a place for Knights to come to for assistance, food, someone to chat to.  More often than not, all that was needed was a meal.  My father made it very clear that we always had to be respectful to folk, any person who knocked on the door was always referred to as sir or ma’am, and had to be treated with dignity and respect no matter what they looked like, the state of their clothing and ethnicity. I obviously listened very closely to my Dad, taking his message to heart, because, when I was about 5 or maybe 6 years old, I was found chatting to a Knight, he was holding my doll, while I was happily sharing the news that my mother was going to have a baby, as well as bits of gossip I had heard along the way. My mother called me into the kitchen, “I think you should rather come inside and play with your doll, to which I responded, “No, I am talking to one of God’s children.”  My mother vowed that she would never interfere in my relationships with any of the Knights or anyone else who came to our door.

Snowy

No-one really knew his real name, or at least I don’t recall ever hearing it. People always referred to him as Snowy.  With a head of snow white hair,  small of stature and slight of build, once or, twice a year he would arrive in Sterkstroom, make his way straight to our house, where he would get a meal, in exchange for a bit of a chat, or some or other signwriting job. 

I recall him being very kind and loving, he showed such delight whenever I ran out to meet him shouting with glee “Uncle Snowy, please swing me around.”  On one occasion I heard  that  he was in town, as I was disappointed that he didn’t visit us first,  I  duly sat outside the pub waiting for him to come out, someone in town reported me to my Mother, who was most certainly not impressed with my behaviour.  Frankly, I think she was a bit tired of me bringing people home, because in my opinion they needed food and care.

One Sunday evening, much to my Father’s and the congregation’s amusement, Snowy, attended an evening service, judging by his behaviour was clearly a little inebriated, when the collection plate was passed around, he made a great show of emptying his clearly empty pockets, in a load voice he declared: “tell the padre to visit the pub tomorrow, I’ll have something for him then.”

Our relationship with Snowy ended when my Father was transferred to Port Alfred. Many years later I learnt that Snowy had died.  The poor man got caught in a snow storm on the outskirts of Queenstown. I was heartbroken.

It has taken this journey, of blogging, writing, introspection and retrospection to realise that I had my own Knight of the Road.

Nico

I must have been about twenty three years old, living on my own in a bachelor flat in Gardens, Cape Town.

I stepped into the café cum green grocers situated at the top end of  the Kloof  and Orange Street intersection, just 100 metres from my , block of flats, incidentally called Skyline. It was home to some very interesting folk, from artists, actors, bank clerks and the like.

Dilly dallying and  day dreaming as I am inclined to do, looking at fruit and veg, wondering what I was going to have for supper, what could I afford to eat on such a tight budget, trying to eke a living while earning a pittance as a junior Public Relations Assistant at the famous Mount Nelson Hotel. The excitement of working at that really grand hotel and meeting famous people certainly made up for the poor state of my  salary.

He smiled at me and then he said ……actually I don’t know what he said.  I was so intrigued, by him, his confidence, just conversing with me as if I was a long lost friend.  Oh yes! I remember now, he was talking about Jan S Marais, the founder of Trust Bank, whose ability to engage with people from all walks of life, was apparently legendary.  I was amused and intrigued; we chatted, exchanged pleasantries, introduced ourselves and then went our separate ways.  I didn’t think anything of it, in my line of work I chatted to strangers all the time.

The very next day I saw him again, I had popped into the laundromat to collect some washing. And there he was! We took up where we left off the day before.  

He wandered in and out of my life for years.  He would disappear, no warning, no farewell or goodbye, and then appear, we would pick up on a thread of conversation, a news headline or share an opinion.  Sometimes, in fact, most times we argued.

Asking him where he had been or where he came from was pointless.  He never answered me.  Nico was always well groomed, impeccably dressed, well-spoken, well read and very bright.

I never found out where he lived or even where he was born, occasionally he talked about his Mother whom he loved and respected, that was all, he just closed up if and when I asked too many questions.

I gathered that he made a living from gambling and selling things.  He was a very gifted sales person.   However, he was restless and haunted, almost as if he was running away from something.  In all my dealings with him I never felt threatened, he never asked me for money and when he was flush, he was generous, we would go to the movies or he would buy a bottle of good wine, lovely cheese, cold meats and salad ingredients.  We would enjoy a feast whilst listening to the radio. Sometimes we would dance, laugh and just be joyous.  

He would then take his leave and disappear, for days or weeks or months, sometimes years.  This is who he was and this is how he operated.

One day in the late 1980 ‘s early 1990’s I was walking down Govan Mbeki Avenue,  just minding my own business, I looked up and there he was,  smiling broadly.  “I just knew I would find you today” is what he said. 

The pattern continued, in and out of my life he wandered.

Right at the outset of my relationship with George, I told him about Nico, explaining the oddness of our friendship.  One Sunday morning whist browsing around Art in the Park, out of the shadow of trees and onto the pathway stepped Nico.  I introduced him to George, we chatted a while, I gave him our address as he wanted to pop around for a meal and a chat, he was going to cook for us.  “Great” I said, that will be fabulous” and we parted.

A couple of nights later George asked me when Nico was coming around to cook for us?  I responded: “he didn’t say what year, George”.

I have not seen him since; I miss him and just wish that he would find us.  I want to know that he is alive, happy and safe.

I miss you my wanderer, my friend, my Knight of the Road, maybe, just maybe you’ll pop by tonight…….

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6 comments

  • Masizole

    This is very sweet Aunt ‘Gail..
    I pray and hope that he is still alive and in good spirits.

  • Aunt Gail !!! The end is absolutely halarious ! I can just picture George’s face – He didnt say what year George… This story reminds me that I wouldve done the same if i had to experience the ”knights of the road”, Ínviting strangers for dinner or a chat & my mom also complaining. -loved it !

  • Sanette Cavallari

    This !!! fills me with so much nostalgia of what was…moments in our lives of explicit and undeniable connection…there will be more! And you will write about it dearest Gail !

    • Gail Charalambous

      Thank you Sanette, appreciate your reaction to this post.

  • Michelle

    What a beautiful blog Gail. Such a precious, unusual friendship you had with Nico. I hope you get to see him again.

    • Gail Charalambous

      Oh Michelle, as do I – maybe one day very soon he will surprise me.