“Life stares back at you through agony and rejoices with you through the strife.”

Her name was Maggie, a tiny frail woman of an
indistinguishable age, from the small wine making town of De Doorns. She had
light brown skin the colour of wet two day old saw dust covered in dull red and
pale yellow patches which told a sad story about how she lived her life. Her diminutive
frame also screamed of her impecunious circumstances; the evidence of abject
poverty, subsequent hunger and desperation mockingly flaunted in her badly
sagging shoulders, protruding joints and withered backside. Her bean shaped
head sat precariously on her slim neck, exaggerated by the wasted down facing
shoulders, as if at any moment without warning it would roll off her body and
shatter on the ground like many of her hopes and dreams that had undoubtedly
gone the same way over the demanding indeterminable years of her life.

Her face was gentle and innocuous displaying
a passive kindness, the type that says I am pleasant and will not harm you but I
do not have the energy to give anything to you – perhaps a kind of surrender. Her
face also had a puffiness to it especially in her rosy cheeks, chin, dry lips
and eye lids, no doubt from excessive consummation of cheap wine, the smell of
which somewhat betrayed the innocence of her face as it wafted in my direction.
Her round sad eyes had an incredible depth created by large pupils, which
almost completely covered the whites of her eyes, and looked permanently
dilated as if absorbing everything the world had to offer or maybe releasing what
was left of her spirit like vapours escaping from an opened bottle of strong

On top of her bean shaped head was a shock of
messy brown hair that looked like careless art, which went perfectly with the
shoddy clothing that she had on, completing the scare crow look. This is how
she appeared to me on a late De Doorns afternoon just before the sun set behind
the distinctive snow capped mountains that surround the town. She approached me
rather quickly for somebody who looked so desiccated, begging me in a painful
crying voice to give her something to eat. I was taken aback not only by her appearance
but mostly by her insistent raving request since it was late in the day and all
other patients had gone home for the day as our clinics onboard the health train
where I work were closed, and most staff had retreated to the quietude of their

There were still a few patients and community
members making their way home not far from where Maggie and I stood, as well as
staff making their way towards the living quarters of the train. As manager of
the train my first instinct was to refuse the woman as this kind of thing
happened all the time in our working environment and experience had taught me
that if you help one you have to help them all and there was never a shortage of
people needing help and that left one extending themselves beyond their
capabilities. I was also instantly hit by guilt at the fact that here was a
simple woman asking for simple help and I was being technical, even though
justifiably so.

Maggie, as you would imagine, did not respond
well to my gentle refusal of her request. She continued to plead that she
couldn’t go home without at least a loaf of bread as she had promised her three
children that she would bring them something to eat. She burst into tears,
those round cavernous eyes spurting tears like drainpipes leading to the sea,
begging me to understand her situation. Then when she saw that I was unmoved
she started telling me about her mean husband who beat her and whom made her
fear going home. She even rolled up her sleeves showing me dark purple and red
bruises on her arms from the last thrashing she had received at the hands of
her loving husband. When she did this she stopped pleading completely and broke
into a serious fit of crying as the shame of revealing to me the traumatic reality
of her world.

At this point I realised that enough was
enough and manager or not I had to do something as a human being. I quickly
arranged a loaf of bread for her from our kitchen and brought it to her. Her gratitude
was like nothing I have ever seen before. She started to cry even more and
asked if she could hug me and when I agreed she sobbed on my shoulder and held
onto to me as if I had changed her life circumstances. She then proceeded to
thank me and tell me what a wonderful person I am and how she wished there were
more men like me in this town of hers. I stayed with her a little while longer
asking her about her family and getting to understand her better. She even
asked me to come with her to her home to meet her family and I kindly declined
the offer. This time she understood and started to leave. As she left across
the railway bridge she kept stopping and waving and calling to me and thanking
me to no end.

Maggie, the woman with an indeterminable age
from De Doorns, touched my soul that day. Not only that but she made me look at
my own humanity and grapple with questions of giving and receiving. Often it is
said people should give till it hurts since love has no limits, but often when one
thinks they are giving to no end with, no complaints, something will happen
that will make them feel the tiresomeness of constantly giving. Surely in order
to give one must take time to create that which they will give, which in a way implies
being selfish to some extent? To give until it hurts is a contradiction in a sense,
as Rick Beneteau writes in his article entitled “When The Giving Hurts.” Check
it out at:
and feel the human condition…