BATTLING WITH MY INNER VOICE

AM I the only person who feels a sense of trepidation on approaching a traffic light? It is now impossible to get home without an awkward encounter with people who have appropriated our corners and traffic lights?

AM I the only person who feels a sense of trepidation on approaching a traffic light? It is now impossible to get home without an awkward encounter with people who have appropriated our corners and traffic lights?

They are an assortment of society's desperate individuals and are determined to beg on street corners with absolute confidence.

They scare me. Not because they are dangerous or pose any threat to my wellbeing. No, it is because of my own helplessness and guilt. Guilt because I have, and they don't.

Seeing them every day as I travel the streets of Gauteng fills me with self-loathing, and for a moment I am unable to appreciate the fruit of my hard work and the enabling environment in which I was born and raised.

In all honesty, my success is not just the result of my abilities, education and hard work. It also incorporates my comfortable upbringing by parents who were determined to sacrifice much so that I can have a secure future. I guess another word for all of this is luck.

The flyer distributers, defiant window washers and vendors are sometimes an absolute irritation, but I can always drive off with my conscience intact. As for the charlatans who have taken up begging as a career, well, I can ignore them and still sleep at night.

And then you find the creative beggars who pretend to be afflicted with a chronic disability but are miraculously healed as soon as they get what they want. These ones are easy to handle.

It is the desperately poor, the blind men and women, the emaciated toddlers and infants who threaten this cocoon I have built around myself.

They knock on my sheltered life with such persistence that it is just not possible to simply drive off. Correction, I do drive off, but I am never the same.

No matter how frequent the encounter, the torture afterwards feels like a new experience every time. There is no getting used to it.

The worst thing to do at a time like this is to maintain eye contact. But for some reason I end up meeting the desolate eyes of another young mother and her babies. My response is always the same - why did she bring this child into this cruel world?

She should have known better. But my heart knows there are many reasons why she could have fallen pregnant, tough I'd rather pretend she knew what she was doing because that makes me sleep better. Learning that she was raped or forced into this situation would intensify this raging conflict within me.

If I start shedding a tear for the innocent life that spends the day at the robots, being battered by the wind, sun and rain while its peers are at nursery school playing with their mates, then I will never stop weeping. It is much better to harden the heart and move on.

But it is impossible to disengage. The poverty of others shoves its face into my space and confronts me whether I like it or not. There is no choice in the matter. Whether I choose to drive off or drop a R5 coin, I know I am not making a difference.

Besides, should I even bother dropping the coin, knowing that another beggar at the next traffic light, only 500 metres away, will also demand my attention? What about the next day?

Do I give to the same beggar or find a different one? It is this uncertainty that saps my energy and leaves me powerless. Not having control of my circumstances is the worst feeling in the world.

Of course, I support some charities but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with the beggars on street corners. I laugh at those people who argue that the police must remove them from the streets.

That I am afraid does not solve the problem. All it does is create a façade and veneer of stability - a false sense of security for those of us who have. Poverty cannot be wished away, and for me traffic lights have become a war zone - where I battle with my conscience.

And I never win.

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