Miles has learnt to hate Cape Town. Where the rest of us see the beauty, the splendour, the Cape Town of tourists marvelling at its wonders, he sees the depravity of its underbelly. He sees the lice and smells the rancid odour of nights in a sordid Somalian backpackers. Sitting in the passenger seat of my car, parked in a city street, he points to open land and says: “Tony, I’ve seen beautiful men and women reduced to sleeping there with a blanket and a bag of clothes, all they owned in the world, because of drugs.”

Miles and I go back a long way, although I do not know him well. I blogged last July about how I had bumped into him soon after returning to Cape Town. Last I had seen him he had been a bright, well-spoken young waiter who served me my morning croissant and coffee at a local café. Now, six years later, he was a scrawny drop-out living on the street, an emaciated mess of tik-addled, wasted youth. At 28, he was half-dead.

That meeting moved me, and I wanted to do something, but, when my naivety gave way to commonsense, it was made clear to me that there were processes at work, that his parents had kicked him out, that he’d been left to reach rock-bottom.

I have bumped into him six times since then, always in an environment where he can scrounge off the locals. Each time we’ve had a chat, asked how he was doing, given him a pep talk, tried to advise while keeping an apt distance. The last time I saw him (until today) was only a few weeks ago. If he seemed in a bad way before, now he looked like a refugee from a concentration camp. There was hardly any meat left on his bones, his cheeks were sunken, and there was a trenchant desperation in his eyes. A great, controlled anger welled in me.

“Do you know what’s going to happen to you?” I asked. “You’re going to die, Miles. If you don’t sort yourself out, and now, you’re going to be dead within a year.”

I was driving along this afternoon when he spotted me and ran over, waving me down. I hadn’t seen him so animated in six years. He was to check in, he told me, for a six-day heroin detoxification this week, followed by six weeks of rehab. It was, he said, his last chance. He’s swearing that this time will be the time he gets it right, that he couldn’t fall lower than he has done.

Whatever your belief systems are, Godly or godless, spare a thought for my young friend this week, would you? I so want to see this work out for him, to see meat slowly go back onto his emaciated bones, and to see him learn to love Cape Town again.

It’s a big call, but hey, there are addicts who recover. Please God may Miles be one of them.

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Tony Jackman

Tony Jackman

Tony Jackman is a journalist, budding playwright and sometime chef. He's written two plays, An Influence of Ghosts and Blue Train Coming, and back in the day wrote loads of songs. He paints a bit in watercolours...

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