Tess of Hope Street

2014-09-21 06:00

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Some images are etched in our DNA; somehow framed in our mind’s eye, just a few blinks or thoughts away.

I snapped such a photo with my phone a while ago.

It was of a woman sleeping on the tar pavement in front of the Robbie Nurock day hospital, a beautiful dilapidated building in Buitenkant Street.

She was well-dressed, her pretty head rested on a concrete block. Next to her on a red shawl sprawled a fat golden dog of indiscriminate pedigree.

The beast was resting but looked far from tired. It was peeking around at the legs of passersby’s with that “Wow so stoked to be a dog!” energy that most dogs seem to have.

At the time I walked on, but the image stayed with me.

Buitenkant Street is a significant Cape Town arterial that gently slopes from the Grand Parade up to Table Mountain’s foothills.

It is home to the District Six Museum, the city’s rambling red police station and its unlikely neighbour: Maverick’s Strip Club.

Its grubby pavements roll past The Fringe, a budding new hipster hub with excellent coffee shops and theatres, The Book Lounge, and next to the day hospital: Perseverance Tavern – or Percy’s – where I befriended drunk lawyers for court stories as a rookie reporter.

This week, walking up Buitenkant Street, I turned right into Roodehek Road. I sauntered past Deluxe Coffee; that really great garage turned bevvie bar where court judges, celeb activists like Zackie Achmat and people with Vespas appear to co-caffeinate peacefully.

(The bathroom in said establishment deserves an honourable mention. The mirror is an empty frame with the words “You look fucking awesome!” – a feature popular with the city’s Instagram crowd).

Also, Flat whites here cost only R14 – best value in the city.

Tess and her dog Coach

Anyway, crossing the road I was struck by a woman perched on concrete steps at the His People building that doubles as an organic market on Satudays. Next to her sat her gorgeous grinning golden dog. I stopped for a chat.

Turns out her name is Tess; the dog, a boy, is Coach – named after “Coachworks” the panelbeating firm across the road where Tess’ boyfriend works.

The three of them sleep in a tent on an empty lot at night. She sounded happy; she could have been drunk, I’m not sure. Originally from Mitchells Plain, Tess saved Coach in Manenberg as a half-dead puppy.

Manenberg: that festering pit of despair remembered briefly only when politicians rally for votes and when the yearly crime stats are released.

I saved my own cat in Manenberg during a job there as laaitie reporter. Puff was decrepit and had only one visible eye, the other one was covered in strange, gross stuff. I took him back to the office where he made my colleague Lin Sampson scream.

I didn’t have cash to get us back home to Stellenbosch. So, Puff waited in the car while I sold clothes from my car’s trunk at Second Time Around in Long Street for petrol money.

I got R40, which was plenty. This was the beginning of a life-long partnership, a friendship held so dear.

Walking away from Tess and Coach along Hope Street towards Parliament I felt an odd mix of emotions – but mostly joy.

Sometimes we do get lucky.

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