“How are you, Emvelo?” I asked the friendly petrol pump attendant, quickly reading his name badge as he approached my car.
“Eish, I’m freezing!” he replied.
I was surprised. Aren’t we supposed to say, “Fine thanks, and you?” when someone asks how we are? And isn’t actual, genuine information about our true state of being a little – I don’t know … invasive? Why would I want to know that?
Besides, I had just had an amazing cup of piping hot coffee from the cafe inside the service station shop. I was very comfortable – warm, even. Certainly not cold. What was Emvelo’s problem, then?
In a flash, the picture of a warm top I’d recently received appeared before my eyes. My sister left it with us when she moved overseas, presumably with the aim of us passing it on – or even throwing it away. It certainly was warm. It was also too big, and didn’t match anything any of us owned.
I got out of the car to see if, by any chance, we’d left it in the boot. (It’s been known to happen.) It wasn’t there, but I knew what I needed to do.
“Emvelo, what time do you finish here tomorrow?” It was late – after 8PM – but I knew he wasn’t going home any time soon.
“Come 6 I’m waaiing” he explained, using the Afrikaans vernacular for heading home; a rare sound in this English-dominated part of South Africa.
“And what time will you be back tomorrow?” I asked.
“Oh – 6 again. I’m working 6-6. This whole week I’m on night shift.” The girls giggled a little in the back. 626. Like Stitch in the Disney movie.
“Right.” I said, decided. “I’ll see you before then.”
As I paid for my fuel, he agreed he’d see me the next day, every inch the salesman.
We drove home, chattering along the way. Our house isn’t far from the petrol station. When I arrived, I dropped off Red Riding Hood and hunted down the blue tracksuit top. Goldilocks wanted to join me for the next part of our adventure, and we headed back together, top securely folded on the front dashboard.
When we arrived back at the petrol station a few minutes later, I pulled into the bay at the very end, turned the engine most of the way off, and waited. It was a lovely evening. We had the windows wound down, and we felt safe – and a little buzzed. We chatted a bit, to pass the time, and it wasn’t long before Emvelo appeared to serve us.
As he got closer to the car, I could see he looked confused. Could he have recognised us?
Reaching the car, it was clear he had. “You came back?” he asked, incredulous.
“This is for you,” I said, handing him the warm top. “I’m sorry the colours don’t match your uniform. At least you can wear it while you wait, so that you don’t get sick.”
He took the top from me, and the look on his face was humbling. “God bless you,” he whispered.
“This top is from Jesus, for you,” I managed, feeling immensely stupid. As I drove away, I turned to Goldilocks and explained, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. I’m just doing what He told me to.”