More than 30 years ago I joined the South African Merchant Navy, and when I returned to my home port after 5 months away, was waiting for my papers to sign off, found myself chatting to this long-haired guy with a guitar, in a cowboy hat and boots, who was taking over my cabin and working his way to Europe. By some strange coincidence, it turned out our parents knew each other, so we had things in common to talk about.
Three years later I was leaving South Africa to join my girlfriend in the US, had borrowed money for travel costs and a few months’ living expenses to get established. Through my own naivety got robbed on the train on the way to Johannesburg from Cape Town, went to the airport with nothing but my ticket to Luxembourg, passport, and maybe enough money to buy a standby ticket to New York. Got through security and the only available seat in the crowded waiting area was next to a guy with long hair, guitar, cowboy hat and boots, and a slightly familiar air. Turns out it was his brother, and he had a ticket on the same flight to Luxembourg, from where he was due to catch a bus to his family in Switzerland.
We swapped life stories as we waited, arranged to sit together on the plane, and carried on the conversation, even singing a few songs we knew to pass the time. As we parted at the Luxembourg airport, (me planning to hitch-hike to the UK, where I had heard the tickets were cheaper) he opened his wallet and gave me everything in it, getting on the bus before I could figure out what to say.
I turned around, went back into the Airport and bought a standby ticket on Iceland Air to New York, with enough left over to fly to Grand Junction, Colorado, and as it turned out, to buy two one-way tickets on a Greyhound bus from Colorado back to the East Coast, where my new life began.
I now have two kids in University, am wondering what to do with the rest of my life, but feeling optimistic about the future. Although I cannot remember the names of either brother, or their family, I will never forget that act of spontaneous generosity, or the odd collection of coincidences that led up to it.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada