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The Tramp of Krugersdorp

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

The Tramp of Krugersdorp

On the other side of the stream, the notorious Suzman roamed in the koppies, a mysterious place, accessible only by a narrow, wooden bridge.


On the day the baths opened for the first time in Summer, I bought a season ticket to enter as often as I liked.

Charlie the life-guard, his arms folded over his bare, brown, beer barrel belly, watched for any trouble makers. But he didn't see them, because, as usual, his gaze was focused on the sweet little girls. The hooligans on the lookout for mischief, zeroed in on me, as a likely object.

On my way home, I stopped at each pine tree, to make sure no one was waiting to grab me, I heard a voice out of the shadows, "we're coming to get you, fat Jewboy". Scenes of being tortured flashed through my mind. These guys meant to make me bleed and scream for mercy.

What was I to do? Danger lurked everywhere. Running for dear life, not looking, I found myself at the bridge.

Entering the koppies, I slowed down and caught my breath. Eucalyptus trees closed me in. I was frightened and prayed that Suzman wouldn't attack me.

Alone, panting from exhaustion and fear, I collapsed and lost consciousness. Waking I saw broken branches and footprints. A scuffle had taken place and I had slept through it. The bullies were nowhere to be seen. Relieved and refreshed, I remembered my duties; a promise to rabbi Isaacson to come to services. I plucked up courage, picked up a stick, just in case….I wouldn’t run away this time, walked, watching out for danger, back through the woods.

As I walked, I felt lucky Suzman hadn’t attacked me. I thought about the last time I had seen him. It was downtown, as I was on my way to afternoon Hebrew lessons. He was slouching in the entrance to a shop, long hair and a thick, scraggly beard, covered his face, only his eyes showed like two slits, making recognition impossible. It seemed strange to me that he wasn’t begging. In fact he took no notice of the passers by, even though they stopped to stare and point at him. He obviously wanted to be seen. To my mind he was overacting, making people think that he was a hobo.

I was also mystified, why the police didn't chase him out of town, as they did with vagrants.

The strangest thing was that people regarded him as Jewish, even though he never came to worship. They even knew his name was Suzman and told scary stories about him. For some strange reason he wanted to be known as the Jewish tramp.

Entering the synagogue, I found everything was the same as always. Zuk, the holy man of the congregation on the bima, wrapped in his white prayer shawl, his old head, covered in a black miter shaped hat, assisting the rabbi. Archie Tannenbaum, the chairman, in his regal seat, beside the ark, nodded for the ceremony to proceed.

After the service, the worshippers proceeded to the communal hall for the banquet. I ran ahead with the kids for the delicious trifle Mrs. James always made, a concoction of raisins, nuts and fruit mixed in wine soaked bread and decorated with chocolate, whipped cream and cherries.

As I stuffed the tasty cake into my mouth, I overheard the latest gossip from Mazie, the police chief’s wife. Cake came tumbling out as my jaw dropped. She was excited to inform the ladies, in confidence, of course, that a great coup had taken place; a gang of hooligans, on the loose, stealing and beating people up, had been arrested in the koppies.

Nobody knew about anybody being saved, or how the police had pulled this off. The only sure thing was that my persecutors were behind bars. Munching cake, I pondered the possibilities.

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