I’VE BECOME A LOITERER WITHOUT INTENT

I have no doubt that many people have had more than a few minutes during these uncertain times to develop innovative ways to earn an extra buck.

We know that unemployment is at an all-time high. Millions are working from home.

Others have Zoom ‘tattooed’ on their foreheads from the many remote meetings in which they have participated. They had learnt to dress immaculately from the waist up.

But I’ve gone further. I’ve found a new sense of purpose amid the wreckage of the ‘old normal’.

And I lay the blame on a slick new southern suburbs shopping centre in Cape Town.

I sauntered into the centre a few days ago seeking to salve my conscience with a large luxious coffee. Then frivolously added an almond croissant. Let me concede immediately that such dietary habits do little for the waistline.

 Another habit that has been drilled into our consciousness like a mosquito’s incessant whine is the need for physical social distancing. And no, I’m not ignoring the washing of hands, the wearing of a mask, the orders to stay at home. The plethora of rules and regulations requires a 400-page manuscript and that’s just for the intro.

But the shopping centre has succeeded in adding to my list of rules just when I thought I had most of them down pat.

There I was, croissant and coffee in hand. Before me, a long length of bench made of a smoothly sanded tree trunk. What a tempting invitation to sit down for a few minutes.

But no way.

Bewilderingly, there at the end of the bench was a laminated sign: ‘As per Covid-19 regulations, we please ask that there is no loitering on the benches.’

Leaving aside English usage, I felt I had been tried and convicted of being a loiterer even before I’d sat down.

That said, what is the definition of a loiterer?

The Cambridge Dictionary puts it like this: someone who moves slowly around or stands in a public place without an obvious reason; neighbourhood residents chase off loiterers with calls to police. Furthermore, a loiterer is someone who goes slowlystopping often.

The Free Dictionary is a little more explicit:  

To violate a law or ordinance that prohibits persons from remaining in a 

given location 

without a clear purpose for an extended period of time, 

especially when behaving in a  manner

indicating a possible threat to persons or property in the vicinity.

Carefully placing my recent purchases to one side, I sat on the bench and asked my wife to capture my new criminal assignment, that of loiterer. It was pretty clear to me that I was guilty of the offence. I had no clear purpose in sitting down, I intended being on the bench for a time and I was most certainly a danger to property. My evil intention was to demolish the croissant and savour the coffee in a wide-open space.

Yes, I took the coward’s way out. Once the pic had been taken, I hastily retreated from the shopping centre.

I’m at home now waiting for a phone call. It could be the shopping centre informing me they will pay me to stay away. But I have yet to be given information about the hourly rate. Alternatively, the police will be knocking at my door with evidence in hand, namely a printed copy of the Chronicle bearing a colour photograph of a loiterer who looks remarkably like this writer.

Fortunately, I’ll be in good company when I’m behind bars.

Shamila Batohi, head of the National Prosecuting Authority, told us once again this week that she needs more staff to bring to book the many ‘loiterers’ about whom we’ve been reading for years. 

In their company perhaps I can brush up on my loitering skills to enhance my new side-line career.

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