Down the road from my apartment in Cape Town one of the homeless people living nearby walks the perimeter of a small self-defined space on the pavement outside the MacDonalds every day. This ritualistic, perhaps compulsive, yet extraordinary act of enclosure – made distinct by virtue of its blackened footmark line – is such a profound reminder of the importance of recognising our attachment and relation to place: how delineation is more than an act of possession, enabling a symbolic structuring of being in time, and what a radical disjuncture it is to be displaced or out of place. He is there every day, but not always at the same time.
On a walk along the Sea Point promenade recently I noticed a man sitting some meters below on the causeway next to the boat sheds, vigorously scraping a thin metal rod on the concrete. It was clear that he was working it to a sharp point. Seeing tattoos through his worn t-shirt, my initial gut-wrenching anxiety gave way on noticing the shells. Arranged next to him were two parallel lines of quite large shells, placed the right way up, each about 20 centimeters from the next, diminishing gradually in size. There were maybe 15 shells in each line, and as I watched he used the sharpened point of the rod to carefully make a hole through the top end of a limpet. I imagined he had done the same for each shell, though to what purpose it was unclear. They seemed too large to thread onto a necklace, and too carefully arranged to not suggest something of the intended function. Before he noticed my curiosity I turned around and walked away.