This Really Happened To Me

20,000 Bucks From a Total Stranger!

“Goodness is about character — integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people.”Dennis Prager


I honestly miss the small town Robertson I lived in. It was a huge change from living in the holiday metropolis of Durban in South Africa to the tiny hamlet of Robertson slap bang in the middle of South Africa’s fruit and wine farmlands of the western Cape. A place where you know your next door neighbor, yep! even in a good and wholesome way.

Where, but in a small town do you find, a profound life lesson of the calibre of what I’m about to briefly share with you. Many years ago, I was responding to a written job offer in the Cape province. Several phone calls later plus a company cash advance to pay for our move, to work as an H.R. manager in a small car-parts dealership, a 1000 miles away in Robertson.

The day I arrived The owner, my new boss, had been evicted from their business and I was not only instantly jobless, I was homeless too because the “company house” was no longer available and oh, yes almost forgot, no company car or own car, having sold that back in Durban as advised by my future boss.

Luckily, I could still drive the rental SUV I made the trip in for a few more days, talk about being caught “Between a rock and a hard place,” would describe our situation well. Now for the good and wholesome part… Within half an hour a local stranger driving by, saw me, my wife and three young kids, standing in front of the closed business and backed up.

“You folks lost?” he asked while sizing us up with icy blue eyes hiding behind bushy nut brown eyebrows. “I guess, that would be a fair description.” I replied. “Anton Beukus” he said as he held out his hairy, calloused sunburned hand in a classic South African greeting style. “My name is Andre’ Hartslief, this is my wife Martha and my three kids.

“How can I help you?” he asked. For a moment, I was not sure what to say. How much of my situation concerned him, a complete stranger?… “I wouldn’t know where to start.” I stammered.

“Well, for starters, this guy Pretorius, has crashed. His business has folded, kaput, over. Pity, since they were rendering a great service to our community, So, what is your connection with him?” he asked. “I responded to an ad in our local paper… “Oh yeah, the HR job, a great idea, so sad.” he replied.

I was completely astonished, does everyone in town know each other’s business I wondered? I briefly explained my situation to him and that we now urgently needed another place to stay as I was meeting the furniture truck, arriving the next day at the now, closed car parts business.

He just happened to know of a couple who were moving out of their rental apartment as we spoke and took me to meet the apartment owner, who after the two of them had had a hushed discussion behind a closed door, offered us the apartment. Incredibly, we suddenly had a home to move into. On pure face value!

Anton Beukus later arrived at the bare apartment with a great home cooked meal, a folding table and chairs and a couple of mattresses and turned on the utilities for us as well, before leaving.

I had to find work fast and if there isn’t any, I would just have to create a job of my own. As a hobbie I had repaired a few of mobile phones and watches. I thought of starting a small mobile/watch repair shop.

The next day our furniture arrived and we moved into our new home. We visited the nearby shopping mall, looking for a small shop to set up my mobile phone repair business. We found a tiny 3 meters square room, an ex flower shop, available at $60 per month. The whole family pitched in, scrubbing and painting.

I was struggling to scrub off some stains from the floor tiles when a middle aged man, dressed in shorts and shoeless, came up to me. “Are you having fun?” He asked. At that moment, I was seriously pissed off with the stained tiles and did not take kindly to his question, so I scathingly replied:”Sure, it's amazing fun, care to join me?”

I was completely stunned, when this “weird” stranger found a brush and started scrubbing the floor next to me with gusto. We scrubbed in silence for what felt like about 20 minutes, when he stopped and threw down the grime soaked wet brush, some of which streaking across his face and shirt. “Fuck this shit!” he roared as he tried to wipe the dirt off his face. “Stop trying to clean off that crap, what’s your name?” he asked. “Andre’, what’s yours? I asked. “Altus” he replied. “See that video shop?” he asked and pointed to the large, well stocked video shop a few meters away. “Do you want it?” Now I finally got it, the man was clearly mentally disturbed and I had to choose my words carefully.”Sure, and what about the Pizza shop next door?” I jokingly replied. “Don’t make fun of me!” he sternly replied.

Now I was really starting to get worried. “Sorry” I replied. “Sure, I would like to own the shop. “Good,” he said, and started walking towards the makeshift counter I had made earlier. “It’s being raped to death by the long fingered staff, can you make it profitable?” he asked me, as he stared directly into my eyes. “Sure,” I said. “there is no business I can’t run. What I don’t know enough about, I damned well research and find out about, of course I could turn it around. “I want you to buy it for $20,000.” “I sure would if I had the money, right now, I don’t own 20,000 cents.” I replied.

The next moment, he pulled out his checkbook, wrote out a check and handing it to me, he pointed to something written on the back of it, saying: “See this Lawyer at noon tomorrow, in Worcester, a large town 45 kilometers away, and offer him this check for the video shop, tell him Altus Malherbe sent you, I’ll be in touch.” He then shook hands with me and left. I immediately glanced down at the check in my hand, there it was, $20,000! made out to cash and on the back, was the lawyer's address. There was also another huge detail that caught my eye, it was this:’This check guarantees payments of up to $100,000.”

There was an offer of $60,000 for the shop and the Lawyer laughed at my puny offer of $20,000 and remarked:”Just the bare shelves are worth $35,000.” to which I remarked:”Altus Malherbe sent me.” This had an almost instantaneous, magical effect on the Lawyer. “Altus Malherbe you say?” “ Yes.” I replied, and handed him the check. “Who are you, are you family?” he wanted to know. “No, I’m not family, who is this Altus Malherbe anyhow?” I wanted to know.

With a surprised expression he responded: “Are you kidding me? this mall I’m in, the mall in Robertson where the video shop is situated as well as 20 other malls dotting the western Cape skyline, belong to him. Where do you know him from?” he wanted to know. “I don’t, I met him just yesterday.” I replied.

I collected the receipt for the $20,000 from the Lawyer and took possession of the shop’s keys. The next day my family and I, acquainted ourselves with a set of handwritten rules and procedures of running a video shop. Altus Malherbe only showed up a week later. The first words he spoke are etched into my memory for ever:”What is your name again?” he asked.

I was shocked, the man genuinely didn't remember what my name was. I wanted to discuss the terms of the loan and all he said was make the shop profitable. When I asked him where and when I should start paying off the loan, he replied, saying. “Push as much of the takings back into the business, buy new releases, advertise, make this business great again.”

Altus Malherbe popped in every other month for a cup of coffee and a couple of my wife Martha’s homemade buttermilk rusks. He only ever looked at the shop’s books when I wanted to discuss things with him.

This happened 17 years ago. I ran the business successfully for 6 years, phased in the new movie format, DVD’s when they became popular One day, I received a great offer for the shop and wanted to return to my ancestral roots in far off Durban, I decided to speak to Altus about my plan to leave.

He agreed that I should do as my heart showed me to do. I trained the new owners, for a few weeks and after my account was fully credited, I went to settle up with Altus Malherbe. I was quite curious about what interest I was going to have to pay Altus, for the $20,000 cash loan, six years earlier.

When I arrived at his office, I discovered that not only had he not add on any interest, he also offered me the opportunity to settle the amount as and when I chose to do so, I thanked him for his trust in me, a stranger when he gave me the money for the shop. He replied that he also had learned a great life lesson, that there are still people around like me who are trustworthy and loyal in the world.

There are of course many of them, around, all of whom are just waiting for an opportunity to reveal those qualities of trust and loyalty. If you are able to extend a helping hand to someone, don’t allow the evil spectre of doubt and mistrust to influence your judgement which is based on the overreported examples to the contrary. Listen to your heart in stead.

Hearing those parting words was the one memory I cherish to this day and I believe, are what every person should experience at least once before departing this life.

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