A simple handwritten note, tucked inside the pocket of a donated jacket, restored hope to Knysna fire victim Quentin Haman when he was at one of the lowest points in his life, writes Angela Daniels.
Haman watched his possessions go up in smoke on his 45th birthday – just six months after he had suffered two heart attacks.
He lost his rented home and his business, and was left with just the soot-stained clothing he had on.
The June 7 fires displaced hundreds of families and as donations poured into the ravaged area a note from Pretoria made its way to Haman.
Queueing at the Knysna Montessori School in Welbedacht, Haman – who had caught a cold after being drenched while fighting fires – was shivering when a volunteer placed a jacket over his shoulders.
A while later Haman slipped his hand into the pocket and found a note from Pretoria resident Inge Coetsee, 36, that had fire survivors in tears as he showed it around.
It read: “To the new owner of this black leather jacket . . . We are so sorry for what you and your family are going through at this devastating time of the Knysna fires.
“My husband wore this jacket on our wedding day.
“We eloped and got married in Cambridge, England. This jacket has come a long way!
“I surely hope that you can find warmth when wearing it and putting your life back together.
“Who knows – maybe one day the jacket will find its way back to us and we will have an amazing story to tell!”
Haman said: “As special as the jacket was, the note was more so.
“A complete stranger on the opposite end of the country gave me an amazing gift of hope with a few kind words on a piece of paper and a leather jacket to wear.
“I may have lost everything to the fire but not all was lost. “I can rebuild, I can start over. “As I told my mother the other day, ‘you have got to let it go and ask, who are we going to become in six months?’ This is a time to grow, to be better.”
The cottage in which Haman had been staying, on a farm just outside Knysna, had been his home for a month when it went up in flames.
It was meant to be a quiet place to recuperate. Instead, it became a place where he lost everything – but the note helped put things in perspective.
“It felt like I was meant to find that jacket. It gave me a little bit of hope and I realised things would be fine – rough, but fine,” Haman said.
He carries the note with him every day.
Coetsee said when she was finding clothes to donate she had initially skipped the jacket as it had such sentimentality attached to it, but then called her husband.
“I said: ‘Babe, that jacket is going – we have everything, health and our family, and those people have nothing,’” she said.
She said her husband, Bertie, bought it when he was a student and it had travelled overseas “so I thought, now it’s going to Knysna. It has a travelling history. “I am so glad that note helped.” Haman and the Coetsees hope to meet in the future.