By Alex Eliseev
'Hi Gene," Sam Tsukudu shouts. "Hi Sam. You want a ride on top?" the elderly woman in a Toyota Corolla yells as she bangs on her roof and chuckles.
A VW Golf cruises past.
"Hey Brian," Tsukudu's voice booms. A hand appears from the driver's side and waves. Inside Arbor Village, an old man spots Tsukudu and calls out "Pick 'n Pay!"
"I was dead weight. A useless piece of meat, but Sam said 'Climb on'."
"We've got lots of your paw-paws in the store," comes the friendly reply.
And so it goes for the man who, overnight, transformed from being a long-time friend to a mini-celebrity inside the Bedfordview retirement village. The fame came after a stranger photographed Tsukudu walking down a busy road and carrying a frail 75-year-old resident on his back. The man Tsukudu rescued, Danie Britz, had missed his bus home and collapsed at a petrol station near the Bedford Centre.
But, in truth, anyone who has known Tsukudu in the 24 years he has worked at the centre's Pick n Pay would know that the act of kindness was not extraordinary. It was just Sam.
The photograph, taken by a shopper, was also sent to Pick n Pay boss Raymond Ackerman. On Monday, Ackerman sent a signed letter that read: "This is really going beyond the call of duty, Sam, and I would like to congratulate you and thank you for what you are doing."
Tsukudu is a tall, burly, 42-year-old who has five children and loves to spend his time gardening or watching birds with a glass of Coke. He joined Pick n Pay in 1986 as a shelf packer and today works in the vegetable department.
'Don't fear, Sam is near'
But his real job is to charm. To banter with customers in Greek, French, Italian, Portuguese or even Chinese. He knows greetings and a few key phrases.
He delivers groceries to those too old to fetch them. He walks a blind man - John Chandler - home from the store and helps him unpack his groceries. Over a 10-year friendship, Tsukudu learnt to decode what groceries Chandler needs, because his wife has a habit of tearing off bits of the washing powder box, a lid from the pilchards tin or the top of a pasta container. Once, when it was pouring with rain, Tsukudu used his own car to drive John to the shop.
"Sam makes a big difference. It's having someone on your side," Chandler, 66, says.
Another of Tsukudu's friends is Miss South Africa 1957, Adele Kruger, who lives in Arbor Village. "He's very sweet. He always comes to our rescue and says 'Don't fear, Sam is near'.
"We can't imagine Pick n Pay without him."
Tsukudu - who lives in Bez Valley - came across Britz while walking home with Chandler. Britz was in the shopping centre, but because the elevators were broken, had been forced to walk far beyond his physical capability. He missed his ride and collapsed on the pavement.
Tsukudu told him to stay put, walked Chandler back and ran to help.
"I was dead weight. A useless piece of meat," Britz said. "But Sam said 'Climb on'."
Tsukudu walked until he could go no further, and the pair were eventually picked up in a car and driven home.
"Sam is a real human. If only there were more people in the world like him," Britz said.
For the man himself, it's just another day of doing what he loves. "I'm a person with a good heart. If I see someone struggling, I'll help. I grew up going to church... I love doing good things."
As Tsukudu leaves the village, a woman calls after him.
"Well done Sam. I heard what you did. Bravo!"