A slow Saturday,
I board a local train to Cape Town City, graffiti, open windows, shiny metal cars greet me as I step into the packed train car. Grateful for the open window, the wind granting a few moments of reprieve from the heat of bodies smashed together.
A young man stands in the doorway, preventing the manual doors from closing with his body as the train departs, giving us wind, cool air in the middle of the summer.
A uniformed man emerges, moving fast and goes straight to the boy holding the door open. The boy is in a chokehold, the man pulling him by the neck away from the door. I’m so close that if I move, I’ll be involved. The guard slams the boy against the door once it’s closed and starts choking him. What should I do? I’m frozen. It abruptly ends. The guard lets him go, reprimanding him for holding the door open and walks away.
The long, stifling journey continues. I can see a lady out of my periphery trying to get my attention. I ignore her, listening to my music. She touches my leg and says something. I take my ear bud out and lean down, but I can’t hear her. What? “Watch your phone,” she says. I nod and put my headphones back on. I study the women carefully. Her wrinkled skin hides her true age, jean skirt, black shirt, 3 plastic bags at her feet. I observe her deep wrinkles, sunken eyes, her scarred feet, the skin on her black toes rubbed raw. What is your story?
My thoughts are interrupted by a man yelling. “Do I look like a gangster? Am I a thief? Repent!! God!! He holds the power. He holds the authority.” It’s so hot, hotter than a subway platform on a New York City summer. More people pour into the train at each stop. I’m pressed against bodies now, all going somewhere. I’m aware that I’m the only muzungu in the train. Maybe all the other white people took Ubers into the city today. I inhale cigarette smoke from someone smoking nearby.
The exit- it’s like the car was filled with water, and when the door opened, the water gushed out. I don’t walk off the train, I’m carried out by the force of the rushing water. I’m hesitant to enter this mass rush of people- I’m carried onto the train platform, still trying to get my footing. We all walk away, carrying on with our normal lives, into the heat and beating wind of the city. I’m not a tourist, I’m not a local, I’m simply a passenger on the train.