I was beginning to get frustrated. Three trains had been cancelled. I had waited for forty minutes at Mandalay station without any sign of the lights of a train from Khayelitsha to Cape Town. When the train finally arrived the platform was packed with people. We shoved and pushed each other for seats but unfortunately the seats ran out before I could get one.
I stood next to the door. And finally, on this day, I was in the ganja smoking carriage. I had wanted to experience this for a long time.
The entire coach was filled with clouds of smoke. The smoke rushed into my nostrils and it choked me. I tried to suppress the choking sounds but without success. I did not want to raise eyebrows, lest commuters would know that it was my first time in the coach. When I eventually got used to the smoke I browsed through the faces of the commuters.
I was surprised to see women and children in school uniforms among the commuters. What surprised me most was how they seemed to enjoy the smell coming from the smoke of burning ganja. Most people in that carriage looked much older than their actual age, especially men. Their bodies were galleries of cheap and poorly crafted tattoos with railway lines across their faces.
I spotted a young man with unruly hair seated far left from where I was standing. His T shirt was of Bob Marley, standing on the stage, strumming the strings of his guitar, his mouth close to the mounted microphone belting out one of his songs from his repertoire. An image of me drowned in a sea of bodies at a Bob Marley concert floated into my head.
I was dancing to his song with the lyrics “None but ourselves can free our minds’, jumping more than dancing, my whole body drenched in sweat. Standing next to me was a woman with a snotty-nosed baby strapped on her back, her head moving in synchrony with the rhythm.
“Moya! Moya! Moya! Swazi here! Swazi here!” shouted a touting ganja dealer.
It was only then that I woke up from this dream. A dreadlocked Rasta seated next to the young man with the unruly hair was waving his hand motioning the ganja dealer to go to him. He was sermonizing on the repercussions of eating genetically modified food. At this point he was pointing out the tastelessness of frozen meat.
“When you arrive home take the frozen meat, boil it and you will see that the pot will be filled with froth as if you have added washing powder to it. This meat is not good I am telling you”, he concluded.
He sent the whole carriage into uproarious laughter, the man next to him shedding some tears of laughter. I watched him wiping off his teary eyes. Even the group of football fanatics standing on the passage broke into raucous laughter though they did not join in the conversation.
They were engaging in the endless debate of who is the better player between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.Their debate was like the endless struggle between darkness and light.
By now the dreadlocked man was rolling a joint. After finishing, he fished out a box of Lion matches from his jacket pocket and lit it. He took a long drag and another again and again before passing it to the young man. The young man hesitated a little but went on to take it. He could not turn down this generous gesture. He took a short drag and then a long one but the smoke went straight to his youthful lungs. He coughed and coughed. He spat out a blob of saliva through the window without the windowpane. And once again the train broke into thunderous laughter.
The train stopped at each and every station dropping and picking up people waiting impatiently on the platforms. When it arrived at Bonteheuwel station, a lot of people disembarked, most of them in work suits, possibly factory workers in the Epping industries.
A motley group of people got into the train and among them four heavily armed police officers, two male and two female. Suddenly the carriage plunged into dead silence. The police officers marched around the carriage browsing through the faces of the commuters.
They spotted three suspects and commanded them to raise their hands into the air, whilst male police busied themselves searching them. The suspects put their hands up but not without putting on a show of resistance. They threw a barrage of insults at the police. The officers of the law could not find anything so when the train stopped at the next station they jumped off and rushed to the next carriage.
No sooner had the police left than the Rastaman commenced commenting on Zimbabwe, raining praises on the revolutionaries who took back the black people’s land from the rapacious and racist white colonialists. He was optimistic that the phase that Zimbabwe is going through will pass and that it will become the land of milk and honey once more. He took pride in black people being the architects of their own futures.
“Zimbabwe will rise from the ashes”, he bellowed concluding his remarks.
“But Zimbabweans are scattered all over the world. Do you want to turn South Africa into Zimbabwe?” gushed out the young man with the unkempt hair.
“Yes that’s exactly what we want. Zimbabweans are all over the world because they are educated. Educated people have options and they can adapt in any environment. And that’s what we want. We want black people to be in full control of our means of production. We do not own anything in this country. We are only selling our labour to these whites”, explained the Rastaman.
The young man was left with mixed-doubts. He was impressed by the conviction of the Rastaman to the black struggle, yet found him controversial at the same time. Was he being short-sighted? He was confused how someone with so much political education would advocate for something disastrous that would lead to the downfall of his country.
It was crystal clear considering what he had heard and read about Zimbabwe. The train had already arrived at Cape Town station and people were disembarking, rushing to their various destinations. He rose and started for the door but then he quickly remembered that he had forgotten the bag he had shoved underneath the bench where he was seated.
He had more questions for the dreadlocked man but they had to wait for another day. He checked the time on his wrist watch, which read past nine, confirming that he was late again for work. The train had stopped twice in the middle of nowhere and no one had bothered to inform the commuters the cause for the delays.
He became worried because he had just signed a warning for late coming. He faced the uncertainty of the shouting waiting for him or signing another warning or even dismissal. He quickened his pace on his way to work.