I didn’t go into the station with the sole mission to take a nap on the train but I should’ve known in retrospect that such a mission would fail when my first experience with Park Station that day was stepping in to be confronted with a flurry of people literally running in all directions while my friend and I were lost in our discussion of the unfairness of South African capitalism on our fellow black men and women. Many of whom old enough to be our parents. So you can imagine how amidst the fear mixed with adrenaline, there was shame and sadness to witness a testimony to this with the scene of old men and women running, trying not to miss their trains most likely to go home after a back-breaking day for peanuts in a system designed to disenfranchise them based on their skin colour. I don’t remember seeing a single white person in Park Station.
After getting our tickets and running down the stairs where my annoying fear of heights was tested yet again so much that my companion had to hold my hand, we got to our platform in relief to find the train waiting and strangely empty and gave rest to our initial panic that we’d missed it. After a few minutes we realised that the panic was founded as THIS was the later train, the one we were aiming for has left us. Nothing we could do about it and after a short amateur pole-dance routine I attempted much to my friend’s amusement…it’s really hard to resist those poles in the train, I’m serious…we got comfortable in the corner and I took out my book and
tried to read while we waited. The stream of people eventually blocked
out the light and reading was not an option anymore. Maybe the fact
that I’m reading Long Walk To Freedom and not long ago I read Winnie Mandela-A Life made me more sensitive to the colour of the train station situation but this reality is hard to ignore whether you’re sensitive to it or not.
Only when the train started moving did the magnitude of the days
activities descend on my body and the strong urge to take that nap
took hold of me. I sank into my seat and wrapped myself as much as I
could around my belongings and my companion to try to take a quick
nap. This journey was going to be an hour and a half long, time was
not an issue. Everything else as it turned out would be. The first
being the motion of the train itself. Thousands on tons of metal
carrying hundreds of people on a rail made of metal as it turns out
does NOT a smooth journey make, especially when you’re sitting on a
cold plastic seat and your lack of ass betrays you as there’s not much
to cushion you during the bumpy ride. Who knew? The discomfort was repetitive enough during the journey that I knew being a deep sleeper, I would get used to it and fall anyway, this was all good and well until we got to the second station and our exit was more of a jerk than a slow drag as it was the first time. Right then an old man started a church hymn and instead of conceding that my mission had failed as I knew that this was just the beginning, that a strong worded and highly spirited sermon was coming, I snuggled closer to my friend and pretended it was a tv show running in the backround. I can deal with that, I convinced myself.
Anyone who’s ever been on a train knows about the traders. A new
realization hit me that if I were to commute by train everyday, my
weight-loss aspirations would surely die because the food sold in trains is dirt cheap and traders aplenty. It took a high level of self-control and being relatively broke to resist buying each and every packet of fruit, vegetable, sweet, chips and everything in-between. There’s even a guy who sold poison and his tagline was “poison, very dangerous, poison”. I’m not sure if that’s the best form of advertising there is but he shouted it repeatedly regardless. There was also another who sold veggies and if he had his way, would’ve forced us to buy. He kept saying the price of his veggies, as if we didn’t hear, his voice got louder and more irritable as time went by. Followed by silence and an even louder and angrier shout of the price of his veggies. Then there was the guy who sold Take 5, the guava
flavoured frozen juice. I wanted to question the logic of such since it was right in the middle of Winter but his bag was 2 short of being empty so SOMEONE was out there with frozen fingers, sniffing away while sucking on a Take 5. Quite a number of someones actually. The most entertaining though was the guy selling the best smelling wors on earth while using whatever the preacher was saying to advertise. “Nkosi ngicela ungisebensize…” Would be “Nkosi ngicela ungisebensize, ngithengise la ma wors”. I don’t know whether it was his sense of humour or the smell of the wors but I bought a packet, the wisdom or lack thereof of buying wors on a train will be discovered today when I cook and eat it. Pray for me.
With everything else and although I knew my companion knew my station and wouldn’t let me down by leaving me to nap through it, the fear of passing it must’ve been the biggest factor in the failed nap mission. See I’ve passed my station before. I’ve been on the wrong train even. Once going from Nancefield, I got to the platform and asked a group of girls whether it was the train going to town. To them “town” is Johannesburg. Whereas to me, it’s Vereeniging. This was not evident
until I started seeing a lot of stations with Zulu names that I didn’t recognise and I KNEW something was wrong. After about 3-4 stations, I got off and waited for the right train after having to ask a kid wearing a school uniform from General Smuts, I knew she’d get my meaning because her school is in my district. The embarrassment of being on the wrong train was nothing compared to THAT. Our school and theirs were not quite friendly but I needed to get home, screw pride. Now the equivalent of that was to get off on the wrong station and I wasn’t having that. Well, my subconscious wasn’t having it and I spent the whole journey wide awake. Luckily there wasn’t a lot of pushing and shoving at the stations but I’ve seen it get brutal. I got off and laughed at the irony of now paying R8 for a local taxi when I’d just paid R10 for the whole Joburg to Vaal train journey. The very interesting train journey. The novelty and entertainment was only so and tolerable even though I didn’t get my nap because it’s a very rare occurrence for me to travel by train but I know for sure that it would be hell if it were everyday. My friend and I have since vowed to work hard and make life better for black people.