It’s a slow Saturday, I’m leisurely headed into Cape Town city. I decide to take the local train (for less than a US dollar) and make the 50 minute ride as opposed to a more expensive Uber ride. I get onto a packed train and squeeze my way into a spot near the open doors (which I’m grateful for- it’s hot). A young man stands in the doorway, preventing the manual doors from closing with his body as the train departs.
Out of nowhere 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 body 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. Shit. He couldn’t have just asked him to shut the door?
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 woman. Shes at least 50, could be 70, wearing a jean skirt, nice black shirt, with 3 plastic bags at her feet. I study her deep wrinkles, sunken eyes, her scarred feet, the skin on her black toes rubbed raw. I wonder what her story is.
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 in 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 (to be fair, it’s hot and stuffy AF in that train). 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.