Death on the Tracksby Dudumalingani Mqombothi / 07.11.2013
Someday, when I can sum up enough courage and abandon my cowardice, I will stare death in the face. I will stop taunting it with prose, hiding behind my poetic words, and taunt it in person. Prose is for cowards. Like Saul Williams in ‘sha-clack-clack’ says,
I want to spit at death from behind,
… putting Kick Me signs on its back.
On 5th November 2013, I witnessed yet another horrific death caused by Metrorail Trains. Though death can never be pleasant, I witnessed it at its most barbaric. The first time I witnessed death was months ago on train tracks between Site B and Site C. A man lay on the tracks. His limbs were lying a few meters from each other, scattered around. His left leg lay over one track and was badly slashed above his knee but still together, held by a thin layer of muscle. He was armless. Above him stood a hopeless paramedic. He was putting his gloves on and wearing the face a of man who had seen such a thing many times. I was one of the few people in the train that saw this and unbeknown to me I had exclaimed my shock out loud. I spent the journey retelling the story. Each time, to alleviate the pain, I understated what I had seen. And now I have seen it again, and this is why I want to heckle death. Because the tears we share appear not to be helping, so someone has to tell that bitch where to fuck off.
On the 5th November 2013, without delay, without the laconic announcement from the overheard speakers, the Khayelitsha via Chris Hani train is out of the Cape Town train station at 16:55. After a minute it emerges into the world and at least a thousand people are en route home from work. It moves from one station to the next without delay. In fact, it feels like it is moving a lot quicker that it usually does. In Mutual station, with its beautiful industrial structure, a woman gets on and she is sweating. She stands next to me and inserts headphones and scrolls through her playlist. The train stops at Heideveld, people embark and disembark. Fifteen minutes later, the train is still in Heideveld. Without much information to go by, everyone agrees that ‘yes, we are stuck’.
The train is stuck for what feels like 30 minutes. A few minutes later another train to Mitchells Plain pulls in at another platform and it too does not move on. The commuters begin getting off and some sit in the cool wind outside. Someone announces that the time is 18:00. A journey that is forty five minutes has taken over an hour and we are not even halfway. Unrest begins to fill the train. A commuter leaves the carriage and jumps off where the train carriages meet. Another commuter follows him and another and another. The train empties. More people get off the train. They get off on to the train track and not the platform. Further into the Gugulethu, scores of people hurry to the taxi rank, to catch a taxi home. The Mitchells Plain train is not moving too. The commuters begin to get off there as well. Some walk up the stairs to cross to the next platform. Others cross the train tracks.
A woman in glasses, with two phones, announces that her friend is in the train in front of ours. And in front of hers is another train. Before our train can move, the train before hers has to move and then hers and then it will be ours. The woman in glasses promises to tell when her friend’s train moves. Twenty minutes after she announces it is time, our train begins to move. We get to the next station, Nyanga. Two women with their hands to their mouths embark. One woman in black clothes announces that three commuters have just been killed on the tracks. She had been sitting in another stationary train when she heard a train coming from Khayelitsha screeching past. She and everyone sitting next to her assumed that some naughty boys had put stones in the railway tracks. She thought nothing of it. Until someone announced that a bloodied body was just been flung to the air.
One body was flung to the side of the train. Another was cut in half. The upper half was nowhere to be seen. It had disappeared somehow. The lower half was lying on the side of the train, barely clothed. The other person was the one that was being dragged underneath the train. A minute later the pictures are whatsapp’ed and everyone in the carriage gathers over her phone to see. In between the train tracks a woman’s body lies. The head is not there, only the torso. Her arms are outstretched to her side. She is still clothed but her clothes are torn.
The commuters begin to wonder how the victims could not have seen the train. How the driver could not have seen them. This immediate reflecting is fraught with stupid jokes. Someone suggest that perhaps the train appeared from a curve. Out of their sight. Much like a shark that ambushes its victim from the depths of the ocean.
All that remains, after the conversations have moved from sad to hilarious to downright insensitive, is that they are dead. Their only sin was that they wanted to get home early, perhaps to fetch a child at crèche, to cook, but now they are dead. Who amongst us will deliver the news to their children, mother, father, husbands?
At this moment I think of the emotions in Saul Williams’s poem …
They still exist as the walking dead
Before death is eternity, after death is eternity
There is no death there’s only eternity
And I be riding on the wings of eternity
like HYAH! HYAH! HYAH! Sha-Clack-Clack.
Because, as much as I want to, I cannot taunt death. So I find comfort in these words knowing that I like these three commuters are riding on the wings of eternity.