It’s 17:00 and I am going home.
Rushing, walking, waiting.
My first point will be the train station, at that time when the staccato announcements play like background music, spreading disappointment with each report. I’ll walk past my favourite snack vendor to buy bubblegum.
“How was your final day?” she’ll ask.
I’ll march up the stairs to Platform 4, braving the stench of exhaustion, holding my own against the shoving. We’ve all been rushing, walking and waiting.
On Platform 4 I’ll wait again. A train will arrive not even with space to put a foot in, or when the time comes, to put a foot out – so I’ll let it proceed. I’ll put on my earphones that are attached to my phone, which is stashed somewhere between my frayed notes and final report card. The breeze will flap my dress around, cooling my thighs. Just when I’ve finally caught up to myself, a fake silk shirt will blind me. The wearer will stand next to me until I can feel heat emanating from him, forcing me to take a step away. I’ll notch up the volume of my music and focus on the breeze coming up under my dress. When he feigns clearing his throat, I’ll roll my eyes.
“What’s your name?”
“Lindiwe,” I’ll lie.
“Such a beautiful name. You come from work or school, Lindiwe?”
“Well it felt like both.”
“Anyway, my name is Johnson.”
I’ll take another step away. The train signal will change to orange. He’ll touch my arm.
“Don’t touch me.”
“Lindiwe, just put your number here,” he’ll offer me his phone. It looks more fake than his shirt, with all that plastic shine.
I’ll leave him standing there while he laughs like I’ve surprised him.
“I can get you lovely things, Lindiwe!”
The train signal will change to green as I unclench my fist. When I find a seat in a 3rd class carriage I’ll still feel his touch on my arm.
My seat is right next to the door because it’s tricky to make it out in time when you’re sandwiched in between people. I’ll sit back and let my legs stick to the seat. The nurse next to me will shift with unease when she notices the rainbow-coloured phoenix that’s etched on most of my upper thigh. The man across her is busy with fanning himself with his cap. He won’t notice that the movement of his arm annoys the teenage girl on his left. She’ll keep looking at him, hinting, but he won’t notice. She’ll give up, take out a book and also fan herself. Their elbows will move up and down, each time just missing each other. Behind them the open window will blow in clean air, and the smell of the city will linger less and less. Tall buildings will become sparse, large family cars will appear and disappear from behind the fan man’s balding head. His overalls will blend with the green landscape bordering the train tracks. I’ll be popping my gum like crazy.
Thirty-five minutes later I’ll get off at another crowded train station and advance to the taxis. I’ll need to be alert enough not to step on sewerage or get in the way of the vans carrying fresh fish for people to cook at home. I must check my pockets and backpack every time I get bumped. One unlucky thief might get away with my final report card while searching for money or my phone. Maybe I’ll just throw it away myself.
I’ll be the second person to board the taxi, after the petrol attendant going on night shift.
“Sis’ wam,” he’ll say, “I see you often on this route.”
“It’s my way home, bhuti. I come from the college in the city.”
He’ll remind me of the fake silk shirt on Platform 4, when he laughs like I have surprised him.
“How can you afford renting a room near those big houses?” he’ll ask.
“I’m going home, bhuti, to my father’s house.”
He’ll laugh again with greater surprise. Then he’ll become strange and stop talking to me.
“Please say something else to me,” I’ll want to say.
We’ll wait for the mini-bus taxi to get full, both of us dreading our final destinations as we sit on the torn leather seats.
The taxi will drop me off at the entrance gates of the estate and pick up the formation of domestic workers and shop attendants who wait to be taken back to the rank.
Retief Lane will be the most treacherous part of my trek. The trees that line the streets are plenty, yet I won’t even feel the shade. What a spiteful street, unapologetic in its steepness. The dogs here never tire of barking, the cars are always leaving the long driveways and I’m always in the way.
I’ll advance to the top as a jogger approaches with his dog.
“Please leash your dog,” I said last week.
“Leash your dog,” I said yesterday.
“Leash your fucking dog!” I’ll shout today.
The dog will bark and bark; a small, white thing with too much saliva.
“Find another road,” the jogger will say.
“Voetsek!” I’ll yell to the dog and the jogger.
The dog will finally bite my shin. I’ll cry out in pain. I’ll wish that this surprise could make me laugh. Three years of rushing, walking and waiting; all I’ll go back home with on the last day of college will be a dog bite and the word ‘fail’ on my final report card. While he’s blaming me for his dog’s behaviour I’ll search for my phone and not find it. I’ll curse the thief who is lucky after all and be relieved that I now have an even better reason for my bitterness! The jogger will not care for my agony, I’ll see it in his blue eyes. He will coddle his dog as he averts his gaze from my bleeding leg.
Chumisa Ndakisa(@chumisa_n ) lives in Cape Town. She writes to communicate. She attended the 2014 Writivism workshop in Cape Town, facilitated by Rachel Zadok of Short Story Day Africa and was subsequently mentored by Dilman Dila, under whose guidance Friday Night and Home Time were written. Friday Night was longlisted for the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize and included in Fire in the Night and other stories: the 2014 Writivism Annual Short Story Anthology. She also attended the 2015 Writivism workshop in Johannesburg, facilitated by Yewande Omotoso and Saaleha Idrees Bamjee.Follow @JaladaAfrica