Bidding Cape Town goodbye was bad enough - then came the horror train ride

The Shosholoza train to Johannesburg is to leave at 10am. Before then, I need to make a few meetings.

As luck would have it, everything in the Cape Town CBD is in close proximity. Sadly, my affair with Cape Town has come to an end. The lunches in Green Point, lattés on Long Street and reading a book under the cooling shade of the Gardens will haunt my memory.

I arrive at the beautiful Cape Town train station. I drag my bags through to the Shosholoza terminal.

Announcements echo in the oval roof. Trains set alight, trains cancelled and new trains. The terminal is jam-packed.

The Shosholoza smell starts to make its way into my nostrils. The security person asks me if I "is travelling alone". I nod. The train is empty and I have two seats to myself. I have my back turned to the journey and I'm staring at Cape Town, quietly saying my goodbyes.

The train gets to De Aar and my second seat is taken by a kid going to Kimberley. He is a marketing student at Rosebank College, a cool kid. He is wearing tight green pants and untied blue sneakers. According to him, we will be in Kimberley at 4am the next morning.

A rather angry woman with glasses demands a seat from the guy opposite me. He yields. A few minutes later, she starts telling her life story to the poor guy. She is a born-again Christian and she prayed her estranged husband into a saint.

There is not much in the way of transporting views, bar mountains and far-stretching fields, so I kill time with the 2011 launch edition of Cityscapes. There is a beautiful review on the developments in Woodstock and an excerpt from Anton Harber's book about Diepsloot.

The view outside is trite and banal. It is farm after farm. The stink of manure boards the train through the open windows.

I start reading another book, the poetic Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces.
My reading is disturbed by the train's coming to a standstill in the middle of nowhere. An hour later, we are told there is a problem with the locomotive.

Two hours after that, the train starts violently, screeching on the tracks, and the journey continues.

At 6 am, two hours late, we are in Kimberley. My back is aching from sleeping on the seat. We were scheduled to be in Johannesburg at 12:40 pm but due to the two hour stop, the rumour is that we will get to Park Station at 5 pm.

We get to Klerksdorp. An old impoverished town inhabited by almost an equal number of both black and white people. A woman sits down next to me. She begs to use my phone. It is flat. She begs some guys for beer and the lady opposite us to buy her cooked corn.

With about five hours to go before we reach our destination, I am exhausted and thirsty. The train has run out of water and the toilets do not flush anymore. It is smelly. In addition, the Shosholoza waiters unashamedly continue selling coffee and snacks.
Just when I think the train has sucked all the energy from me, a few minutes before getting off at Park Station, I pull a stunt from Soweto.

I open the door and stand there with the wind blowing me back in. A certain traveller, who has been relentlessly moving up and down the train, confronts me. He was caught doing the same thing and had to do 100 push-ups as punishment. He says he ended up in hospital for a few days with a swollen back, arms and chest. He was spending this trip looking for a fight with the person who had put him in hospital. A sad story but somehow it had me in stitches.

The time is 5 pm and I am finally in Jo'burg. Apart from reading my books and the outburst of laughter just before I got off, it was an unbearable journey. However cheap, I will not take the Shosholoza train ever again.

M Sikupela

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