It was my birthday the warmth of the April day embraced me as I made my way to the train station. I walk half excited and half tired from hanging out with my German friends the night before. I was with Clinton my young South African friend that shared his room with me on this trip. Clinton was a sixteen year old Coloured Capetonian. He was living with Ryan Dalton, my missionary friend in Muizenberg.
As Clinton and I walked our steps and movements along the way were almost a jig. The day carried an excitement in it. On the way to the Observatory station we discussed whether or not paying for the ticket would make a difference to the economy of the country. He argued we should just hop on without paying while I argued if everyone did that there would be no train. My point of view amused him.
I threaten to preach on the train on our ride home more to embarrass him then to make disciples. He laughed telling me he would pretend he did not know me. We paid for our tickets and waited for out train to arrive. Clinton hated riding first class but today I wanted the comfort of it. It would take more energy for me to ride third, it was my birthday so Clinton obliged.
First class offered better seating and I thought I could maybe prop my legs up and rest my eyes a bit on our forty-five minute ride to Muizenberg. Third class seats offer the complete opposite. People ride packed in the cabins and often standing. I was not feeling like being a missionary. I reasoned it’s my birthday and I could take the day off. We spent the time waiting for the train in the pavilion. The sound of Clinton’s cell phone prodded me to listen. We argue a little about the rapper he was listening to. I argue the song is obnoxious nonsense and he argues it’s brilliance.
The train finally arrived and we boarded. It was packed even for a mid day ride. I managed to take a seat while Clinton rode standing till the train cleared a bit. A few stops later there were fewer people allowing Clinton to take a seat beside me. I had my iPod on listening to India Arie. I joked with him throughout our ride pretending I was getting up to sing a song or preach on the train. He looked mortified with each attempt.
While on the ride back to Muizenberg many people enter and leave our train. Some we notice others go unseen. Lives that we encountered but had no idea that we have taken the same ride. Unaware that we have sat in the same place and breathed the same air; People who went unnoticed by us and many other passengers.
Yet, there are some that I will not forget. Like one particular Coloured woman that sat next to me. We noticed her as she got on the train. She weighed at least a good 250lbs., which seemed like all muscle. When she entered the train immediately we looked at each other, half smiling half amazed. She sat beside me and part on me for three stops. There are passengers that ride along side you or stand near you that you forget as soon as you leave the train. There are also passengers that you carry with you seconds, minutes, and hours later. Those you close your eyes and remember their smiles and eyes. There are four for me.
They got on at Retreat, two stations from where we were to get off. They entered the train and wrecked my heart. Four Coloured boys, their entrance like a scene from Slum-dog Millionaire. The boys, none of which are above the age of eleven, were all barefoot. Their feet were black from walking the hike from either the township or wherever they call home. They entered our cabin and no one else existed to them. They made their way to the last seats on either side. Two on one side and two on the other. My eyes are glued to them. I lose sight of India Arie and forgot about Clinton. The lady who once sat beside and on me no longer exist, she had become a memory to relive late.
The boys stuck their heads out of the windows and smile and laughed at each other. In their own world of pure enjoyment as the train makes it way down the tracks. There was not one word whispered to each other or to any of the passengers. I watched them intently as they enjoyed their ride. The guards must not have taken notice of them while they waited to sneak on the train. I am sure they would have been kicked off if noticed by security. They did not seem to have a care as they rode heads out the window full of life.
The lady across from me is amused by me staring at the kids. I had become lost in their world. Her giggles break the hold they have on me. I lean over to Clinton and ask him where are their shoes. “They don’t have any,” he said like I should know that. I had been in Cape Town for over four months and was unaware of the truth of its poverty. The lady across from me smiled half laughing at my ignorance. I did not care what she thought. The boys again gained my full attention.
I am captivated at first by their freedom, then by their enjoyment, and finally by their reality. A booster came on to the train selling snacks and trinkets. I only noticed him by their eyes. They had forgotten about the ride and the reality of hunger hit them. They each watched as he makes his way to his seat. Their eyes were fixed, not on him but his box of goodies.
I have seen a kid want but the look in their eyes surpasses a kid wanting a cookie, it was the look of a kid needing a meal. “Jesus, I don’t know what to do; I have nothing to give them. If you would just give me something,” I prayed silently. I remembered I had coins in my pocket from buying the tickets. I asked Clinton to call the older kid over and he does so in Afrikaans.
The oldest boy comes over to us yet the others eyes did not move from the bags of nik naks. I offered him R55 to buy snacks for him and his friends. By then we were at our station they are purchased the nik naks and I have to force myself to leave train. Who will feed them? How will they eat? Where are they going? Who will buy them shoes? Who will take care of them? These questions flood me as I make way to the exit.
I can still close my eyes see them. I see their dirty feet. I see them staring at the nik nak seller. I remember them. They entered the train and bombarded my life. There are some people that you ride with that you forget as soon as you leave them. And there are some people that you carry after the ride days, and weeks, and yes years later. I carry them.