It was a Cape sort of cold, the type that arrives with a cold front after a weekend of sunny bliss. I didn’t want to go to work. Who did? But like the rest of them, still boarded the packed southern line to Cape Town by squeezing in between Africans of all faces and colours. Mine was the whitest there, not because I was the only white face but because I was made paler by the train door that wouldn’t close: It left a gaping hole and freezing air rushed past my pale pink cheeks and caused my eyes to water.
Next to me, a man was glued to his phone, with big red ear phones that bridged from ear to ear. I could tell by his broad cheek bones that he was West African and I wondered for a moment what had brought him here, what economic collapse or which dictator had sent him southwards in search of a better life in this, the fairest Cape. I wondered if it was indeed better for him here, and I wondered if he felt welcome in a country so notoriously suspicious of foreigners and the job-acquiring skills they were so good at smuggling in. The dance of his head to music I couldn’t hear was infectious and I assumed, in some world, we could be friends. Here, we never would.
In front of me two coloured, middle-aged women spoke in brutally quick Afrikaans. The price of chicken was becoming as expensive as lamb I learnt and if I sought Rand-saving relief, Shoprite was best to browse – it was at least R4 cheaper for all the essential goods, which was good news for them as the train carried them forward to their underpaying jobs. They had warm, chubby faces and I imagined they would offer me tea if I visited. I never would.
A black student – I assumed by her fashionable look and age – stood two bodies from me and was browsing twitter with her right thumb. I couldn’t see from there which hashtag had taken her interest. It was, I assumed, the latest race scandal and I was sure that she was liking and retweeting black twitter to build anti-white momentum which, of course was most often understandable but in the broader context of how hate perpetuates hate, misinformed. That of course, was my own paranoia though and I wondered if she cared for that momentum at all. Perhaps she didn’t. Then, I wondered if I had ever come across her in the social media sphere. I wondered if I had ever liked her own train-traveling thoughts and if all of black twitter was this fashionable.
To her, I wondered if I was just like the two Europeans sitting near us who rambled off, in what I assumed but couldn’t be sure was some dialect of German – their travels to Africa a hipster year away from the structure of the first world, an enlightenment project of sorts to teach them about the haves and have-nots, of which they knew very little about but, I assumed again, spoke confidently about and often enough over well-tasting and over-priced beer.
Stop after stop I eaves dropped, inquisitively and full of my assumptions. Then, before I knew it and an amount of minutes later, I was in the center of Cape Town and disembarked with the rest of them. I watched them all split off into their very different lives, never to be seen by my African eyes again.
I wonder what they thought of me; what assumptions they had reserved for me. I wonder if they were right.