It had been one of those wet and cold days when I didn’t have the car. I call it “the car” as it belongs to my life partner, though I do get to use it when the music equipment and the working class Celebrity ego get too heavy to carry. Keeping the ownership of the car private has always kept me safe from those annoying “oh you don’t have a car” conversations that usually end with me cursing materialism, usually followed by a sigh that carries on long after I’ve seemingly failed to convince people how not-broke I am.
As we walked from home, my brother and I, my brother who’s a student and used the taxis more often than I did… He almost guarantees me of the abundance of taxis who’s job it is to take me to where I’m supposed to be. I express no disappointment as not a single taxi has passed to take me to where I’m supposed to be. We wait for the taxi while walking, taking comfort in the fact that these taxis stop anywhere at any time, no negotiation. I enjoy my brother’s company more than most peoples. He got a brain… Not only that, but it also functions on the same frequency as mine. Most times we know what the other is thinking and wants to say. Our conversations never seem to end, even when silence overcomes us, the quiet is seldom overwhelming. I’ve often thought this telepathic manifestation must have something to do with us once having shared a womb, for fear of ridicule, I’ve never had the courage to ask other siblings if they experience the same.
My musings are disturbed by the bellowing of an unusually low hooter from a crackling hi ace taxi, a staple in the public transport system in Mzansi. I sigh, looking at this semi-airtight tin thing on this wet and cold day, contemplating sitting in the comfortable 1 passenger front seat, But dreading consolidating the taxi fair. It is customary that the passengers in the front seats help count the money while the driver focuses on the road. I trust my arithmetic, but I don’t trust fate. And Although I’ve never had an incident with missing change, I would hate to be the reason that on this wet and cold day the taxi returns to the taxi rank because of a missing 1 Rand.
So I shuffle my way into the back seat. The most uncomfortable seating arrangement paid for in full, where you’re not allowed to complain, you’re not allowed to have an opinion. I’ve heard the trains are worse, the overcrowding unbearable, the crime, the inconvenience! The black life remains precarious. Can Themba complained about the damned locomotives in the 50’s/ 60’s I can’t remember, But even today people still have the most thrilling train stories. Stories so thrilling, one wishes to imagine it as a tale for entertainment, as if stories are not real, as if they’re not the daily experience of a large black working class. I think this thought bent over, walking inside this Toyota made transport not created for a comfortable transition between standing outside and sitting inside. I’m careful not to bump my head and proceed to nestle in the corner by the window. It’s a good seat.
I Convince myself that with very minimal effort, I won’t have to interact with anyone. 4 4 masihlalisane I read, 4 humans in the back seat, no negotiation, no opinions from clever blacks who know their rights. There is no one there, just me for a while. I don’t even sigh in relief avoiding being disappointed by the prospect of having a fat mama or one of those acrid scented, Honeydew dwelling, tile installing brothers from up north as my taxi neighbours… fate has played terrible jokes in the form of my taxi neighbours. I think about the concept of taxi neighbours and what an abuse of personal space this is… but black people seem not to care for personal space, have we always never cared? or was this behaviour taught by time when whites took the land and space, gave us poverty and forced us not to mind sharing? Poverty in its essence is the lack of choice, the complete disregard that the ability to choose what happens next is a basic human right. and only in birth and death do we not have an opinion. Only in love and war are we silenced. You see, poverty bursts this personal space bubble spoken about in Proxemics. The bubble bursting makes the sound of a sizzling slap back to reality. The reality is, there is no time to be overreacting, hyperventilating because someone is sweating on you. Or there are bags poking you, making you uncomfortable. Or your Grandmothers 4 roomed house is a family home and circumstantial domicile for all your parent’s siblings and their abundant offspring. There is no negotiation, no opinion, you just become a nuisance to the situation, a snob that doesn’t understand circumstance. “Just shut up and take it like a black”, life always seems to suggest. We don’t mind sharing spaces as historically, our collective memory has forgotten how to own a space, even our bodies and the space they occupy have been regarded as things to be shared with everyone else without our permission. Problem number one.
I vibrate a little from the cold as I vibrate perpetually from the engine ageing. The heat conjured by gathering Humans is missed. I can hear, the heater in this taxi last worked in the 90’s. I notice this driver is being very lenient to how he’s treating this taxi, but he seems agitated, as if the taxi is slowing him down. It brings me to conclude this conservation of speed is because this rattling old tin thing cannot afford to take any more abuse, although the panels do need a good beating.
The trip continues in its wet and coldness and after a few negotiated stops and starts around the burbs. Looking for Gardeners and maids and the occasional black nurse working at the private hospital needing a taxi… The old slave transport successor is full of us, all foreigners to one Another… Going to wherever we’re supposed to be, to try make a better life that hopefully doesn’t involve sharing one’s space with anyone else except those chosen by us to share the space with. Not this squishy squashy clashing of bodies and odours and breaths. My thought process is disturbed by a gentle nudge accompanied by an urgent fidgeting and the clinking of coins. I remember that this uncomfortable ride isn’t free. I hand over the exact amount. I don’t want any trouble, No change needed means no further interaction. But I don’t sigh in relief as fate has jokes. At this point, I’m now just a page in a closed book, compressed in the backseat with minimal movement for the next 37 minutes, I gauge the ETA to my destination. We drive for a while and the windows are really fogging up… It’s that kind of a wet and cold day… In a taxi steaming, breathing each others carbon dioxide, oh, but the warmth creates this cuddling effect amongst us, strangers. Its a confusing feeling. I’m uncomfortable, “we need air!” the snob shouts in my head, “I need air” I say inside of myself, defeated… In that moment I realised that bravery has very specific contexts… In another time and space, I would’ve done the logical thing of opening the window. But, on this wet and cold day, I did not feel like facing the wrath of my neighbours complaining of how my bourgeois tendencies of opening taxi windows when it’s cold and wet are increasing their chances of catching the flu… or the flu catching them.
There is calm that exists in commuting in a taxi. but only once you accept that our lives are fickle things whose existence can be nullified by metal crashing into metal crashing into flesh. Maybe it doesn’t even have to be something that dramatic, like now, I could die of suffocation! I prefer to read in transit, but today I’m distracted. I finish most books in taxis, my way of escaping the present, this big city traffic is no gift from the gods, the gods are smarter than this. They must be. I seldom spend time in the traffic rat race, rather I spend an average of two hours a day sifting through words and a plot, finding comfort in history and stories that suggest there are experiences much worse than being a nobody using scrap metal to get to a destination. Sometimes we need to convince ourselves that things arent that bad. Its all about perspective they say, that there is no reality, only virtuality.
The Taxi neighbours are quiet, save a few Sisters who claim to be going to ‘Joberk’. and because fate is the god of jokes, all of a sudden someone shouts, “Ngceli’Change!”, signalling someone fucked up the finances of the trip to the city. The girl In the front seat mumbles something in English and I panic on her behalf. Does she not know that we people travelling in a taxi do like others who are just like us to speak English to us like a mlungu? It hits me, common sense is a deceptive phrase because the most common of man seem to lack it. “We are all equal here,” one mama shouts… “Stop learning English and learn how to count so you can give people their correct change”, she continued. They laugh, loudly, all of them generously opening their mouths like manic hippos, taking in copious amounts of this carbon dioxide circulating around us. The windows fog up again. That girl in the front, shame, maybe it was this lack of oxygen that caused her to mind to short circuit and miscount people’s change… I remember a quote about the world perishing because of good men being indifferent and doing nothing… I saw it somewhere, I swear! “by the moon and the stars in the sky, I’ll be there, I’ll be there… Forev……. the All For One song crosses my mind, I start singing in my head, wishing there was music in this taxi, at least, something to penetrate this heavy air doing the rounds punching my lungs. Or maybe that would make the space more dense a thought passes, some believe music has the ability to occupy space… I ponder on this for a while and promise myself I’ll do some research on it. I’m breathing, almost gasping, feeling my insides closing up, I need air… I go for the window and open it.
The taxi goes quiet as the sound of the window opening pierced through the clouds of carbon dioxide making the rounds. Fresh air, finally. Some drops of rain hit my head as it drizzles. I cause my head to protrude out the window like a white people’s dog in transit, going to wherever white people go with their ever excited dogs. No one in this taxi looks excited. I imagine my skin melting from really bad acid rain, face-melting acid is what killed Jimi Hendrix… I close my eyes and breathe in The new oxygen, the holy oxygen, oxygen of the ages, the oxygen that was, is and will be in future…that’s if the greedy corporations and their funky fossil fuels wont fuck up the balance of the gases in our air. I start getting a bit chilly and miss the comfort offered by the intruding clouds of carbon dioxide that build up as a result of our breathing in this Semi- airtight old tin thing.
The window has beeeen open, I contemplate closing it, I see the fresh air is appreciated. And just as I had opened the window I close it, lest I fall victim to the mythological black people’s flu that lives in the rain. I sigh relieved, relieved that No one complained about the open window. I start judging myself and ask what was I afraid of? This guy next to me has been eavesdropping on my writing and asks if I’ll put him in my story, I look at him looking at my phone and say no. Rainwater trapped in the maze that is my hair is released by gravity and slides past my ear. The hair, she’s wet on the side of the window, dry on the other and where the drizzle was falling, the shrinkage was real.
It’s pouring outside by the time I get out of this scrap metal on wheels, a wet rat scurries past into a drain along with the rainwater… I ponder about the rat’s life and my own and how both of us are inconvenienced by this rain. but what was inconvenience if not irrelevant bourgeois feelings of superiority convincing us we deserve better? I huddle under some shelter with some more strangers when I get to the Johannesburg Cbd. Just strangers waiting for the rain to subside so we can continue going to where we’re supposed to go to hopefully make a better life that doesn’t involve all this inconvenience. I think about my trip and continue to type, freely, enjoying, almost naively, forgetting I’m in the turf of pick pockets and other braver crooks and if I don’t stop typing now a chance exists that I may never finish this story. To be poor is a cruel state… there are needs and people gotta eat or smoke or do whatever it is desperate people do with money gained from selling stolen cellphones in Jozi.