"There was a history. There had been trouble before, Hutu and Tutsi trouble. There had been big killing in Burundi. That is part of the story, but in a way it is also another story. When trouble comes, it happens to you alone."by Damon Galgut / August 22, 2004 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2004 issue of Prospect Magazine
Some years ago, a young man was travelling on the train between Pretoria and Cape Town. He had recently been ordained as a minister in the church, and he was moving to a small town on the west coast, to his congregation there.
When he got on the train an old white man was already in the carriage, drinking wine, which he poured surreptitiously from a bottle into a plastic cup. He offered some to the young man, who shook his head. The old man looked worried, and when the train started to move he said, “I hope there won’t be blacks in this compartment.”
The young man said, “Sorry?”
“I’m not a racist, but I hope we don’t have to share with blacks. I’ve never been on the train before. Do you think there will be blacks?”
The young man said he didn’t know. He didn’t say any more to the old man, but when the train reached Johannesburg and a black man entered their compartment, he was glad. The Lord worked in complex ways, and he felt that this might be a lesson for the old man.
The black man was of an indeterminate age, perhaps forty or fifty. He was neat, with a thin, fine face behind gold-rimmed spectacles. Yet there was something tormented about him. He didn’t sit still, even after he had stowed his one tiny suitcase. He twisted on his seat, got up and sat down again and avoided the eyes of the other two men.
After what the old man had said, the young man wanted to make a point. He got up and held out his hand to the black man. “My name is Douglas Clarke,” he said. “Pleased to meet you.”
The black man was startled. He froze for an instant before shaking the hand. “Leonard Sagatwa,” he said, his voice very soft.
The old man looked stricken. This was the moment for him to introduce himself, but the moment passed. The train started to move.
Soon they were sliding through a brown landscape, dotted with little towns, under a haze of heat. The old man looked out of the window, furtively drinking his wine. Douglas had a sermon to work on. He took out his notebook and doodled thoughtfully in it, but his eyes kept going over to the restless black man. After a while, to make conversation, he asked him, “Do you live in Cape Town?”