Evening was slowly descending as I lounged around the flat. It was Sunday—I’d have work the next day. The thought of 8 ½ hours of editing paperwork and stapling endlessly loomed, and with it a glum view of the day. Chatting with one of my friends I forced the thoughts of tomorrow out of my head.
Glancing up, I noticed one of my roommates standing near the door; she must have just came into the room. She stood completely still, seemingly in a daze. It took me a beat to realize that something wasn’t right. Looking into her eyes, usually bright and lively, I saw something in their pale depths.
We all turned to her, seemingly realizing that something was awry at the same moment. My gentle inquiry seemed to open the floodgates. Her face was crumpled, reddening. The few of us in the apartment swarmed to comfort her. After several minutes of coaxing, she finally calmed enough to tell us what had happened:
Three of them had been Cato Manor, (the township we’d stayed in for a little over a month). All of them had been conducting interviews for their Independent Study projects there. When they finished, they’d taken a minibus taxi to Chesterville Rank. The Rank is notoriously sketchy—but then again, so was the whole of Durban. In addition, it is impossible to get back to North Beach from Cato without going through the Rank. The three of them had taken the route a dozen times before. But this time was different.
This time, as they were walking across the Rank to transfer to a second taxi, they were set upon by a group of about seven men. They came out of nowhere, my roommate said. Before she knew it, 3 of them came at her; as for what happened to the others she was with, she couldn’t tell at the moment—she’d already been pushed to the ground. The greedy hands of the thieves had clawed at her clothes and ripped at her bag. The whole ordeal sounded horrendous; I couldn’t imagine being there. I was at a total loss for words; we all were.
I thought back to earlier in the day; thought back to fact that as I dressed that morning, I planned to be with the 3 of them in Cato. I was going to go back to visit Mama Zo. A last minute decision had changed my plans about a half hour before we were set to leave. I remembered that I was out of sandwich meat for lunch the next day. So I changed my plans, and went with another group to the grocery store.
It hit me hard. Thinking how close it had been, my already tenuous grip on my composure vanished. I made my way to the bathroom, avoiding the eyes of my friends who, luckily were completely focused on soothing my roommate. It was for the best; I’m sure she needed the comforting more than me at the moment.
Still, sitting on the lid of the toilet, my bare feet sticking to the dirty tiles below, hot tears began a slow descent down my cheeks. I hadn’t cried in awhile; not since Impendle. Suddenly, weeks and months worth of frustrations bubbled up—all the hidden fears and stresses, long suppressed for the sake of making it through the day, came to the surface with a vengeance. Now that I’d let it come out, the emotion couldn’t be stemmed. I hated this place. The trash-lined roads, the crowds, the heat. The people—their hands always outstretched, the men and their cat calls, treating the women like trophies to collect for display, the children running the street in rags, with hardened eyes, quick to slip a nimble hand into your pocket should you turn your head the wrong way. The death, the poverty, and the disparity—in that moment, I hated it all.
As quickly as that hatred has arrived, it subsided. And when it was gone, all that was left was the feeling that I thought I’d left in Impendle. Helplessness–hard and crushing.
When I regained some measure of composure, some minutes later, I came out of the small bathroom. Everyone was in the same position they had been in when I left, comforting and soothing my roommate who had been stolen from. As for me, I took my place beside her on her rumpled bed, and began to woodenly comfort her too.