So I missed a writing contest deadline by 30mins and it has left me feeling meh. All the same, I am gonna put the story out here just so I know I did it. I will self-comfort and look at it as if I was one of those who did not win the contest. After all, only one person was gonna win it anyway and there were 720 people who had indicated their intentions to enter this 24 hour writing contest. I think my take home here is this:
“Better to have run and finished the race than to have started it and given up along the way on realising that winning was out of reach.”
Here is the story and I would appreciate your feedback:
PS: the words in bold are the words we had to use to start and end the story and they came from A wonderful Zimbabwean writer, Tendai Huchu. Do look him up and read his work. I enjoyed The Hairdresser of Harare and am looking forward to reading his other works.
PPS: the story has no title….and the images are meant to make the story blog-friendly….
They laid the train tracks back to front and this caused a great deal of confusion – you’d think you were on the train to New York and arrived in Kinshasa, or to Shanghai and found yourself lost in Istanbul. Yet he knew that he had to refrain from asking any questions. He bowed his head and carried on digging and shoving as much of the mud out of the tunnel as quickly as possible. He was a nobody, nameless, identity-less and it would do him no good to draw any attention to himself by asking questions.
Sweat ran down his arms, back and face as if he had had a bucket of water poured over him. He kept working- one shovelful of dirt over the other. He worked silently and barely stopped to rest as the other labourers did from time to time. He could not afford to have anyone look at him or engage him in any conversation. He kept to himself during breaks and walked to the compound on his own. His days were numbered and he did not want anyone to be able to remember him.
He wore dark clothes that did not stand out. He always had on a hat right down to his dark eyes. He never laughed at any of the jokes that were shared- he could not afford to have anyone recall his neither his voice nor his laugh. His life was one of silence. He was a silent figure, acquaintanced with the darkness.
He had come to Durban a few weeks earlier on a personal mission. He knew no one and did not want to be known. The site was presently in turmoil as people rushed back and forth between the foreman and the supervisor. The railway line was already running a few months behind schedule and this latest incident would cost the whole project a few more months as well as half a million more Rand to correct.
The weather was partly to blame. It had been raining on and off for two months now and no one could predict the weather accurately anymore. The rains had come later than usual. Many of the local young who could have been employed by the project had set out in search of greener pastures. However, in all fairness, the supervisor, Greit du Pleissis, was the major reason for the delay as well as the ever-ballooning budget. He had no idea what he was doing half the time and was constantly seeking approval from head office and this caused unnecessary delays.
Today, the entire Durban population had come to the site and it was chaotic. So much confusion as everybody suddenly wanted to find out how the project was progressing. The MEC for Health was in town and would make a stop at the site. The labourers were in panic and the supervisor was steadily drinking himself into a state. Kids were thrilled to be out in the mud and were making a nuisance of themselves.
Brightly coloured clothes were soon mud stained and mothers were screaming in frustration from the old platform with the makeshift roof. The fathers walked around the site as if they knew what the hell was going on. One man had got his hand severed by one of the machines he had tried to operate and the ambulance was nowhere in sight. He was in shock and losing a lot of blood. Someone was screaming for some whisky. A child had fallen into one of the ditches and the police were struggling to restrain the excitable crowd.
Through all this madness, he kept his head bowed down and kept shovelling, he had a mission to accomplish. It began to rain earnestly again. Even in the rain, he could feel his own sweat washing his body. One more shovelful of mud and he was ready to stop. It was time.
He stepped out of the ditch, went to a corner and lit a cigarette but he did not smoke it. He watched the mayhem and looked at his watch. In a few minutes, he went to clock out but he did not leave the site. He went across the old platform and joined the Durbanites in waiting for the big boss lady. Any minute now, she would arrive ushered by a host of police patrol cars and fawning government officials.
Even headquarters had sent a welcoming party. If only they knew. From nowhere, a blast of lightning struck through the encroaching darkness scaring half the women and children at the platform. It was ominously silent after its wake and this silence greeted the MEC as she stepped out of her government vehicle and onto the new platform.
She knew where her bread was buttered, alright but she did not know that sensible shoes were necessary if she was to tour a railway laying site. As she stepped to the podium that looked awkwardly out of place with its ribbons and laces, she slipped. A collective gasp came from the waiting crowd. She recovered quickly and made it to the podium. She was opening her mouth when it happened.
The entire platform began to move. Confusion animated her face and she stood for a second staring at the podium. No one understood what was happening despite watching it unfold. The platform literally sank out of sight right in front of their eyes, along with the MEC and the officials who were with her leaving just the tracks. A bolt of lightning struck again, as if on cue and ripped the roof off the old platform and the heavens bursts their flood gates.
One bolt of lightning followed the sunken platform and smoke came out like a pleasing sacrifice to the gods. The newly formed hole soon filled up with dirty, flowing water. No one could move. Even if they wanted to, they could not because the rain dripping from the rusty gutters made a curtain between the platform and the tracks.
(© R Tendo Tapiwa, 2015)