The woman on the train

2

By: Edinah Masanga

“Kanske det är hon! (maybe it’s her!) she said. I remember her words very clearly and the way she gestured with her arms and clicked her mouth. The way she did it was exaggeratingly rude and it was meant for me to see this. To feel it. I felt it and I remember feeling a deeply personal loss – like as if a chasm had suddenly appeared in the middle of my heart. I felt this loss of my humanity which I can never explain. I felt naked.

I wanted to quietly say to her, I am just as human you know. But there were looks that I could not deduce what they meant. Looks of all passengers in the coach looking at me. I have never felt so invisible while having so many eyes on me. I know this because I don’t think they were looking at the person, I think they were looking at an offender. My offence being that it was my first time inside a foreign country’s train coach.

Zimbabwean journalist Edinah Masanga

I remember the first thoughts that came to me; why did you come here, you are not wanted here, maybe to some people you are even not welcome.

I felt a flood of tears gather in my eyes but I did not let them flow. I blinked and leaned over to the lady in a red sleeveless blouse who was furious I was seating in the wrong seat that happened to be hers.

If it were me maybe I would have felt the same but maybe I would have acted differently. Maybe I would have just said; excuse me it looks like I have the same seat number as you, are you sure you are in the right coach? Or something like that, after all, we are not perfect beings. But we are not meant to be savages either.

In 2014, when it became clear that I was no longer returning to my home country, I remember thinking that this was the time to get myself an apartment in some quiet part of my town and retire from standing up or being involved in any causes.

I daydreamed about my days ahead, having a nine to five job, taking walks during the weekend just to look at shop windows – one of the little pleasures I have enjoyed since I arrived in our capital city Harare for the first time as a teenager.

The days that I imagined in my quiet corner of the town seemed calmer, more normal in comparison with my previous life. In this “new life” there would be no more fighting to get girls away from sexual predators masquerading as their husbands, or helping a woman escape from being beaten with a knoted rope every night – and raped afterwards, or living in fear that my loud mouth will get me killed one day.

I even dreamed of maybe getting married and spending weekends cleaning out the garage with my new husband or driving around the neighbourhood aimlessly at my instigation.

But after that incident I remember thinking, you’ve walked right into another type of storm. There is no more quiet corner now. The corner will never be quiet because you are black in this world and so when you make an honest, human mistake, your humanity will be questioned. You will go back to that corner but it will never be quiet. It will always ring with memories of having to validate your humanity. That you feel hurt too. You have a reasoning capacity too. That you have blood which flows through your veins too.

That you are human too.

And so I knew, it was time to get back to work.

 

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