By Frederick B. Philander
AT Banhof station near Rehoboth, a middle-aged woman and her daughter are sitting on a tattered bench on the platform in front of the dilapidated waiting room, waiting for the late-night train to the coast.
The young blonde girl, Emma, holds possessively onto a battered suitcase, a blanket and a metal sandwich tin, her only possessions for the long journey into the unknown to the coastal town of Walvis Bay.
Emma has never been outside the borders of the Baster town. She is on her way to find work, any kind of work after the premature death of her father.
“The train is coming,” mother Bets announces and helps her daughter with her luggage.
In the distance the diesel engine hoots and flashes its lights to announce its arrival at the one-horse railway siding. From nowhere a number of other passengers appear on the platform. The 10-coach passenger train pulls into the station and comes to a standstill.
In their haste to get to a coach lower down on the platform, Emma inadvertently bumps into a young black man, sending her sandwiches flying from the holder onto the platform.
“Can’t you look where you are going,” mother Bets aggressively admonishes the young man.
“I’m sorry,” the young man says apologetically helping Emma to gather the fallen food.
“You arrogant blacks have no respect for others now that you are ruling this country, to hell and gone,” Bets spits racial poison picking up her daughter’s suitcase.
Coming to the young man’s rescue Emma openly confronts her mother, taking her suitcase.
“What’s the matter with you, mother? We are all human beings, black or white. You don’t have to go on like this. Besides, the man has apologised,” Emma says noticing the young man disappearing among the other passengers.
“Don’t you dare tell me what I should say or not. These people do just as they please as if they own this country. You have always had a soft spot for them,” Bets says walking off to find the compartment number on the one-way ticket.
“What else did you expect? I went to school with some of them. That is until you took me out of school against my will,” the daughter responds angrily.
The two reach the specific coach for Emma to go on board in the third-class section. In this she is assisted by her mother passing her luggage through the compartment window from the edge of the platform.
“Now listen, Emma. Your auntie Martha will take good care of you in Walvis Bay, I know. I have arranged for her to meet you at the station tomorrow morning,” Bets tells her daughter, who has taken up a window seat.
“Yes, mother,” Emma replies dutifully.
Waving a green flag, a guard steps onto the platform and formally announces the departure of the train.
“This is the last call for passengers to take up their seats on the train to the coast,” the man loudly says before boarding the train.
“Don’t forget to write about your wellbeing when you arrive in Walvis Bay,” Bets reminds her daughter.
“I will not forget, mother,” Emma says clasping her mother’s hand.
The guard blows his whistle to which the engine responds hooting. The train slowly pulls out of the station.
Waving at her daughter, Bets has a last minute request.
“Make sure you send home money. Look after yourself and don’t forget to say your prayers at night. Bye, my child. May God bless you,” Bets says standing alone on the platform with the train sounding its horn and disappearing into the night.
With her face pressed against the train window, Emma relives her late father’s burial. Mentally she recalls the heart-rending funeral service. With sadness the young girl remembers her family tearfully weeping as the casket mechanically disappeared into the ground.
She is brought to reality on the train by a rattling sound of a compartment key at the door.
“Ticket, please,” the elderly ticket examiner says.
“Certainly,” Emma replies producing her one-way ticket from her handbag.
“Thank you very much. Enjoy the trip,” the ticket checker says politely closing the door and leaving Emma to her own troubled thoughts that take her mentally back home before her forced departure.
In the simple furnished kitchen her family is gathered around a table. Present are her three brothers and mother addressing her children.
“My children, now that your father is buried, we have to reorganise our lives,” she says looking the children over. “Emma, and this was not an easy decision, you as the eldest will have to leave school.”
“But, I…” Emma tries to protest her unwilling to leave school.
“I know, my child. You have always wanted to be a nurse one day. But with the little your father left us as a building sub-contractor, we cannot afford anything anymore. You will have to find work to support your three brothers.
I will never be able to cope alone,” Bets says emotionally.
After a moment of silence Emma regains her composure and tenderly touches her mother’s hand.
“I understand, mother,” she says with tears in her eyes.
“I am really very sorry for things having turned out the way they did,” Bets replies wiping tears from her daughter’s eyes. “God will help us.”
After a sleepless night Emma looks out the train window watching the moving engine of the train now meandering through desert dunes. In the distance she can already see the ocean and ships moored in the Walvis Bay harbour.
Ten minutes later the train slowly pulls into the station and comes to a standstill. Passengers disembark, Emma, too.
She is joyfully met and hugged by her elderly aunt, Martha, on the crowded platform.
“My word. You have turned out to be a very big girl since I last saw you, Emma. How time flies,” the woman says swinging her niece off her feet.
“Thank you, Auntie Martha,” Emma replies when her feet touch the ground again.
“Come, let’s go home. I am sure you are very tired after the long train journey,” Martha says grabbing the blanket and walking off with Emma following. “And how is your mother holding up?”
“Under the circumstances very well, I think,” the young girl says walking towards a waiting taxi at a rank behind the station.
Her luggage is loaded into the empty taxi that speeds off through the city centre of Walvis Bay and onto the road into the Narraville township.
The taxi stops at a certain house and the two alight after Martha pays the cab driver. Together they enter the sub-economic house.
To be continued next week.