The guard at the gate smiles a toothless smile, and lightly taps the security boom open for me. We recognize each other; him with his brown uniform and heavy automatic tucked into a pocket on the front of his bullet-proof jacket, me with my rusted car and naive wave.
When the compartment door was drawn back, and I saw my room for the nearly twelve-hour trip home, I had to conceal my disappointment. The room was already occupied. Well, no problem. I thought to myself. Coming up to Johannesburg on the train I had been faced with the same problem. Then I had simply asked the conductor if I could change and he had found me a cabin where I could be on my own: to think my own thoughts, laugh out loud at my pettiness and, most importantly, write without distraction – all night if I so chose. Of course, things had been considerably easier on that occasion: my proposed companion had been an elderly white man who smoked like a steam engine and had the watery eyes and puffy nose of a heavy drinker. This time, however, I would have to make excuses for not wanting to share a cabin with a quiet middle-aged black man.