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DO NOT LEAN ON DOOR. DO NOT OPEN DOOR WHILE TRAIN IS MOVING
. -I sit staring at the sign and wondering how many people have died by ignoring this advice. I imagine hundreds, for the door looks ancient.
The train rears to a halt and the door opens slowly. Three young coloured kids get on, smoking
cigarettes. They’re wearing identical Levi’s indigo jeans and Quicksilver hoodies. It’s noon on a weekday. They’re either not attending school at all or playing truant for the day. It’s the height of summer in Cape Town and I don’t blame them. I only took the train today to see the scenery on the Simonstown line.
These kids can’t be more than fifteen years old, yet they’re chain-smoking the cigarettes to the
filter and with their hoodies pulled over their heads on this sweltering sub-Saharan day, I can’t help but think that these kids are pining for a chemical other than nicotine. I can see the inevitable happening before it does. A pretty young white woman makes her way daintily to the door. She’s carrying a little Prada handbag, which I can see is a fake (I have a trained eye), but it’s not so much the bag as the contents they’re after.
The train stops and just as she is about to make a movement, one of the kids kicks her on the
shin as another grabs the bag. Within seconds they’re out the door and gone. I jump in, offering faux concern to comfort the young lady, who is now sitting on the floor sobbing. At first she looks at me in fear, expecting a second round, but the moment I open my mouth and middle-class English flows from my lips, she is at ease.
‘Are you okay?’ ‘Yes, thank you. I don’t know what’s happening to this country any more.’ I help her to her feet. None of the other passengers in the carriage seem to have noticed the
little spectacle. She has missed her stop and the trauma has forced her to take a seat next to me. I’m holding her hand. Nothing like a bit of fear and panic to get the juices flowing. Not that I’m complaining. The day is young and I am in no mood for classes. That would be a waste of this perfect day, in this city of absolute beauty.
Nelson. Nelson. Nelson. How does one live up to someone like Nelson Mandela? One of my first childhood memories is of my father’s statements about how I was named after the greatest African who had ever lived. A man who spearheaded the Struggle against the ignorance that was apartheid. A man who signifies freedom and equality wherever one might go in this world of ours.
The one Madiba. A man who spent twenty-seven years of his life in prison so that the people of South Africa
could be free. So that I may roam the streets with no recollection of what apartheid really was. A man who was not bitter after all those years but instead stuck with his ideas of what equality truly means.
How does one live up to Nelson Mandela? The Struggle is over. We are free. Yet I’m here and I
feel as if there is nothing to do. When someone is named Alexander, or Mohandas or Ernesto, does it necessarily imply that his parents expect an Alexander the Great, a Ghandi or a Che? A part of me wishes I had been around during the liberation movement, and then the sane side asks me: Why would you ever wish for something like that, Nelson? How does one live up to someone liken Mandela? The truth is, no one can, so it’s pointless trying.
‘I’m Julia and I’m an addict. I just wanted to thank the group for sharing and making me feel better. This semester has probably been the hardest of my life and, as you know, I have slipped up on occasions but having you guys has made a big difference.’
I try to ignore the incessant moaning and self-loathing by concentrating on the Pulp Fiction
poster on the wall. As Julia continues her verbal assault at recovery, I’m picturing Uma Thurman doing lines in the bathroom of Jack Rabbit Slim’s. I start analysing the poster and wondering if it made a big difference to the -marketability of the film having Uma sprawled on the bed looking all heroin chic, rather than Vincent Vega and Butch pointing guns at each other.
The University of Cape Town Narcotics Anonymous group meets twice a week in a tutorial
classroom for film students. There are usually ten addicts at these meetings. And me. Every one of them is self-loathing, depressed and quick to make a beeline for prescription Prozac or Zoloft.
Some of them claim to be addicted to marijuana, which scores minus five on a machismo drug
scale. Then there are those who have experienced the illustrious rock bottom, which is something that I don’t really aspire to and wouldn’t wish on anyone, yet in this group it gets shown off like a badge of honour. The rockbottom stories attract a fawning audience but all I want to do when I hear them is laugh. One day I would like to attend an NA meeting in the townships, assuming they have them in the townships. Somehow I suspect those rockbottom stories would be more hardcore, the real thing.
Then again, I can’t be sure. It’s been reiterated time and time again that the concept of rock
bottom is a personal and individual one. Still, one can’t help but laugh if you failed a semester because of your marijuana addiction and your parents took your car away. Crack whores and meth addicts abound with tales of abuse, abortion, sodomy and rape. For some reason, rock bottom seems to have a purer, truer ring to it when it applies to them. Each to his own, said the drug addict to the recovering drug addict.
I look at my watch. Five minutes before the meeting adjourns. Time for my obligatory bit of
The leader of this branch is Greg, officially one of the saddest guys in the world. Poor guy has
pigeon-holed himself as an alcoholic, drug addict (marijuana) and sex addict, and all this at the advanced age of twenty-one. He has a whole week of meetings to attend for these afflictions that his higher power (his ego) has bestowed on him. He’s probably only in these groups to make friends, and I have a sneaking suspicion that he is a virgin and his apparent sex addiction has always been sated by his right hand.
‘So thank you again, everyone,’ says Julia. ‘I’m Greg and I’m an addict. Thank you, Julia. Would anyone else like to share?’ ‘I’m Nelson and I’m an a—’ I cough over the word. The continual affirmation only serves one purpose and that is to remind
yourself how segregated you are in a world mostly filled with non-addicts. The only reason I’m here anyway is to appease Tiffany, who quite literally dragged me by the hand to the meeting. I was amenable because I had just come off a coke binge of gargantuan proportions and the t ruth is that the psyche is not always whole when one is coming down that hard.
I’ve still been coming to feed her the illusion that she did something to fix her boyfriend. There
was a glow about her after I returned from that first meeting, akin to the five minutes after sex. A translucent, contented look in her eye, as if she was beating the odds. The look of a woman thinking she is in control and at one with her Jungian archetype.
The truth is, I’ve still been using – recreationally of course. Most people know this, except for
her, or perhaps she’s just blissfully living in denial. Including this group, whose anonymity I cherish and respect, even if I don’t necessarily respect the people in it. I take a deep breath and exhale slowly for dramatic effect.
‘I’ve been trying, guys. I have seriously been trying but I find myself being fucked over, sorry for
my language, being screwed over by the environmental factors. I was at FTV Café the other night with my girlfriend and it was going well. The whole night was great until—’ I pause briefly – ‘I went to the bathroom, which is nature’s call and something you have to do. Just to find two acquaintances of mine from a different lifetime, from a time before I found NA. Before I found truth. Stuffing their noses with coke. Now, I admit I was a bit drunk and I know that’s against the
programme and it was probably the reason why I needed to use the bathroom in the first place, but anyway I was there. Drunk, bathroom, offer of coke.’
Another pause supplemented by a deep sigh. ‘I took two lines. Told my girlfriend I was sick, drove her home, got another bag, then smoked
some heroin to take the edge off and get to sleep in the morning. I’m not happy but I thank you for giving me this chance to share.’
I hang my head for a few seconds before slowly looking up to see the reactions. ‘Greg, addict. Nelson, these environmental factors can
be countered by simply avoiding those
situations. That said, I’m having a dinner party on Friday. Just good conversation and maybe a few friendly hands of poker. I would like to see everyone there.’
I’ve noticed that the reactions to my debaucheries have become less pronounced. Then again, I
am giving the group the PG-13 version of events. I may respect their promise of anonymity but that does not mean I trust it entirely. And I find it disturbing that Greg is organising events with gambling as a feature. The concept of a ‘friendly’ hand of poker is alien to me and I have a niggly feeling that he is trying to cultivate another addiction.
‘Okay, let’s all join hands for the serenity prayer.’ This is my cue to shift my attention to the Trainspotting
poster on the wall and bask in the irony
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