Trudi won Miss Personality at Maritzburg Varsity. We could have told them that beforehand if they’d asked. Her prize: A trip to Rio de Janeiro! Steph arranged a farewell party at Shady Pines in Stuart Street in the mighty metropolis of Harrismith Vrystaat on the night of her departure; after which we would deliver her safe and pickled to the Harrismith stasie. You didn’t know trips to Rio de Janeiro start at Harrismith Railway Station?! Ha! It goes to show . . . bone up on your geography.
At the station we bid her farewell in moviestar style, Trudi hanging out the window, fans crowded on the platform, much hubbub (just like in any good romantic movie). Here we are, hubbubbing:
Here’s Trudi with her hatbox:
Except some ringleaders are missing. Where could John and Nick be? Ah, the-ere they are, off the very far end of the platform on the tracks talking to the train driver. I get there just in time to hear: “Nooit, meneer, this are not a melktrein, this are ve Orange Express! No stops before Beflehem.”
He reminds me of the rumour that you can’t find three wise men in the Vrystaat. But he does turn out to be wise after some rooinek private school farmer persuasion, as he partially relents: “OK, ve bess I can do for yous is I’ll slow down when I pass Rivierdraaistasie.”
We hop on, and soon the train pulls off. John the agile gymnast has a case of beer under his one arm and a wicked grin under his one moustache. We make our way to Trudi’s cabin. “What on earth are you guys doing here?” We repeat a very hasty goodbye because already the train is FLYING! I myself am now rather nervous and if it wasn’t for the medicinal value of beer I might have said something sensible. We each take position at a door and watch as the poles whizz past us in a blur. Past the crossing to Swiss Valley where Nick (whose leg was in plaster so he was chosen to drive the getaway car – just like in any good gangster movie) was going to meet us. The railway crossing whizzes past and it feels like we’re accelerating!
Suddenly a decrease in speed and, peering forward, some lights in the dark. Get ready to jump. Arse over kettle each one of us hits the ground and tumbles. I almost stayed on my feet but then had to duck for the big sign RIVIERDRAAISTASIE one word. But one man didn’t fall: He who held the case of beers kept it together! We ran back up the track into the dark as a man came stumbling out of the stasie kantoor, lantern held aloft (just like in any good Orient Express movie).
When we gathered, a sober head prevailed. “Boys, we can’t go! We can’t ‘drop’ the train driver. The stasiemeester will have to put in a report and our man will get into trouble. We have to go and talk to the stasiemeester.”
So a delegation is sent back to the stasie and some of us sit in the veld awaiting their return, supping thoughtfully on John’s case of ales. And we wait and await.
Eventually – just when we think maybe they’ve gone to jail – they return, much merrier and cleverer than when they left. Apparently as they started to say Naand Meneer the oke said: “That’s the BEST thing that’s happened to me in all my years at Rivierdraai Stasie!” and insisted they sit and join him for a dop, pulling a bottle of brandy from the top drawer of his desk (just like in any good cowboy movie).
A sequel: Is nothing a secret in a small dorp? I get home before sunrise, and later that same morning my Mom peeps her head into my bedroom in my garden cottage, The Country Mansion: “Were you on that train?” asks Mary Methodist in her woe-unto-us voice. And “I’m so glad you’re home safely,” what a special Mom. At about nineteen years old, though, I couldn’t understand why she was fussing. (It did sort-of dawn on me decades later, just like any good drama movie, when I had a nineteen year old).
Nowadays the desk with the brandy bottle in the top drawer has gone . .
stasie – famous station; opened just in time for the Boer War, still going; also, tiny siding station, now derelict
stasie kantoor – station master’s office furnished with govt issue desk and chair; desk has a top drawer
nooit meneer – sorry, china; beg pardon, sir; no way, José
china – my frie-end!
melktrein – slow moving train; frequent stops; never called ‘express’
stasiemeester – station master; CEO
naand meneer – evening sir;
dop – stiff tots from that brandy bottle in the top drawer