It is a rather strange fact that you build up an impression of a place from a map that can be totally erroneous. Kirsty told me to get a bus from Joburg’s Rotunda Bus Station to Pietermaritzburg. The thought terrified me, but I kept reassuring myself that I would be all right. I would buy my ticket from a travel agents in Verwoerdburg. I would be dropped off outside the station, I would get on the bus and leave Jo’burg. But looking at the map, I saw that the bus station appeared enormous, and I worried that it was not only the regional bus but a local bus station, and who knows what unsavoury types might come through there. Everyone was a demon in Jo’burg. Scenarios played in my mind – what if the bus station was darkly lit and I would be taken off into a dark corner and robbed again? What happened if I got on the wrong bus? What if my bus didn’t run – how would I contact Kirsty? How would I get back to the relative calm of Irene?
There was no going back. I had already arranged to be picked up at Pietermaritzburg Bus Station by a work colleague of mine; Denis Rugege, who had been at NRI a few months beforehand. I was also to stay with one of Kirsty’s friends, although Kirsty had not told them exactly when I was arriving. So I was to set off into the unknown. I arranged that I was going to do a one way hire, and pickup a car in Pietermartizburg and drop it off in Harrismith in the Orange Free State the following Saturday. I hoped to meet Kirsty there so we could go trekking in the Drakensberg.
So one morning when Kirsty was on her way in to work, I did one of the most frightening journeys of my life. The previous time I had gone to Jo’burg I had been wary, but not frightened. Now I had been mugged, I drew closer to the city centre with full fear. I tried not to show it but it was too obvious. Kirsty did her best to distract me, telling me how wonderful Kwa-Zulu Natal was. We came off the motorway and went through some half decent city streets on the north side of the city centre. I made sure Kirsty dropped me off as close to the Rotunda as possible, and I quickly said goodbye, clung my bag next to me and went into the waiting area.
Although the waiting area was a large airy and, yes, round room, it was no where near the giant I had expected. I had two hours to wait for my bus, but since Kirsty had been the only lift I could guarantee, I had taken it. I don’t think I wanted to chance local public transport for a while. So I had to sit there, completely suspicious of everybody I saw, black or white, young or old. I wrapped my bag strap firmly around my leg so no-one could snatch it, and tried to read for a while.
I was aware that I couldn’t understand a word of any announcements, not because they were half Afrikaans, but also because the PA system was awful. So I watched what was going on. There was little activity. There were two main bus companies running out of the station; Greyhound and Translux. I was going Translux, but while I was there a Greyhound bus left for Durban via Pietermaritzburg. Then I realised that there were two Translux buses heading for Durban. One was a fast bus calling at Pietermaritzburg and Durban only. Mine was the slow bus, leaving earlier but taking longer and calling at Veereniging, Warden, Harrismith, Ladysmith, Estcourt, Pietermaritzburg, Mpumulanga and Durban. It would take about six hours, but I had nothing else to do and I think I preferred to see some of the back routes. Veereniging was a mystery to me. I had looked at the map and traced the road south east towards Jo’burg and I could not remember seeing such a place.
After what seemed like an eternity, my bus was called. I leapt up hastily and headed for the correct gate. My fears were so large that I hid within the group of people queuing for the bus. They were the usual bunch of long distance bus travellers, a few young students, women with too much baggage or too many kids, a few middle aged single people, a couple of older types including the usual collection of old ladies, dressed more for Afternoon Tea at the Ritz than a three hundred mile bus journey.
Our tickets were slowly checked. I felt so vulnerable out there on the street, people passing us by on the way. All I wanted to do was getup on the bus and get away from this hell hole. The driver nonchalantly laid all the bags on the street (how foolish, I thought, anyone could snatch them) and put labels around them all. Then he left them there while he checked all the tickets. I was on board and my bag was not packed. I was so relieved when everything was on board and the driver sat himself down in front.