HOW TO BACK­SEAT DRIVE A TRAIN

Sunday Times - - Accidental Tourist - TAMLIN WIGHT­MAN Tamlin Wight­man ● L S. ©

Was it mag­i­cal think­ing, my be­liev­ing I could con­trol the course of the train and avert the ob­vi­ous ac­ci­dent from hap­pen­ing? A saviour com­plex? Para­noia? I don’t know. But I do know that I got us all home, safe and sound. So you can stop with the name call­ing. I’m not delu­sional. I be­lieved it was up to me to tell the train man­ager what to do to save the 200 peo­ple aboard our steam train — which was re­turn­ing to Cape Town from El­gin — but that doesn’t mean I think I know what’s best when a soc­cer team gets stuck in a cave in Thai­land.

I just know that op­er­a­tors (train driv­ers, skip­pers, fa­thers …) like to push lim­its some­times just to save costs. Leav­ing a wonky train car­riage stranded on a moun­tain pass is pricey.

I could al­most hear the train driver think­ing: “Let’s just see how far we can go.”

I wasn’t con­cerned that night had fallen and the win­tery cold was whistling down from snow­capped peaks, or about sit­ting in that fine line be­tween the wrong and right side of the tracks. I had a train man­ager to track down.

He saw my ter­ror and stated his case.

I replied, “But there’s a tun­nel com­ing up, if we do ever make it up this hill, and even with the push of the de­scent, how do you know we won’t get stuck in the tun­nel?”

“No, no, that’s not an op­tion.”

“Yes, but what mea­sures do you have in place to pre­vent it?”

“The driver is very ex­pe­ri­enced.”

“Should I be get­ting out of here and tak­ing a taxi home?”

“Thing is, we’re in the mid­dle of the moun­tains. There is no path that leads to or leaves here.”

“Ok. But that tun­nel ...”

I had in­tro­duced my­self to the en­gine driver and stoker at our stop at El­gin. I knew their back­story. I took their pho­tos. Now I had to know how this man planned to get my fam­ily and me home on a train that had stalled nu­mer­ous times on the way up Sir Lowry’s Pass.

Ours was one of only two car­riages with the lights still on. I glared at the train man­ager and fi­nally felt as though he had heard me. It was ob­vi­ous, I be­lieved he had not thought about the prob­lem of the tun­nel, or re­alised how dire our sit­u­a­tion was, un­til I’d told him.

I took my seat as three cou­ples be­hind me spi­ralled into the sweet obliv­ion of wine and whiskey. I had their fate in my hands. I had to focus. I thought of hap­pier times, when our fin­ger­tips jazzed with the re­lease of cau­tion to the wind.

I re­called Mom stick­ing her head out the open win­dow next to me and shout­ing, as soot flew into her hair and face, “This takes me back to my childhood. Put your glasses on; you’ll get coal in yer eyes. Harharhar!”

I re­mem­ber the sul­try curve of the train as it wound with the tracks — ca­reer­ing with such life away from Ta­ble Moun­tain, past sea and farm­land and into the moun­tains.

My mind started back down the tun­nel and then I heard him: my train man­ager.

“Don’t be alarmed, folks, but Do­minique, the lo­co­mo­tive, has failed. It’s best we turn back and wait at the sta­tion. We have or­gan­ised coaches to fetch you and re­turn you to town.”

Ev­ery­one looked to the sky, their hands held up.

Whether or not I played a hand in this res­cue mis­sion was be­side the point, I told my­self. That’s the way of magic: no one re­ally knows how or why it hap­pens. No one ex­cept the ma­gi­cian. Do you have a funny or quirky story about your trav­els? Send 600 words to trav­el­[email protected]­day­times.co.za and in­clude a re­cent photograph of your­self for pub­li­ca­tion with the col­umn.

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