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Here In Africa: It’s A Hard Live When You’re On Your Own

Barbara Durlacher’s tale contains a shocking confession.

Gasping and wheezing after his run, he heaved himself into the boxcar as the train accelerated round the curve. “Getting harder every day,” he thought, rolling over into a more comfortable position amongst the crates and boxes. “Won’t be able to keep riding the rails much longer with this bad hip of mine, now winter’s coming.”

Wearily, he opened his bundle and extracted a heel of bread, a lump of cheese and a couple of onions. He peeled and sliced the onions, laid them on the bread, and topped them with the cheese. Later, wiping his bristly beard with a dirty bandanna he continued his interrupted thought. “Great! That’s the best meal I’ve had in ages. Shame I couldn’t get a few apples, but hurrying to catch this train, I had no time to reach the branch.”

Yes, life was hard now, without Jamie to lend a hand. He’d been a wonderful mate. Always a smile and a friendly word, and a hand to pull a guy on board when needed. Gosh! How he missed him. The yarns they told one another, and the tall stories! Didn’t matter that very few of them were true, each tale had a smattering of truth somewhere. Even if they weren’t 100%, it was always possible to learn something from the fantasies of how it might have been, or as the storyteller wished it had been. One soon learnt the ways of the open road from a good mate like Jamie. He’d had years of living as an “outie.”

The day Jamie died still burnt in his memory like a flame. He’d never be able to wipe away the horror. The way Jamie had run to catch the slowly moving train just as it started to pick up speed, missed his footing and was caught under the wheels, his head and upper body mangled in a flash by the massive weight of the train, seared through his brain like an electric flash. It was so terrible he would not allow himself to think about it at all. Dwelling on these things could only bring madness. Memories served no purpose, no purpose at all.

Thinking back now, he remembered how after the driver brought the train to a stop and the police were called, he’d melted away into the undergrowth and remained hidden there all day while the authorities took down statements, interrogated the driver and finally, removed the poor bloodied corpse.

“There was no way I was getting involved with all their bureaucratic nonsense and endless questions. End up in prison if you’re not careful, and after all, I’d done nothing wrong! I was just following Jamie, and was too scared to jump aboard first. It was he who took the chance to jump the train as it gathered speed, although he knew how dangerous it was.”

“Lucky he’d given his share of the spoils to me in case we were stopped and questioned. He knew that the police were on to him, and they’d search his suitcase. Silly fool though, not to realise that I’m a greedy, tired old man, and that the temptation would be too much. “Once a thief, always a thief” I told him once. Some of my stories were true, you know!

“I, too, had a long history of dishonesty and failure. But that day was different. That day I was going to change things. I’d no intention of joining him on that train, but he never suspected. It only took a strong push from me as he grabbed the door to send him sprawling. He never missed his footing! But he’ll never know the truth now, will he?”

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