Bitter thoughts about my meagre salary accompany me out of the office this Tuesday evening. Working in the financial services industry is now a pain I can’t shoulder anymore. If management isn’t laying people off monthly, there’s a memo reminding us that the Rand value is dropping; we should buckle up or our salaries will be halved.

“If you don’t meet your targets, we’ll lay you off!” My boss barks daily. His hoarse voice doesn’t make the threat subtle. The job itself is a trap. I leave home daily, work overtime and weekends but there’s nothing to save month-end. After buying food and groceries, whatever is left goes to transport.

I once left the office to attend an interview and the news got to my boss.

“Take two weeks off so you’ll have enough time for interviews,” he said with a lopsided smile.

Going on leave sounds fine, but the number of applicants lining up at the office gate makes staying at home a bad idea.

My friends in other companies fair better. Many receive overtime pay and are now driving their own cars, just two years after leaving the university. Hai! Here I am, queuing up to buy a Metrorail ticket for a two-hour Pretoria trip. To think that those guys weren’t as good at school makes the whole thing more painful. How unfair can life be?

I grab my ticket and plod into the train.

All around me are plumbers, bricklayers and market women. Of course, this rickety train is for the lower class; the buoyant ones use the luxurious Gautrain. Are these the class of people I should mingle with? Bitterness flushes through me as I munch burger morsels while the train moves on.

Why don’t I consider going for further studies? With a Master’s Degree, I’ll get a better job and the take-home pay will be pocket-friendly. In no time, I’d get a car and buying my own house will be on the horizon.

“Buy Mopani worms – two rand only,” a hawker brings me back from dreamland.

By now, passengers have filled the aisle, some holding uncooked meat-bones, chips or peanuts. Their shoes and shabby clothing tell stories of the harsh economy. A foul stench from hushed farts invites flies of different moral persuasions. With the crowd’s body odour already ravaging, the burger no longer appetizes, especially as the flies hover over the food. I can’t wait to leave.

On stepping out of the train, I re-adjust my handbag and hurry to the waste bin corner. As I drop the burger leftovers, a young man rushes towards me and grabs it.

“It’s contaminated. Flies settled on it!” I whisper, pointing a finger.

The lad winks twice, ignores my warning and utters: “Isn’t the country contaminated?”

With an expanding jaw, I watch as he chews the leftover, his other hand searching the bin should there be more bounty.

Repulsion won’t let me watch for long but his actions touch me deeply. Here is an adult, not at all a lunatic, scavenging with relish. Yet my meagre salary is a source of worry. Again I pore through the things I do with my income: I buy groceries in varieties; I have the timetable of a balanced diet. I leave home with the hope of a better tomorrow. Those are indeed enough to be thankful for. I set my again up to have a great day and be grateful for the life I have.


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