The next day there is not a cloud in the sky. I look out the classroom window. I feel sick. My mind is spinning. I am thinking, Brightness and Shalani and Kabo need me. I cannot risk my life this way.

You see, I saw a dead train-surfer once. He was lying by the tracks, electrocuted, with his face huge and swollen and black like burned meat. The smell was terrible even after the medics closed the body-bag.

The next minute I am imagining the whole coach chanting my name: “Ndaba aka Simba aka The Lion-heart!” I imagine Masego with her friends around her, telling her, “You are so lucky! Your boyfriend is the bravest!”

Maybe I should stay at school late so I miss the train? Maybe I should walk home today even if it is far. But then Lebo walks past my desk. He holds my shoulder.

“Today’s the day, bro! You and me Topside! With all our worries blown away!” he says.

Just this one time! Yes, I will go Topside just this once. Once is all I need to turn me into a hero.

The train coach is packed. Lebo and I stand close to the open window. He is whispering in my ear.

“Just follow what I do, Ndaba. I will do it, one step at a time for you. The first time is always the hardest, right? By next week you’ll be surfing on your own, no problem.”

Already the other learners are chanting his name: “Matrix, Matrix! Reload time!”

Then I realise that Masego isn’t in her usual seat. Did she leave school early? Or was she staying late for choir practice? Never mind! By tomorrow it will be all round the school: Ndaba went Topside! Yeah! Courage like a lion, Ndaba!

Lebo shifts his buttocks over the window ledge so his back is outside. “Let’s go, bro,” he said. “This is Step One.”

No problem! I sit up on the window ledge beside him with my legs still safe inside the train.

“Shift further out now,” Lebo instructs. “So you can grab hold of the top of the window. Both hands, right?”

I shift further out. Just a little. It’s terrifying. The wind rushes along the side of the train. It is so strong, pushing at me. Any minute I will go hurtling down onto the gravel and then under the train-wheels.

I try to reach for the top of the window with one hand. But I can’t get a proper hold, not like Lebo. The speed of the train makes everything vibrate and shake. And then there are the pylons shooting past us every few seconds. Great solid beams of steel. So close it seems like any minute my head will get chopped right off my body.

“Deep breaths. Deep breaths. You’re nearly halfway, bro,” Lebo encourages me. “Come on. Get your feet up on the ledge now.”

I try. But for some reason, my legs seem frozen there inside the coach. Like heavy blocks of ice. As if they weren’t even part of my body any more.


Tell us what you think: Will Ndaba manage to get himself Topside?