My South African cab driver is looking in the rearview mirror towards me in the backseat.
“Jenny,” he starts, “can I tell you something? You will come back to Cape Town. It doesn’t matter if it takes years; you will come back. There something magnetic about this place, and you will come back.”
Desmond hands me his card before dropping me off in front of Table Mountain and tells me to call him if I need to be picked up when I’m done. I don’t have the heart to tell him I don’t have a cell phone or that calling him will be an impossible task. “Thanks for the ride,” I say.
It’s funny, really. I had been so nervous getting a cab by myself in Cape Town, having heard so many stories and warnings. Don’t travel alone as a girl. Don’t wander off by yourself. But there are no alternatives; I’m solo in South Africa. But here’s Desmond, my new friend.
I purchase a roundtrip ticket up the mountain and wait in line wearing overly ambitious layers: jeans, boots, sweater, coat. It’s been horrible and gray the last four days; I expected more of the same up here. Instead, I cook under the sun, holding my black jacket in between two crossed arms while I listen to the painful couple behind me talk in the type of German that makes people hate Germans. The man’s got a chinstrap beard and an eyebrow piercing. The woman’s got whatever the female equivalent to that would be. She looks like an aggressive volleyball player and heavy consumer of cheap beer.
“Ma’am, is it just you?”
Some Table Mountain employee is standing in front of me in a Table Mountain shirt.
“Oh, yeah,” I say.
“Just stand against the green,” he says, “for a photograph.”
First offense: Being called ma’am. Second offense: Being forced to stand alone and get a picture taken by myself while the horrible German couple behind me watches on.
I move towards a green wall and stand on green carpet. “Big smile!” he says. I would cringe at the whole ordeal if I actually gave a shit.
We inch towards the entrance and eventually board one of two cable cars bearing the word VISA nestled amongst painted flora and fauna. Seventeen people pile inside. I stand near the edge, facing outward, sandwiched between an elderly couple and a Plexiglas window.
Slowly, the car pulls back and the interior begins to rotate, giving everyone inside a chance to see the views of sprawling Cape Town as we ascend. It moves quickly and suddenly and the man in front of me holds onto the stationary railing until I begin to push into him dangerously. “Let go!” I want to scream, but he’s old and foreign and people don’t yell at grandpas. Still, I imagine a duck pile of tourists and the unfortunate ones spilling out of the open windows.
We quicken our pace, speedily racing up the cliff, defying gravity and our collective weight. The steep fractured walls of Table Mountain come into view and quickly change, the car casting shadows on the felt below.
Within minutes, we’ve already reached the top. I’m the first one out the gates. I don’t have to organize or wait for anyone; that’s the beauty and the tragedy of traveling alone.
My boots clack against the ancient stone and I turn around to see the view.
From above, Cape Town is a basin filled with gray skyscrapers and the terracotta roofs of private residences. A charcoal marine layer lays in wait on the horizon line. Water sluggishly pools in the bay areas, frothing against the shoreline like freshly poured beer. Here I am, standing at the edge of the world, by myself.
I lean against a wall of sorts, something that prevents you from spilling out and over the edge. The surface of the protruding rocks is warm and smoother than I thought it would be, imbued with a slight callousness, like holding the hand of a very old man. You feel the solidity of this place, an ancient density.
To the left, light bounces off of roofs along Camps Bay. That is where the rich people live, huddled in between green mountains. The poor people are sprawled out en masse elsewhere, in shacks that look like the crumpled contents of a recycling bin.
Next to me, a group of young Kiwi boys argue, each of them wearing some variation of the same short shorts.
“It was clear hyperbole, Dave. Concede,” one demands.
These short, simple sentences make me question the entirety of the American education system. All I ever hear on the New York subways during the post-school rush hour is “Damn girl” and shrill, unnecessary “What the fucks?”
“No concession,” Dave rebuts. “There is not anything for which one can concede.”
I feel like I’m in an episode of Flight of the Concords.
There are other kids here, too – many, in fact. Herds of them cluster together, both boys and girls in tidy white and black pullovers with button-up shirts and black tennis shoes.
When I’ve tired of wandering around by myself, as one tends to do, I stand in line to go down, behind a mother and daughter, both of whom spend the better part of thirty minutes loudly slurping on their respective ice cream cones, talking only every five minutes or so, mostly about negotiating how to get every last bit out of the bottom of the cone. It’s funny that we spend all this time meeting people, and talking to people, and dating people, and marrying people, just to end up standing next to someone, not saying anything at all.