Mr. Steve called me early that morning. He was crying and I could hear the rush of traffic in the background.
I couldn’t stop, Mr. Ben. I couldn’t stop. He ran out in front of me and I couldn’t stop.
Where are you Mr. Steve?
Steve was on the N4 just outside the sprawling township/city of Mamelodi. Each morning hundreds of thousands of security guards, cleaners, gardeners, domestic workers, nannies, shop clerks, and waitrons, along with Mr. Steve and most of the school's bus drivers, pour out of Mamelodi to work in and around Pretoria. Some board the minibus taxis that dart in and out of traffic. Others pack into private cars for shared rides. Others stand in the long queues for busses that might run today. Others walk.
There are walkers everywhere you drive in South Africa. On open dusty farm roads miles from town or even the nearest shade. Along highways some collect in the shade of underpasses or in the curves of exits waiting for rides to appear, others just walk it. Once driving through the dry Karoo, a man with a fur headdress and a bundle on a stick appeared out of the rocks and heat haze and crossed the road just ahead of us. No town, no homesteads, no cars for miles and miles. He crossed without even looking our way and vanished into the rock and scrub and heat again.
At times people appear out of the head high grasses of the high veldt and cross the highways. In the evening when the sky is dusty red and the smoke from fires hangs low, figures sprinting across the faded lane lines through a gap in the traffic are a surreal connection of parallel universes.
The walkers inhabit a universe with a different space-time fabric. The roads are a statement of the world where distances are measured in minutes and hours. For them it may be days and weeks. Yesterday, the recent film about AIDS in rural South Africa, begins with the main character, Yesterday, walking to a clinic. The trip takes most of a day and the clinic closes before all the people in line can be seen. Yesterday must return the following week when the doctor is in again. Days and weeks not minutes and hours.
The man crossing the road ahead of Mr. Steve that morning may have never driven a car. He fundamentally did not understand the rate of speed of the cars. In his universe that distance was more than enough time to cross. On the morning news they say a pedestrian has been knocked down. It happens so very often.