“Where do you want to send this?”
“To my sister in Jo’burg – it’s her birthday so I need it to get there asap!”
“No problem, but the Fast Track service is an extra £18.00.”
“That’s fine, do it please.”
“There you go, just post it into the box outside, have a good evening”
I waited, biding my time (what else could I do?). Then, crunch! It came. The franking. Why do they have to hit so hard? I hope she hurt her wrist. Then the label with the barcode – would I ever be able to escape? To be anonymous again?
Disorientation as she tossed me into the bag and I settled next to the small one with the black border. “Where are you off to?” I ventured.
A muffled reply, “Qunu, it’s where the funeral is. I’m for the Book of Remembrance.”
“Aah, I understand, Madiba. I’m only off to Johannesburg to family. Qunu is such a small place, will you get there in time?”
“It looks like it – they’re pulling out all stops since he died.”
Our world heaved as the bag was lifted and carried. Then we were thrown into the van and the faint light died completely as the doors closed on us. The routine was the same – some travelling, a sudden stop, another bag hurled onto the increasing pile, slamming doors, more travelling. The driver was clearly running to a schedule as the conversation centred on where we were, and what the time was. The rapidity of the acceleration and the ferocity of the braking testified to that.
After what seemed like an eternity we arrived at Cape Mail. I’d heard about it but nothing could have prepared me for the sight of all the automation and the frenetic opening and emptying of the bags onto the conveyor. I was only able to manage a feeble “go well” to Qunu-bound when we were torn away in different directions. My journey through gates and over air-flows eventually slowed to a steady progress of not-quite-so-manic to allow other envelopes to push in behind and in front of me. No one spoke. We were all breathless at the speed it had all happened after being lulled by the routine drudgery of the journey from the outlying offices to this monolith of efficiency.
Then the drop! Suddenly over the cliff edge into gaping bags and hardly time to look around and darkness as the mouth is closed. More heaving and disorientation. Another van. A shorter journey. No stops in between.
The noise got louder, then climaxed to a roar and receded. Then another. The doors flew open and more bags filled the warehouse we were in. The roars continued and realization of being in the midst of Cape Town International dawned. And if I thought the Cape Mail Depot was efficient, the crew here made them look positively pedestrian. My bag was one of 38 on SA326 to Johannesburg. The two hours were uneventful and the noise prevented more than cursory chat.
“UK. Leaving tonight on a BA longhaul.”
Passengers don’t realise how much better we pieces are treated at the airport. Quick exits, quick scans of the bags and off to Naledi for final sorting. More barcode scanning, more conveyors. More drops! But the Joburg drivers are faster that the Cape Town ones. And more cheerful. The conversations were about the football, the food, the pretty girl on the corner. It flowed and was full of humour. Maybe their boss was more amenable to schedule glitches than the one in Cape Town.
Sandton Post Office was also huge. Cheerful-Chappy, driver, whistling and full of grins, “hey, Baba, sorry we late! Had to get the Qunu bags off first, but here you go!”
Dumped again. Bang! Another stamp. Scan.
“This one’s urgent, give this number a call.”
“Hi, Miss, Sandton Post Office here, there’s an urgent envelope for you at the counter. A pleasure. Yes, we’re open during lunch. Just bring in your track-and-trace reference.”
I reflected on my journey of the last 18 hours. From the rural outskirts of the Southern Cape to Cape Town and then by air to Johannesburg, through the busy streets of “Egoli” (the Golden City) to the long counter in the financial hub of the urban sprawl. An adventure of efficient technology and willing participants.
They could do with new bags though – they’ve seen some mileage!
Overseas Mail – an Envelope’s Journey | Sharp Cat