At a first glance, Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83 and the world it is situated in is wild and full of excitement. There’s a club packed full of people, with drinking and music and sex, there are fights, there are secret missions in the middle of the night. While all that certainly is going on, that’s also a disguise for how routine everything has become in this world.
Right at the beginning, it is said that “every evening, the same opera” (pg. 4) occurs in the chaos of the train station. Every night, the people of the city-state know just who will be at the station and what they will be doing. They know that the miners and students will fight and they know
that professors will be selling notes while baby chicks are selling their bodies.
As for the Tram, it has actually become a place of comfort. People go there “in search of good times on the cheap” (pg 8) and they know they’ll find them. It is said that they are driven by “the urge to be done with the pleasures of the underbelly”(pg 177). This creates the feeling that this pleasure seeking is sort of a reflex, and they just want to get it over with each night because it’s one of the few things they know they can count on. Also a constant, the phrase “do you have the time” is repeated so often it becomes engrained in the reader’s mind, a type of background noise, and that’s exactly how it sounds in the Tram. There will always be a baby chick to ask if you have the time. And while the performance of the Diva is depicted as gorgeous and rapturous, the Diva is a frequent performer at the Tram and the patrons already know what she will sound like.
“Where will they go to drown their misfortunes when there’s nowhere left to get hammered?” (pg 14)
Though these routines are persistent, “salsa and jazz are not eternal” (pg 14). As Lucien often asks, what will happen when they no longer have their routines? While we don’t get to see a full breakdown to answer this question, we do see some cracks. It seems that sometimes when the routine gets disrupted, those who follow it want to right it. When Lucien tries to do a reading, something not often seen in the Tram, he was booed off the stage. Other times, however, they are willing to adapt. This can be seen on a small scale in that “not all nights had the same chronology”(pg. 176) – they know what will happen where with who, but not necessarily in what order. This can also be seen on a larger scale, like how when the mines are closed the baby chicks become more demanding. So while the people of the city-state don’t usually want to deviate from routine, they are willing to in the face of excitement or necessity.