“You don’t mess with your destiny, the Negus liked to say. It is written: born in the mines and the trains, you shall spend your whole existence swarming about the quarries until the prophecies come to pass” (Mujila 182).
Tram 83 by Fiston Mwana Mujila is a novel originally written in French and translated by Rolan Glasser. The plot plays out in City-State, a city in Africa where corruption and the fight for survival reign the lives of citizens. There are two constant character’s, Lucien and Requiem, and they’re polar opposites. Lucien is a writer trying to capture the stories and history of his people. Through his writing, he hopes to bring some means of hope and inspiration to them. Whereas Requiem is a man of many names, an extortionist, but most importantly a pessimist. He represents Afro-pessimism; or the belief that no change or improvement will come to the nation (of Africa) even after its decolonization.
In this City-State of Tram 83, most people have the same mindset as Requiem. They don’t see themselves capable of moving upwards in life. Poverty and following the footsteps of your ancestors is expected. We see this in the quote at the start of this post. In which the belief of living one’s existence in the darkness and crowdedness of the mines and trains is all there is. It’s “destiny;” something assigned to the people of City-State by some greater power and there’s no fighting it. In my opinion, I think this is a rather odd way of interpreting destiny. Rather than it acting as a motivation (such as that gif of Brittney Spears saying “Choose your own destiny” or the sayings, “Your destiny’s calling”), it’s a way of trapping people into accepting their unfortunate experiences.
However, this concept isn’t suddenly sprung on the readers; it’s sprinkled throughout the novel. For example, it’s also introduced as early as chapter 5 when City-State is described as a place of suffering. Where “you start out baby-chicks or slim-jim or child soldier. You graduate to endless striking student or desperado. If you’ve got family on the trains, then you work on the trains; otherwise, like a ship, you wash up on the edge of hope” (37). That’s to say, in the City-State moving up the social or economic ladder is impossible because the cycle of poverty is so ingrained in their lives. Unless someone was born into power, they won’t have or ever gain it. Progression isn’t expected and it isn’t sought after.
Weird, right? Or perhaps whether the City-State perspective on life and one’s role in it is jarring depends on our upbringing. I could say, “Imagine living in a world where you don’t expect more than what you’ve already been granted,” but that’s actually happening. Tram 83 may be about a fictitious city in Africa, but it’s inspired by reality. The relationship between the self and their future and community goes beyond the pages of Tram 83.