…or in other words, “Would you like to have sex with me for money?”
“Do you have the time?” might as well be the catchphrase for Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83, considering it was by far the most repeated phrase in the entire novel. Upon the first few readings of the unavoidable phrase, readers may just think, “Wow, no one in this book carries a watch on them” but soon enough it is uncovered that the persistent question is used by prostitutes (of all shocking ages) to invite men to pay them for sex. This phrase is seen in many difference sections of the book but is extremely prevalent when our characters are in the chaotic and busy train station, which is inevitably filled with eager prostitutes. “Do you have the time?” shows up in almost every chapter of the book, and nearly every page.
Mujila emphasizes this repetition and in a sense shoves it in the reader’s face for two different reasons. The first, is to show just how persistent these women are in getting their jobs done. In a sense, persistence can even hint at a bit of desperation that these women face just to make ends meet and how the average 9-5 job has started to disappear in this society. The second reason he repeats the phrase so much is to show just how unavoidable prostitutes are in this setting. The train station is basically crawling with all kinds of “baby chicks” and “single mamas” looking for a job. Our main characters, Lucien and Requiem, can’t get anywhere without being asked for a good time, and they especially can’t hold a solid conversation without being interrupted by a girl at work. The men have even grown so used to this every day occurrence that they don’t stop their conversation to respond to the women, unless they are taking them up on the offer.
Mujila’s repetitive “Do you have the time?” in Tram 83 shows readers the sad and unavoidable nature of prostitution in this post-colonial setting.