What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase: “Do you have the time?” or “Tip?” If you answered that the thought of prostitutes came to mind, congratulations, you live in the world of Tram 83. Tram 83 is a novel written by African writer Fiston Mwanza Mujila, originally published in French and translated by Alain Mabanckou. The book doesn’t follow the typical novel placeholder, it’s more of a series of events that happen to our main characters, Requiem and Lucien, rather than a narrative with a rising action and terms like that. The book is more about how and why it happens rather than what happens.
The events of the novel have multiple signs and phrases that explain why these events happen. Mujila cleverly uses the concept of tremolo in his novel, a form a repetition that’s often used in music. The continuous use of the phrase: “Do you have the time?” and “…whose metal structure is unfinished…” (Mujila, 15), are actually symbolic messages of the heavily damaged political and social structures of the setting. The setting of the novel is representative of present day Congo, one of the most populated and corrupted places in Africa. Mujila clearly presents this using this form of tremolo.
The phrase: “Do you have the time?” is basically the calling card for the dozens upon dozens of prostitutes and sex workers that Requiem and the others encounter. At the bar, “Do you have the time?” (Mujila, 9). At the train station: “Do you have the time?” (Mujila, 2). Even the very last line of dialogue of the novel was “Do you have the time?” (Mujila, 210). This constant repetition of phrases is set up as a constant reminder of the nearly destroyed social infrastructure.
Not only is the social infrastructure severely damaged, but the physical structure is as well. Tram 83, the actual physical nightclub that Requiem and company visit frequently throughout the novel, is constantly described with the terms “whose metal structure is unfinished” or a form of said phrase. Tram 83, being basically the center of everyone’s lives, is seen as a representation of the country of Congo as a whole. “Whose metal structure is unfinished,” could be seen as a descriptor to how their country is like that of the Tram itself. “It was the only place on earth you could hang yourself, defecate, blaspheme, fall into infatuation, and thieve without regard to prying eyes.” (Mujila, 1). This is an even more in dept description of how everyone sees the Tram, or rather, how everyone sees their home country. Stripped of resources, governed by corrupt men, and seen as a “tourist attraction” is what Congo is being described as in this context. Unfortunately, it will be no easy task to clean up this amount of damage to this society, and if things keep gong the way they are, it’s only a matter of time till things really start looking from unfinished to completely destroyed.