TRUE STORY: The girls on the train track — Mark Roberts

PHOTO: Choudhary

It was early winter and the sun was already beginning to set as the two teenage girls marched along the railway tracks. Debbie, aged 14 and Stacy aged 16 were running away from the reformatory school in town.

Most girls hated the place. It was a school where young problem girls were sent by the state. Scantily clad in shorts that were too short and tops that were too cropped, they marched down the railway tracks, their heads filled with dreams of reaching their pending destinations.

Debbie was headed home like the prodigal daughter, her mind filled with regrets for the problems she had caused her family. She had to tell them! Maybe her mom could change the judge’s mind and let her stay at home.

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Stacy on the other hand was heading to a more dangerous destination: to friends who worked the docks in Durban — hundreds of kilometres away. There was no family to go back to… No family that wanted her back anyway. 

“I hate this place,” said Debbie.

“Don’t worry, “said Stacy, the older girl, “you’ll be home in a few days but we just need to keep walking. We can hide in the bushes when the sun starts going down and tonight we’ll see the stars.”

They both giggled at the thought. 

“I’m scared,” Debbie let slip.”

Don’t be such a baby,” said Stacy “This isn’t my first time. Tomorrow we will hit the freeway and hitch a ride. She slapped her rear and laughed: “There is no way any motorist is passing this and not stopping.”

Again, they giggled as they surveyed each other.

“You’re right about that,” said Debbie as they continued walking and laughing at each other.

As they approached the tiny station in the middle of nowhere they could hear the distant sound of a train approaching. Workers were on their way home. The little station was empty — not a single worker or passenger waiting and the girls saw an opportunity.

“Let’s jump the train — no one will even know and it’ll be quicker,” said Stacy.

“Cool,” whispered Debbie, beginning to have second thoughts.

The locomotive signalled its arrival as the whistle blew loudly. That afternoon would prove to be the worst day in either of their lives. A group of young men climbed off the train and surveying the surroundings spotted the two teenagers. Smiling, one of the men approached the unsuspecting girls slowly.

What ensued was a three-hour nightmare as they were dragged into bushes and repeatedly gang raped and beaten.  Halfway through the ordeal, Stacy blacked out, but young Debbie lived through the entire ordeal; eyes wide open in shock and terror.

The girls were then left in the bushes, clothes ripped and covered in blood. After several hours, both girls woke and cried hysterically. Stacy attempted to lift Debbie off the ground but as a result of her injuries, she was unable to walk properly.

In terrible pain, Stacy lifted Debbie and together they hobbled in an aimless direction along the winding track, in desperate search for help.

A day after the girls were found, I was dispatched to the school in response to the incident. They had already been to the hospital for examinations and with extreme difficulty the girls entered the room, walking in slow motion and sat down in front of me.

I tried to “read” the girls but all I could see was pain: physical and emotional brokenness.

Dazed and with emotional distance, the young Debbie’s first words to me were: “Where are my shoes? My shoes are gone!”

During the ordeal, Debbie’s shoes had come off and in the state of shock, she had left them at the scene of the crime.

“Debbie, I’ll do my best to find your shoes,” I said with a gentle but confident voice.

“My mom gave those shoes to me. I have to find my shoes!” she cried as she finally burst into tears for the first time since the incident.

In my years I have seen the most horrific scenes involving kids, ranging from kidnapping to murder, but this case affected me and I just couldn’t understand why.

Within days I had circulated an identikit of one suspect that Debbie could remember. A single face that had seared itself like a hot iron on her brain. He had a single, distinguishing mark running down the side of his face. Somewhere along the line, someone had used a knife on his face.

A week later, I found the suspect amongst a group of violent gang members and as I approached him I had one single thought running through my mind: “If he runs, I’m gonna shoot him!”

But, as I stood there, I realiSed that if I made the move to arrest him, I’d probably end up having to shoot the others as well. I decided to arrange reinforcements and to come back after dark — a time when they would be high, drunk and hopefully disorientated…

It was the last time I saw the man with the scar on his face and for a long I hated myself, playing out a myriad of possibilities of what I could and should have done on that day.

I did look for Debbie’s shoes but they were long gone, probably in the possession of some poor person who thought a gift had mysteriously and undeservedly landed at their feet. So many people were involved in that heinous crime and I never caught one of them. 

As time passed, Stacy became wilder and more aggressive, eventually escaping and successfully reaching the docks of Durban where I suspect she became a victim to the frivolous love of travelling sailors at the harbour. Though I searched, she was never heard from again.

Debbie withdrew into herself, becoming depressed and rebellious, getting involved with the wrong kids and drugs. She hated the world and she hated her mother — she resented and hated everyone.

I tried to visit, just to chat and encourage her, but most of the time she’d just stare through me. Two years later she was dead. That night, I got drunk and though I never confided in anyone, I played the scene over and over in my mind. Each time, the scenario ended the same: I was standing over the lifeless body of “Scarface” – not a single emotion felt.

As you get older and hopefully a little wiser, your views change. Both Stacy and Debbie are distant memories and their faces are now a little obscure and faded. Now I look at the scenario differently; I don’t think of “Scarface” but instead I think of what I could have said that would have made a difference to Stacy and Debbie.

Killing “Scarface” would not have saved them or me for that matter, but perhaps the right words and a little love could have made the difference.

I guess this is where you ask me what I think I should have said? I think the shoes hold the secret. I heard a story about a woman by the name of Suzanne Pearlman who is about 97-years-old. She lived in Budapest in 1922 as a young artist. Three days before the Nazi’s invaded she managed to escape to Paris by train, followed by a boat trip to Bordeaux and eventually Curasow.

There she started a new life for herself, running an arts and antiques gallery that was frequented by foreign, wealthy travellers who came by cruise ships to the place.

One day a wealthy visitor entered the shop and asked Suzanne if she knew where she could find any shoes by the great French designer, Monsieur Damage. Suzanne had never even heard of this designer and asked the traveller if it were possible to see a pair of his shoes and thus point her in the right direction.

The woman handed her the shoes and as Suzanne turned a shoe around and studied the sole, she saw the word Damage. Inspecting it closely she made an amazing discovery. Faded and obscure she noted that the “d” on the shoes was almost erased. The shoe did not carry the signature of Monsieur Damage’, but instead just an inscription that said “damaged”. The shoe was in fact flawed, defective and inferior in quality.

This is the story I would tell to both Debbie and Stacy:

“When God walked this earth in human form, I’m not too sure whether He wore sandals or shoes, but I do know that He, just like Debbie, was stripped of them too. He chose to submit Himself to a scene where men dragged Him across the dusty ground, beating His savagely. His shoes were ripped from His feet as crude, rusty spikes were driven through them.

“He was rejected, abused and beaten beyond recognition while they laughed, tossing dice for his clothes and shoes. He too couldn’t walk for three days after succumbing to death as a result of the injuries. There were many ‘Scarface’s ‘ that day but by the time they were done, He Himself resembled the greatest ‘Scarface’ of all time.

“You know, when you think about it, it’s the most bizarre story I’ve ever heard. Why would God ever do that? I think I know where Debbie’s damaged shoes were: God was wearing her shoes when He carried her away from that scene.

“In time past I suspect He saw the girl on the railway tracks and had compassion, empathy and understanding for what was to happen and He could only do that by taking off His shoes of glory and walking in her broken shoes.

“Why, you may ask? So that she would have the right to wear His shoes of love, understanding and righteousness but, He could do this on one condition only: He had to walk in her shoes first.

“And so I end this conversation with these words: ‘ Debbie — I never found your shoes, but I see you have a new pair, meticulously designed by ‘Monsieur God’ Himself. When you put those new shoes on, the picture of ‘Scarface’ that was branded in your mind on that fateful day will be replaced by a new memory of the ‘Great Scarface’ who wore your shoes on a fateful day that He hung on a cross — His body covered in scars as He cried out: ‘Debbie, I was there. I wore your shoes. It is finished! Put my shoes on and I’ll carry you home!’ “

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  1. Wow! Yet again such an amazing and encouring and oh such a bittersweet event. I absolutely salute u for the courage, grace and love u have us all encounter with these events u had to live live through and endure and so courageously deliver to us! Thank you!!!

  2. Audrey Struwig

    What an encouraging message and a reminder that our Lord Jesus takes our place when we cannot move forward or not move at all.
    I could listen to your life stories all day long Mark xxx

  3. Another beautiful story – and hoping that these words will enable someone to one day, give a “Debbie” in their path the right words of comfort and wisdom that you so wonderfully share with us.