Memories of flower and bird and wind and world, and all the living and all the dead.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
The Company of Strangers
I spent yesterday in my least-favourite European city. There seems to be more unwashed people on the streets and in the stations every time I go. Groups of young men huddle in corners and glance over their shoulders. The hostility is tangible. My colleagues are solicitous to make sure that I know where is safe to walk and where my bag is likely to be snatched. An incautious foreigner is likely to find their purse lifted in the bustle on a street corner.
I've always enjoyed hopping on and off public transport wherever I travel and even this miserable city has a reasonably efficient metro. Providing I keep my bags tucked in, I'm happy to miss the taxis.
Opposite me on the metro was a young Muslim mother with her hair neatly tucked into her headscarf. Her baby daughter sat on her lap, wide-eyed with interest in everything about the journey. Next to me was a beautiful leggy black girl with clattering bling that jingled with every movement of her wrist.
The mother battled constantly to stop her daughter putting her hands on the germ covered seat, walls and windows and then stuffing them joyfully into her mouth to rub against her gums. As we pulled into a station, she spotted a dog on the other platform. Desperate to distract the tot, she pointed out the “Ouff, ouff “ to the baby. “Ouff, ouff “echoed the baby. As we pulled out of the station the baby glimpsed an advertisement for a Lion chocolate bar. I followed the direction of her gaze and smiled at her. Immediately, she responded with “Ouaarrrrr”. “Ouaaarrrr”, I agreed back. The black girl chuckled and her bangles laughed too.
The baby was fascinated and the girl unhooked one of the bangles and twirled it round her finger. And then peepo-ed with the baby with her mega-sunglasses that had been perched on her hair. The baby climbed over to sit between us, eyeing my watch as she did so. I flicked my wrist and held it to her ear. It’s a traditional sort of watch and ticks. She sat leaning against the watch and spinning the girl’s bangles.
Pretty soon, we were at my station. We all smiled and baby-waved “bye, bye”, "au revoir", "tot ziens".