Age and youth

A middle-aged man sat in the window seat of a Mash bus which was heading to Mombasa from Nairobi. He was dressed in a khanzu suit with the top two buttons open, probably from the Coast or a Swahili background.

In the seat next to him was a young Muslim man of Indian descent dressed in jeans, and wearing a white crocheted Islamic cap with a golden thread pattern.

An hour from Mtito Andei, the older man turned around, and with a deep exhale, he said, “Mschana. We have been sitting next to each other for the last 4 hours.”

“I have to say something.”

He let off an irrepressible sound of disgust, what my aunt G****** called a “soya sauce” because of the sound that the cheek’s sucking action made against the teeth.

The young man lifted an eyebrow, and turned to look at him. He casually pulled an earphone out of his left ear.

“There are 2 seats here divided by this seat rest in the middle,” the older gentleman continued. “But you insist on sitting with your legs spread so far apart that your knee keeps crossing into my space!”

His brow furrowed as if scolding a child.

“And since I have now spoken, this arm rest here.” He gestured with his hand.

“There is just one and it is supposed to be shared but for the last 4 hours you have put your whole arm on it leaving no space for me.”

“So,” he finished, roughly pushing the young boy’s left knee, clad in faded blue jeans, to the right, “this is where your space ends and mine begins.”

He indicated an invisible line with the palm of his hand, and stopping for emphasis continued, “Remember that for the next 4 hours of this bus journey.”

He took his first deep breath since starting his speech and leaned back in his chair, adjusting the angle of his legs and carefully placing his right elbow on half the armrest.

The young man glanced at him and with a shrug that said, “Oh the ramblings of an old man; I will continue to sit how I like” he smirked, plugged his earphones back in and snuggled into his chair, pushing his back lower down the seat and spreading his knees wide apart.

The old man, worn out from his outburst, was gazing out the window with his back to his seatmate. He never even noticed as his right arm slipped off the armrest and the youth placed his on the expanse.

March 15 2012


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