Sunday, the 8th of November 2009, was just another ordinary gloomy winter day in London but I will always remember it as a day I learnt something important. I can’t speak for everyone but I have noticed that sometimes common people do and say a thing which tends to have a meaningful impact on one; and yes such incidents definitely don’t take place everyday which marks them as a distinguished occurrence. Such events sometimes reinforce my very ‘agnostic belief’ that all of God’s creation is at a certain point and place in time for a reason.

In order to get some routine groceries, which most of us from Pakistan can only get from the east quarter of London, I set out on my mission to go to Green Street. I call it a mission because it is almost like crossing the ‘line of control’ stepping into Bus No. 25 from Stratford station. There is a constant war for space! Physically I don’t occupy much space in this world (unless I start talking and come across as someone with plans of world domination) due to my thin stature, and so as always I managed to squeeze into the crowd on the bus.

Casually listening to some music on my iPod and few minutes into the bus ride I noticed a woman and a child who probably had been standing next to me all this while. The woman must have been about 30 years old, thin, not too dark and not too light complexion; average looking with long braided hair and was a typical depiction of a young middle-class mother from Pakistan who spoke relatively fluent English language but chose to wear her traditional dress, Salwar Kameez. Her child on the other hand was extremely fair, had blonde eyelashes, blonde hair and couldn’t have been more than 3 to 4 years of age. He was dressed in light blue pyjamas and jumper and a knitted warm muffler covering his head. The child looked like he was from the north western frontier part of Pakistan.

The moment I noticed the mother and child was when a perfectly healthy middle-aged African American woman took the liberty to sit on a seat which had just been made vacant and the mother politely requested “excuse me but can you please let my son sit here, he is very small and tired”. These were what we call ‘priority seats’ but the woman had the audacity to just look at the mother and say “So?” and carry on sitting there. If I ever did this to someone I would probably rebuild the World Trade Centre and jump off it! The chaotic bus ride that it was, no one bothered to stand up for the mother. And no, I did no such heroic thing as well. I was however disappointed in the very essence of human nature – selfishness.

Most of my friends know I lack that motherly instinct in me for some reason and I have no fear in openly accepting this; although it definitely is a repellent to all my marriage prospects. But just as healthy beings it is perhaps courteous if not our duty to take care of those weaker than us including elderly, children, disabled, pregnant women, animals etc. It gives me immense pleasure at times to see young people offering their seats to elderly in the subway and just brings a smile to my face. It brings alive my almost dead optimism in the goodness of human beings.

To go on with my ‘God of small things’ story, the child innocently enquired from his mother “why didn’t she let me sit mommy?” and trust me this child was an angel – he was not loud, he was not crying, he was not that obnoxious little creature that I term as ‘kids’, but an epitome of innocence. I hate to admit this but I felt a little protective about the child if not motherly. The mother then told the kid “sweetheart it is bad people who do such things and promise me that when you grow up you will never do this to anyone”. I overheard this casual remark, looked at the mother, smiled and then just cracked up. I just have a habit of finding amusement in the most serious of life’s lessons. I actually laughed because I felt sorry for the woman who was unable to give up something as small as a seat for a child i.e. her comfort. I am not sure if the child understood what the mother meant but I am sure with such constant reinforcements from his mother despite how people treat them, he will grow up to be a decent human being.

It was at this point I realized how easy it was for that mother to forgive and find a positive reinforcer for her child from a negative experience. So what did the child learn? He learnt that very basic feeling which differentiates ‘good’ from ‘bad’, ‘piety’ from ‘evil’ and perhaps ‘life’ from ‘death’. And in this spirit I finally called my friend after an extended ego battle to find that strength in our relationship after a meaningless conflict. Perhaps something good could come out of a bad experience?

The bus finally stopped and a seat was made vacant. I marked my territory on the seat by placing my bag on it, took the child’s hand and made him sit. The mother was very grateful for this and it all ended well. Although, it didn’t end too well on my corner of the world but then again, I am sure there is something positive in this too.

By Sana Hameed Baba

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