“Excuse me, do you speak English? “, a random South Asian stranger asked me. I couldn’t tell if he was Indian or Pakistani, but he definitely was a Muslim.
Now, whenever I hear those words, my metal GPS springs into action. There’s nothing more embarrassing than not being able to tell someone the general direction of a street or station. It’s a prestige issue for me. I like to think I am a stud at directions.
Anyhow, in that split second I knew that this wasn’t going to be a conversation about directions. The thing is, I had ten minutes to kill. I was a little early for an appointment, and I was ambling about anyway. So he asks me, “Why don’t people live with their families here in London”. Somehow the conversation suddenly morphed into one in Hindi.
I was quick to judge him. I thought he was going to tell me that the British don’t care about their parents, and everyone here believes in deserting their parents. I was steeling myself for that bit. Except he said, “There are so many people from all over the world here, I suppose they cannot always bring their entire families with them”. And he just looked so sad.
So I told him well, it makes more sense, given how small houses in cities are, or how people really prefer to be in their own space. He nodded. He said “My brother got married recently, and he wants me to move in with him. My life maybe easier, but I don’t want to disturb them. He doesn’t understand that. But it will be easier, I can’t even make tea.”.
Now that annoyed me. I tell him that making tea is a relatively simple process that can be mastered in about five minutes. He says he works for twelve hours, so he doesn’t have the time. I tell him half the world works for twelve hours, they manage to make their tea and their dinner. He asks me what I should do. He also tells me about the rest of his family. But my ten minutes of free-time were almost up. I tell him, “Talk to your brother. “. He tells me I am right. Says his Salaam, wishes me and my family well, thanks me for talking to him like his sister, and walks away.
Later on the phone with WA, and ask her why random strangers tend to feel so free to come and talk to me. She gives me a very unflattering explanation.