They were pubescent and perhaps a tad immature the two girls on that train. At that age the thrill is in rebellion and non-conformity. The irony, of course, is that non-conformity is itself the ultimate form of conformity. There is not a single fad under the sun, nor ideology, nor fashion sense that does not find company in the minds of a significant number of others. I give you the Goths as an example; they rebel by piercing various parts of their bodies, dyeing their hair, using eye shadow liberally and slapping their faces with paint and powder. And yet are they really different from the half a billion other Goths you see around? They are so different in fact that they outnumber the so-called clean cut kids one sees in any given school these days. But here I am again, doing what I do best, digressing. We must return to the tale of those two girls on the train.
So there they sat, nattering and tattling, those two girls on the train, observing, yet disregarding, their fellow commuters on the southbound District line. It must have been sometime between 6 and 6.30 pm, for the carriage was only three quarters full, and most of its occupants had at least one seat available, except those that elected to stand. The girls possessed, to a magnified degree, that ugly quality that we humans hold, to identify the physical imperfections in another, and to scrutinise, and to ridicule and to quietly rejoice that we are free of that flaw.
This was a trip that the two girls made routinely and they would whittle away the minutes by indulging in their favourite pastime – prejudice and prejudgment. As I have said, it is a game that we all play in one form or the other. Most people have the good grace to jettison the malicious thoughts the moment they enter our minds, others will go one step further and whisper between themselves, children will point, our girls spoke out loud. You see they had a secret weapon in their armoury – a foreign language. Though they had adopted the mannerisms and dress sense of the young British afro-carribean, they still spoke Yoruba with a verve and fluency that did not allow for easy interpretation by the idle eavesdropper. Theirs was not the corrupted Yoruba of the Lagosian, infused with lazy slang and Westernisms, no theirs was conc Yoruba. It was the Yoruba of the natives, the kind that Oduduwa himself would have spoken even as he laid his head to rest all those many years ago.
And so it was that their target today was a middle aged, white man who sat directly opposite them on the train – a most un-Yoruba looking of gentlemen. He was of unspectacular appearance but one of the girls had decided to take offence at the existence of his blotchy, bulbous nose, his parched skin and his old, slightly tatty , clothes. The other girl had gladly joined in the verbal beatdown – conformity abides.
Oh! How that poor man's appearance was corroded with those tongues of acid. They abused him from Earls Court to Parsons Green. Parsons Green to Fulham Broadway. Even at Putney Bridge there was no let up to their vitriolic comments and laughter. The gentleman sat down concentrating on his newspaper, occasionally putting it down to check the name of the station, oblivious to the insults that were raining on his head.
As the train approached Southfields station he folded his newspaper neatly and parked it into his old leather briefcase and rose from his seat. He was an ungainly man and his rise was far from graceful, yet when he stood at full height and ambled towards the door there was something faintly magnificent and noble about his gait. Before reaching the door he turned and looked at the girls, who were still playing their game, regarding them properly for the first time. He looked at the girls square in the face and said to them "Thank you for your very kind words. May your future children live good lives and may they bear no resemblance to their witch-mothers" He spoke in flawless Yoruba.
The train slowed to a halt and the doors parted. He strode unto the platform and he would not have seen the look of inimitable shock registered on the girl’s faces, nor would he have witnessed as they sat there, mouths agape, remaining speechless, for the rest of their journey and for evermore. He would not have seen any of that, the most un-Yoruba looking of gentlemen.