I normally walk to work. How blessed am I to be able to do this? Walk as I watch Nairobians’ productivity melt away like the fuel in the engines of their stationary cars in traffic, all this while I practise my Spanish. Blessings upon blessings upon blessings these are! The Kileleshwa-Kilimani environs are residential so I walk past very many houses, apartment blocks, little gated communities, the likes, most of which have watchmen.
Sometimes I think back to something my younger brother pointed out once, that while walking him to the school bus in the mornings, my mother says hi to all the watchmen along the way. He mentioned this wondering how it is possible that she knows them all. I think to myself that if I was my mother, all these guys would be my friends, a smile and a greeting cost nothing, right? Le sigh. I should take my own advice.
As things stand, I walk by all stony faced, probably with my brows furrowed as I try to summon the little Spanish in my head from whatever cracks and crevices it hides in and plead with it to agree to be weaved into something that makes sense. I’m also normally mumbling to myself, probably looking like I have a screw loose in the head. Long story short, each and every morning, I walk past the same guys as I walk to work. Our eyes meet, we recognise each other from the past, one, two, three…ten months that I have been walking to work. A flicker of recognition and then aversion of eyes. Stone-faced on both ends.
Last week, there was this micro-human attempting to walk by his guardian somewhere along my route. Small, unsteady steps. With each I thought he would stumble to the ground but he kept going against all odds, against even the forces of gravity, his skinny little legs kept moving. I saw the two from quite far, micro-human and guardian, and courtesy of the little one’s mirco-steps, I steadily gained on them over time.
Each gate of a house, apartment block or gated community that they walked past, without fail, the little boy, oblivious of the effect he was having on these normally stony-faced watchmen, turned each and every one of them into quite a comical sight. A heart-warming sight. Uniformed men, rapidly gesticulating and incoherently mumbling. They all, without exception, lit up, waved, shouted greetings, did little dances that amused the micro-human.
Why do kids get to have all the fun?
10 months, 10 months I have been walking this same route to work and never before have I been honoured by such a genuine display of…humanity. Is that what it is? I don’t know what else to call it. I do not know the micro-human or his guardian, for all I know they could have been walking that same route three times a day for the past 10 months as well, or this might have been the first time they were walking that way and encountering all these uniformed men and women, but I am willing to bet that if I ran a social experiment and ensured that it was in fact their first encounter, the same thing would happen. The watchmen would be just as gleeful and giving of a little energy to say hello. To make that little boy’s day by making him laugh or returning his greeting or…whatever. Yet I will probably never get such a reaction.
So, what’s the difference?
Besides the obvious, that my legs are not unsteady and that the description micro-human cannot apply to me in any way.
I guess it is a fact that little people have a way of softening even the stoniest amongst us. Their innocence, their cuteness, their yummy-looking-ness, shall I go on? I guess with a child, there is nothing they could be secretly plotting and planning but I think it sad that when we are all grown, we are riddled with distrust. Rather than ‘guilty until proven innocent’, everyone that you are not acquainted with is suspect #1 until proven otherwise.
Not that I am completely blameless and it is solely society’s fault that I am not serenaded with little displays and dances as I walk to work, I bet if I ventured to say hello, they would say hi back. That’s what I will do next week, smile and say hello. I do however wish that we lived in a world where strangers are really just friends you have not met yet rather than strangers being the people you are constantly being warned about because they will drug, rob and perhaps kidnap you.
I wish we could all stay micro-humans on the inside and treat each other as such. Rather than taking the sometimes rough and stony exteriors as the basis of our judgments.