To tell the truth, I have never been fond of children, especially infants who tend to smile at me for no apparent reason.
One of the few things that make my journeys by public transport awful is sharing a seat with a woman whose child keeps on tugging my clothing and wiping nose on my attire.
More often than not, the mother will be busy munching her food, completely oblivious of the hard time I would be going through. What exacerbates the situation is that no matter how much I dislike the creepy and irritating maneuvers, I cannot bring myself to openly complain about my discomfiture. Only once or twice have I succeeded in feigning sleep and thereby dissolving the child’s interest.
On this day much was in store for me. The bus grounded to halt, blowing a thick cloud of dust as it was travelling in a dusty road from Mashoko Mission to Jerera. I wriggled my way amid the pushing and shoving of passengers whose three-hour wait in the scorching sun seemed to have injected more energy into their limbs instead of sapping it.
There was no way I could not have been first to board the bus, considering that my competitors were mostly toddlers and women with babies on their backs. I ran my eyes down the narrow row of seats and spotted a three-seater occupied by only one passenger not counting the baby on her lap.
Disregarding all repulsive forces against my occupying that seat, I slide my satchel underneath the seat and sat down. The next passenger to get in apparently the strongest of women whose challenge I had effortlessly brushed aside, sat next to me. To my dismay she too had a baby. There I was then, between the devil and the deep blue sea.
As soon as the woman transferred the child from her back to her lap, the toddler bared its red gums at me. I smiled back but was fully conscious that mine was a fake one. Why was he smiling at me? Whatever it was I could not reconcile myself to it. Maybe I was really a wicked person.
I cast a furtive glance at the woman on my right. She was mercilessly chewing some chicken leg. I told myself that the woman had some breakfast (probably a heavy one) before boarding the bus. I also told myself that she would have reached her destination before lunch time.
There was certainly no need for her to munch and chomp so noisily in the bus. While musing at this spectacle, I felt a slight tug at my pair of trousers and looked down to meet a pair of stein red eyes planted on me.
The child on my right hand become awake and the arrival of a newcomer appeared to interest him. Out of convention, for I am essentially a tolerant person who strives not to openly flout social expectations, I parted in one of my plastic smiles. The child frowned at me. I was stunned. I did not expect such a reaction from one whose class I had for long and only moments ago unflinchingly associated with vanity.
In my shock, however, there was some tinge of hope. Maybe some of these kids were beginning to see the light and were intending on behaving rationally.
A stranger is a stranger and I wondered if the child was silently labelling me a fool for parting my thick lips at him for no obvious reason. Whatever had crossed the child’s mind would have gone down well with me had the young blighter stopped clawing my pair of trousers.
I could feel some distant anger welling up inside me. If the young fellow did not want anything to do with me, as the frown suggested, then it had to be entire. It was like having someone telling you he did not want to talk to you and yet went on to call you all sorts of ugly names. I again looked at the mother, hopping that she will notice and intervene.
She was now through with the chicken bone and was peeling an orange with the same uncompromised determination. Some of the emitted juice irritated my eyes temporarily forcing me to look away from her. When I next looked at her, she had taken down half the orange. The woman took her time to swallow the bits of the fruit while I looked at her child up and down at her the way a hungry pet follows the hand movements of its dining master. She read the message and rubbed her hands together to dry them up. She calmly reached down the child and wrapped it up neatly in a shawl.
As quietly mused over the apparently forthcoming relief, the woman surprised me. She smugly lifted the child from her lap and squarely put it on mine. Without a word she folded her arms across her chest and looked straight in front. Her child jumped upwards. On her face was imprinted that expression which easily translates to the question ”any moment?” I did not have any as yet. The other woman on my left did not appear interested or even aware of the development.
”Madam” I said coolly, ”I am not good at handling young ones and I am feeling a bit drowsy too. I am afraid the child may fall down”.
”Who would blame you for dropping your own child?” was the retort. ”Everyone”, I answered, ”A child is everyone’s child as you are saying yourself”. The woman turned to face me straight in the eyes, flashing her head faster than a soldier would do upon the drill command “eyes front”.
”I mean the child is yours”, she said almost choking over her own words.
Or should I say the child is ours” I was puzzled. ”I dont think I am getting you, lady” ”You don’t?” she asked and then continued, ”I mean the child on your lap is yours. You and I went to bed and this child was born as a result”.
The sudden attention from the other passengers told me she had spoken loud enough to be heard by everyone in the bus. I was still sure that the woman was joking. What I could not understand was why she had decided to joke so filthily.
“Okay mama.” I said to sound as calm and as convincing as possible. ”It’s either you take your child back or I throw it out through the window.” She smiled wickedly, ”You are at liberty husband. I think I have told you already.” I could not understand why but little doubt remained in my heart that what this woman was saying was that I was the biological father of the small creature on my lap. The child was now pulling my tie as if to choke me for arguing with the mother. ”Stupid witch!” I yelled. ”Take away your rabbit and for goodness’ sake stop fooling around with me”. She neither responded nor showed any signs of being perturbed by my outburst.
”What really is the matter?” asked the other woman. ”I don’t know what some cock and bull story this old prostitute is trying to…”. A stinging clap right across my face stopped me. I counted several stars and before I could see again a quick flurry of punches rained all over my head. The punches eventually ceased and upon regaining my senses I saw that the aggressor was being held back by an elderly passenger.
The baby had been removed from my lap by someone I hardly noticed. Small droplets of blood trickled from my nose and suddenly I sprang to my feet and threw a punch that would have floored a heavy weight boxing champion. It was a punch calculated to dismember the head from the neck. My arm was held in its flight by another passenger before I could land the telling blow and I paid the price for it. The woman took a diving header at me and for a moment I thought my head had been cleft into nice neat halves. I slumped back onto the seat but was glad to notice that the impact had taken its toll on the attacker as well whose head hung loosely on the neck.
The bus had in the meantime pulled off the road and stopped. I was led out and bend down and pinch my nose to stop the bleeding. From the clean shaven chin, thick moustache and raspy speech, I guested that the man who was administering first aid on me was a police officer.
A couple of youths were apparently having a good time over the episode as they giggled and made silly remarks. Never had I felt so angry and yet so helpless. We were making no progress and the officer duly resolved that the case be dealt with at the next police station along the way. But before all the pass angers were back in the bus, another bus arrived and parked by the roadside. Two women disembarked from that bus and boarded ours. As they approached I could clearly see signs of profound relief on their faces: they had found the person they were looking for. My suspicions were soon confirmed, the wild woman had escaped from a mental asylum.
Written by Phillip Madzivire