When ‘they’ is not ‘all’
Fuming, I knew that later I would (or should) be laughing, but I wasn’t laughing yet.
Earlier that morning, I had stood waiting for public transport to Bangkok. Van after van blasted past me. Apparently not too many empty seats were available at 8 a.m. Finally, a van pulled over. “Victory Monument,” called out the fare collector as a passenger alighted. I eagerly started forward, but stopped short when I reached the door. Craning my neck to see into the back rows, I could identify no empty seat.
“Climb in, climb in,” urged the fare collector.
“But, but … there’s no room,” I protested.
“Here, right here,” she said to me, and then to the fellow female passengers on the already-full second bench back, “Make room, will you?”
They accordingly scooted, I hesitated, (weighing the options of a squashy van ride versus being late for my appointment), and then the woman in line behind me jumped into the recently-created open spot.
The fare collector, undaunted, turned to a young man (one of a group of three male technical college students) in the front bench. “Sit over there,” she ordered, indicating the narrow quasi-bench behind the front passenger’s seat. He promptly moved, I vacillated one millisecond longer, and then leaped into the van as it began to roll forward.
My right leg pressed uncomfortably against the friend of the relocated young man. I attempted to shift left to amend this culturally inappropriate and personally uncomfortable situation, only to squeeze against the fare collector, who was half-crouching, half-standing on the running board. Repositioning myself diagonally would only bring me knee-to-knee with the first young man.
“Sixty baht,” said the fare collector.
I considered screaming, “You think I’m going to pay you for this farce? You should pay me for not reporting you for overcrowding this van.”
Instead, I unsmilingly handed over the 60 baht. “They’ll be getting off very soon,” she soothed, indicating the giggling and hormonal technical college students.
“Very soon” equated 25 minutes, after which the three stooges dismounted, still snickering and jibing at one another.
I had twisted 45 degrees to let them pass by. When I turned back, I was amazed to see a small, middle-aged woman tucked – no, crunched — into the far corner of the same bench I was occupying. I moved into the middle seat of the bench and hesitantly glanced over at her.
She ventured a wan and sympathetic smile, and a wry smile wobbled its way onto my face.
“Hello, friend,” said my smile. “I didn’t realize you were here, too.”
“We made it,” hers said.
“And thank goodness it’s over,” we smiled together.
And all my thoughts of “I-can’t-believe-I-have-to-live-in-a-country-where-they-do-things-like-this,” melted away in the empathy of this very ordinary woman.
Because they really is not “all” or “everyone.” It really is just “some.”
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