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Voicing Silence 7

Sunday, May 15, 2016

What Would You Do?

This afternoon, I went to our local leisure centre to use their steam room and sauna. I had an hour to kill before it was time to collect my son and the leisure centre is across the road and I couldn't think of a better way to spend a tenner and so I went. No sooner had I settled into a corner of the steam room than I heard a voice ask me, 'are you from India?'. Yes, I nodded before it struck me that if I couldn't see the person clearly neither could he. Yes, I said. To this he (by now I could make out a dim outline of a man) volunteered in a very heavy accent 'My country Bangladesh' and then went on to ask me if I lived locally and if I was living with my family (yes and yes, I answered) and told me that he worked in a local Indian restaurant as a chef and that I should visit them if I hadn't already.

Having exhausted his arsenal of polite questions to ask a rank stranger, he fell silent. Shortly, I left the steam room to take a shower before dipping into the jacuzzi. But the man had beat me to it and settled himself in the bubble pool straight from the steam room (not paying heed to the suggestion that we shower before entering the pool). I was acutely aware that it was just the two of us in the area and I felt myself growing distinctly uncomfortable at the thought of sharing the space with him.

Part of me wanted to get into the jacuzzi. after all what could happen? But there was a larger voice screaming caution. Because every time I have gone swimming in India, I have had to contend with unwanted attention and stray hands that have 'accidentally' touched and grabbed me. So much so that what was perhaps an innocent attempt at making conversation set alarms bells ringing in my head. I decided to ignore the warnings and slid into the jacuzzi pool determined not to make eye contact with the said man. Mercifully, he seemed to have got the message too and no small talk was exchanged.

It was only on my drive back home that I wondered if I had judged the man too soon. And if my reaction would have been different if he'd had a different skin colour and if his accent had not been so pronounced. It is very likely that I would not have had the mental tussle if that had been the case. And that's the sad truth. What would your reaction have been?