Men in passing: in three short acts
Act one: A street encounter with manpower
My small apartment on the outskirts of Tokyo was Spartan in its furnishing. All there was, when I moved in, consisted of a traditional Japanese futon bedding, a tiny table with two narrow chairs, and a coffee table in front of a TV set. I subsequently bought an ottoman and a rather interesting, design-wise, small, legless, foldable sofa that added a bit of comfort to my otherwise Zen domestic existence.
I acquired the latter at a nearby second-hand shop I had accidentally come across one day, while wandering around the neighborhood in a reconnoitering mission, and then found myself carrying it through a maze of small winding streets that follow no logic in terms of numbering---underestimating both its weight and the distance I had to cover while carrying it, not to mention my lack of familiarity with the area.
So, there I was, carrying a sofa and lost in an apparently deserted neighborhood, wondering where the inhabitants for this mega city were when one needed them when I finally came across a young man. “Sumimasen,” I uttered in my almost non-existent Japanese and thrust upon him my home address scribbled in Japanese characters, in a much used by now piece of paper I was carrying with me everywhere---in case I get lost or need to give directions to taxi drivers.
The young man, who spoke some English that sounded fluent to my desperate for intelligible words ears, readily obliged by using his phone navigator and then offering not only to show me the way but to also carry my sofa.
When I objected out of politeness, trying hard not to show my relief, his reply was “But I am the man!” expressing surprise that I might have thought otherwise. To which I had no reply and gracefully accepted his offer, leaving my feminist sermon on women being able to carry their own sofas for another day, when I had no sofa to carry.
Act two: A café encounter with old fashioned courting
I don’t remember how I started talking to this middle-aged Quebecois, who turned out to be French in the end. I do remember though how our conversation ended. With an invitation to have drinks with him that night at one of Montreal’s upmarket hotels.
I remember wondering silently if this was a local chat up line, inviting random women to hotels for drinks. Or something old men used to do in France back in time. It seemed to me this man had been out of circulation for a while; out of touch with what is the current trend in flirting with strangers. His wife, I found out during our conversation, had died of cancer not long ago. He seemed lonely but in an extroverted kind of way, the sociable kind who hopes a random encounter might still be his surprise salvation from loneliness.
He stopped in passing to remark on something or other, while I was responding to emails on my laptop, taking advantage of the café’s free wifi, with frequent stops to slice a generous piece out of that divinely dense vegan chocolate cake that could bring salvation in times of crisis. We started talking. About everything and anything, it seemed. But mostly about local and global politics, history and the world economic crisis. The latter was the focal point. An eclectic conversation menu given the circumstances.
He complimented me. ‘It’s rare’, he said, ‘to meet a younger woman with such good knowledge of history’. I frequently find myself in these situations where I get engaged in absorbing conversations with much older men, like this rotund, red cheeked, shortish Scottish history professor, with whom I had spent hours talking about the connection between European colonialism and current UK politics during a field trip---both of us ignoring our age difference and flirting over history. We were so absorbed that after a short break, he must have felt embarrassed and avoided me for the rest of the time, much to my disappointment---leaving me craving for more stimulating conversations over the fate of Scotland’s independent future.
The Frenchman stood there, in front of my table, during the entire conversation which must have lasted about 40 minutes and at last offered his invitation for drinks but with a resignation already in his voice, knowing he was pushing his luck. He had no qualms about flirting with a much younger woman, unlike my Scottish professor. I guess French men have no qualms over such matters.
He gave me his card, a photographer it said on it, his profession of a past life.
Act three: A taxi encounter with patriarchy
“Did your husband get a job there then?” asked my Indian taxi driver on way to the airport, assuming that it was a husband that brought me this far away from my country of origin.
“No”, I answer rather dryly, knowing where this was leading.
“Where is he then?” pursuing the matter further, assuming there was a husband, victim of migration that separated us temporarily.
“Nowhere, I don't have one. I go where my career takes me.” I’ve never wanted to be woman whose destiny has been shaped by a man. When I get questioned by random strangers on the whereabouts of my husband or man, I feel my feminist button pushed hard.
“So, what are you going to do with your life then? Wonder aimlessly around the world?” came his astonishingly scolding reply, implying I needed a husband and a family to give meaning to my obviously void of meaning existence.
I could write a long critique of patriarchy on this statement alone, letting all my feminist venom out.