I sat on the platform at Greenwich station, waiting for the local to New York, Grand Central. It was cold, yes, but I was well coated and gloved and hatted, and I enjoyed that bit of frostiness that nipped at my nose. I sat on a bench, next to an elderly lady and listened to a guy further up the platform on the phone to his friends.
“Hi Bob, how ya’ doin’? I just called to wish you Happy Holidays. Look, we’re having an open house on Saturday if you’re free. Sure, that’ll be great. Lookin’ forward ta’ seein’ ya!. And then “Hi Shirley, I just called to wish you Happy Holidays, did you get the email about our open house on Saturday? We’d love to see ya!”
He was loud and jovial and if he’d called me with that invitation I would have thought, how how much fun it sounds and I would have accepted. The lady next to me didn’t like it at all.
“I wish he’d be quiet,” she told me. “We don’t want to hear about his Xmas party.”
“Really?” I responded, “I was just thinking how cheerful he sounds. It’s going to be a fun party.”
She huffed and she puffed. I thought “Bah Humbug!” But I didn’t say it. Just at that moment the train pulled in. I got up from the bench. I said “Merry Xmas” and then moved down the platform so that I wouldn’t be in the same carriage as her.
I walked out of Grand Central Station onto 42nd street and into the sounds of xmas carols being blasted from a rather bad sound system. There was a guy dressed as a really bad Father Xmas jangling a bell and dancing. There were two Salvation Army guys doing the same. It was a bit ridiculous, but it’s xmas and xmas has full rights to being ridiculous. It’s joyful and it’s fun. I love it.
I started singing along. ‘…oh what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh’. I was still humming as I stood on the side of the road looking for a taxi to hale, but I stopped humming when I realised that the person in front of me, who was also waiting for a taxi to hail, was looking at me like he wanted to strangle me. I wonder if that was because I was humming, or because I was too close to him, while we were taxi hailing. I didn’t stick around to find out. I thought, ‘Bah humbug’, and I walked on up the road. I got a taxi on Madison.
I don’t know New York like the back of my hand, exactly, but I can count. If the place that I’m going is uptown and the taxi is turning downtown I can see that. My taxi driver was Jamaican. I could hear that from his accent. He had also heard my accent and decided that it wasn’t an intelligent one. That is the only explanation. I was going to The Museum of Modern Art; popularly know as MoMA.
I asked him. “Where is MoMA, what’s the address?”
“Isn’t it on 53rd ?”, he asked
“It’s on 53rd between 5th and 6th, aren’t we going the wrong way?” I Responded.
“Oooh, my bad, I don’t know what I was thinking”. He had the good grace to turn off his meter. But I had to ask.
“Is it because of my accent? Are you taking me on a long ride around town because you don’t think I know my way around?”
“NOooo, I wouldn’t do that. Look I’ve turned off the meter, I am so sorry. I wasn’t thinking”, he gushed. Then he asked me “Where are you from?”
‘South Africa”, I’m always so proud to announce that.
“Are you related to Nelson Mandela?” He asked me. I think that’s an extra-ordinary thing to ask. So I had to enquire of him. “What would make you think I was related to Nelson Mandela?”
“It’s your look and your manner, the way you speak,” he said, “You seem kind-a regal”.
You know, it doesn’t take much to put a smile on my face and a charge on my ego. I’m a simple African girl who is a sucker for hearing stuff like that. Me?-Regal?-Huge beaming smile on my face-Ego boost-Internal smug little simper!
“Really? Well, actually I’m not related to Nelson Mandela, but I am related to Oliver Tambo”. Now I was being a little flirty, because he’d paid me the compliment of calling me regal. Yes, that’s all it takes.
“Who’s Oliver Tambo?” He asked.
Well, from flirty to Regal went I in a snap. “Who is Oliver Tambo?” My accent got very much more snootily English, my tone said, ‘regally’, ‘don’t be so ignorant’. “Oliver Tambo is the person who led the ANC for thirty years while Nelson Mandela was in jail”. I would have said more, but we arrived at MOMA, and it was just as well.
Don’t tell me, I know. It was unnecessary. He can’t be expected to know and etcetera, yes, I know. I paid the five dollars and got out of the cab. I did, at least, wish him Happy Holiday. As I walked into MOMA I was chuckling to myself. What can I say? He was being ignorant about my Daddy.