Friday, January 27, 2012

This is kind of why I hesitate to take a seat on the subway sometimes

I'm leaning against a pole inside a Line 1 train when I hear a man sitting close to me say to a woman standing next to him, What's that question supposed to mean?

She had asked if there was a seat -- 有坐儿吗?

Do you mean you want to sit? he asks brusquely. His tone is sharp, his voice loud.


He seems willing to stand but then decides better of it.

What do you mean is there a seat? Do you see any seats?

Indeed all the seats are taken. But now the two of them are both speaking loudly, attracting attention. I look left and see an older man with gray whiskers. His eyes are wide, his body tense. Swiftly, he moves over. He has an iron posture -- I know this because he nudged me out of the way -- and he stands up for the lady by planting himself next to her. Perhaps he's her husband, ready to put up his fists if the seated man dares touch her.

How can you talk like that? she asks.

Talk like what? the seated man demands.

I just asked you a question.

You asked if there was a seat. Is there a seat? I'm sitting right here and you ask if there's a seat?

She was just asking a question, the old man interjects, leaning in, shaking his finger. Their arms brush against one another.

Asking if there is a seat. What do you mean is there a seat? Does it look like there's a seat Where do you want to sit? Here? He signals at his lap.

Two more men, who are younger, come over. One stands next to the lady and joins the bickering, their Mandarin accented (unlike the seated one, who appears to be from Beijing). Everyone is staring at them. We're approaching Dongdan station, my stop.

The young one next to me leans into the seated man. Sit down, he says. Stop pointing your finger. Then, pointing his finger: Who talks like you just did? Was her question not right?

The man hesitates briefly. No, he says. I'll tell you why. You see me sitting there. So what do you mean, "Is there a seat?"

It's here that I had to get off.

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