Language Exchange

Walking toward Thunderbird Square outside City Hall the other evening, a few meters ahead I notice a man examining the sole of his shoe. Dog doo? I wonder. A woman waits beside him on a bicycle. As I come alongside them and am about to say hello (as is my habit when I meet oncoming strangers during my walks) the woman says, “Sorry, ma’am.”

That piques my curiosity. Why would a couple minding their own business on summer evening need to apologize? Why the contrition? And why “ma’am”?

Perhaps two years post retirement I haven’t lost the schoolmarm aura. The way you can always tell a cop–even an ex-cop years after. Perhaps some teacher-vibe still hangs around like a bad smell. Might it be I’m white and they’re not? Is it an ingrained auto-default to colonizer and colonized? Does my age make them think they have offended? Or am I unaware that they have misbehaved in some way?

“Sorry? Sorry for what?” I ask.

“The language, ma’am.” Whatever it was, I didn’t hear it. But I notice her discomfort.

“What fucking language?” I dead pan with angry force on the fucking.

A moment of stunned silence. Then we all crack up. Laughter: the great leveler, eraser of inequities, and warm human bond.



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