A Man in Flowered Bathing Cap

How ludicrous he seemed upon the wood-slat bench. His head erect, back straight, feet flat upon the deck, he could have been nobility, had not his dress belied his pose. He wore a polyester floral blouse, and on his head, a bathing cap replete with plastic rose, and high-heel shoes with heals broke off, but did not seem effeminate. We sat, one place removed along the third-class bench, grateful for the child at mother’s breast between us. The benches filled. Shoulder touching shoulder but still in solitude. The engine rumbled into life. The purser and the rattle of the anchor chain announced our leave. An apprehension shuddered through the deck and people as we left. One by one, upon the deck, our deck-mates spread a patch of cloth to catch the remnants of their meager lunch. This seeming ritual complete, the cloth was folded carefully, carried to the rail, and rinsed at a convenient tap. Except the man, one place away, who sat unmoved. Each change of course or wind renewed the ritual, the smell of puke. At our discomfort with the smell, the strange man smiled apology and understood when we succumbed to the allure of second class. He helped us move our packs and bags. In second class we sat on cushioned  seats and had the cabin to ourselves. The man, our guest for boiled rice and beans politely asked, “Where are you from?” and then “Do you have childs?” We lied and answered “Yes, and you?” He, answered “No, I have no land and could not feed a family.” Educated at a mission,  his village gave him roof and food, and in gratitude he taught the children English. He understood the purpose of our trip but felt the need to ask, “Does it cost much?” “Oh no,” I said with undue pride.” “We’ve traveled  from Nairobi, ten days, nine nights for only fifty dollars.”  His shock was real and in his wonderment he gasped, “Oh, so many shoes!”. “So many shoes?” I asked and he continued on in softer tone, “For the children. To stop the worm.” By worm he meant Bilharzia, the painfully debilitating parasite. It enters through bare feet and all that wealth could buy so many shoes to save the children from such pain. His simple comment pricked my pride and left me at a loss for words. Though diesel fumes and humming deck, disturbed the night, my sleep was held at bay not by the smell and noise, but by my conscience wakened by a man in flowered bathing cap.
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved

A Man in Flowered Bathing Cap

How ludicrous he seemed upon the wood-slat bench. His head erect, back straight, feet flat upon the deck, he could have been nobility, had not his dress belied his pose. He wore a polyester floral blouse, and on his head, a bathing cap replete with plastic rose, and high-heel shoes with heals broke off, but did not seem effeminate. We sat, one place removed along the third-class bench, grateful for the child at mother’s breast between us. The benches filled. Shoulder touching shoulder but still in solitude. The engine rumbled into life. The purser and the rattle of the anchor chain announced our leave. An apprehension shuddered through the deck and people as we left. One by one, upon the deck, our deck-mates spread a patch of cloth to catch the remnants of their meager lunch. This seeming ritual complete, the cloth was folded carefully, carried to the rail, and rinsed at a convenient tap. Except the man, one place away, who sat unmoved. Each change of course or wind renewed the ritual, the smell of puke. At our discomfort with the smell, the strange man smiled apology and understood when we succumbed to the allure of second class. He helped us move our packs and bags. In second class we sat on cushioned  seats and had the cabin to ourselves. The man, our guest for boiled rice and beans politely asked, “Where are you from?” and then “Do you have childs?” We lied and answered “Yes, and you?” He, answered “No, I have no land and could not feed a family.” Educated at a mission,  his village gave him roof and food, and in gratitude he taught the children English. He understood the purpose of our trip but felt the need to ask, “Does it cost much?” “Oh no,” I said with undue pride.” “We’ve traveled  from Nairobi, ten days, nine nights for only fifty dollars.”  His shock was real and in his wonderment he gasped, “Oh, so many shoes!”. “So many shoes?” I asked and he continued on in softer tone, “For the children. To stop the worm.” By worm he meant Bilharzia, the painfully debilitating parasite. It enters through bare feet and all that wealth could buy so many shoes to save the children from such pain. His simple comment pricked my pride and left me at a loss for words. Though diesel fumes and humming deck, disturbed the night, my sleep was held at bay not by the smell and noise, but by my conscience wakened by a man in flowered bathing cap.
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved