By Fisayo Adejuyigbe
I had not had any noticeable encounter with deviant behavior since I arrived in the country and that was very suspicious. Everywhere I went someone was only too ready to smile at me and ask me how I was doing. It all seemed to me to be superficial and I began to think that some grand conspiracy was at work to prevent me from learning some great secret concealed in the hearts of the American populace. On billboards and in newspapers, a message of goodwill and “tolerance” was preached; I believed the populace had lost its mind and been brainwashed out of individual thinking. Perhaps they were in the control of some alien being as part of a greater and larger plan.
However, an event occurred which showed me how (partly) wrong I was. A couple of weeks into summer, I was invited to the movies by an American friend. I would be part of a larger company, whose members would include my friend’s son, a friend of his and a precocious 5-year-old girl who claimed to be a sibling of the latter. The movie we were to see? Spider-Man.
The journey to the theater went well enough. The 5-year-old specimen chattered, sang and jiggled up and down in her seat. The two boys talked about rappers and basketball and exchanged confidential information in low tones. My friend, the matriarch of the pack, asked me questions about where I came from and I tantalized her with fantastic stories as she oohed and aahed.
We reached the theater safely enough (the seatbelts were still intact) and we disembarked from the steed that had brought us there. Next on the agenda were tickets and popcorn. Tickets I understood, but why movies went with popcorn or why the adherence to such a tradition was effected so religiously was something the little gray cells were still working on. It was expected that I would have popcorn but I declined. Thus off went the matriarch to fetch the pop and the popcorn while I “shepherded” the brood of three into the appropriate movie theater. Previews were playing on the giant screen and we hurried to seat ourselves in a suitable spot. We chose the last row of seats on the high end of the auditorium and settled behind a man with a ferret-like look and a lady whom I presumed correctly to be his girlfriend.
The brood wouldn’t stop chattering and I thought it wasn’t exactly proper behavior but I had been told about American children and their superiority to discipline and the ministry of the good old birch rod, so I held my peace and watched the preview of K-19, somewhat apprehensive because I didn’t know what to expect. The brood, completely oblivious to the presence of fellow moviegoers around them, laughed and wiggled their bodies in strange gymnastic contortions. And then, it happened. The ferret stood up, wheeled round in his place, bared his teeth and hissed unmentionable words at the children. They, not ones to take such insults on one cheek not to mention turning the other, hissed back in reply. The ferret grabbed the chair and told the children that he would “bump into them” or something of the sort and they threw his threat back in his face. Now, if I were in the place of my nativity, I would have definitely intervened but here I was, in a strange environment and unaware of the rules of war.
Worries assailed my mind. “What if he hit the children? What if he grabbed their necks and shook their faces until they were blue?” What was I supposed to do? Luckily enough, the brood trooped out in defiance of the man and went in search of their matriarch. I was temporarily relieved and intrigued. The possibility of seeing battle waged intrigued me and I was sort of interested in seeing what rules obtained in this arena. Upon the return of the entire group, the ferret challenged the matriarch and they exchanged heated words. He threatened violent behavior and breathed blood and guts.
What was I to do?
Confronted with a blatant display of hostility, perhaps somewhat justified, I underwent some moments of reflection on the behavior exhibited by all parties involved in the incident. First, I was instructed as to how dangerous this world really is. Toys do not make a man and you are just about as likely to find beasts in the green forests of some parts of the world as you are in the concrete jungles of others. Secondly, it reinforced my strong suspicion about accepted views about civilization. To me it certainly seemed that civilization was not in the country as much as it was in the man.