It is my blessed luck that I get to pass by both the fire station and military barracks on my way to school each day. At 7 am, a half dozen men in blue stand around another, who is slowly sweeping the ground under the tree outside the fire station. They watch as he stoops over with his little bundle of twigs and brushes the night's collection of natural refuse away from the premises.
"Hello boss lady."
"Good morning champion lady."
"Ooh white angel."
I shape the politest dismissive smile I can muster and move a bit faster, pushing my earbuds in deeper. Cat Power will never drown them out completely, but I can always shrug and say, "sorry, can't hear you." I will one day make fun of them in Mandinka, but I'm saving it up, I have 150 more days of school to pass by them after all. I will say something in the tone of an old man telling an important proverb, "How many firemen does it take to sweep up a leaf?"
They will be shocked. They will regret all the times they talked about me as I walked by, assuming I didn't understand it. I will keep walking and add my last bit, "Seven. One to hold the broom and the rest to make sure the leaf doesn't get away." But for now, I'll let them put more lewd comments about my lopey
into the karmic bank. For now I'll walk by.
My passing the barracks is normally a bit less charming. "SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. Hey. Can I talk to you?"
"Accuse me, one moment please."
They actually want me to stop. Guns and uniforms make it tempting in order to avoid problems, and were this one of my first 1,000 encounters with such, I might actually fall for it. They are really just boys when I look closer, and despite the unwanted attention, I'm glad I'm a woman because they will never turn viscious on me. They stand outside these fake painted tanks at the gates of the barracks, always at attention and looking like protectors of a nation. But up close they are just bored young men hoping for some digits. They could be anywhere.
Before I ever get to them, I first pass Mr. Jallow. He's a big deal, or dressed like one, and sits on a little bench in front of his vehicle in the morning in his suit and tie holding the paper. I'm not sure where the bench comes from, because I never see it when I come back through in the afternoon. For a week I smiled and said hi, and he was nice and cute enough to look a little longer than I probably should have. Then one morning he introduced himself and asked my name. The following week he pulled out his phone and asked for my number. I smiled and asked if he remembered my name. He had forgotten it. "Sorry, not today then." Now Mr. Jallow informs me each day that he knows I'll give him my number now. His confidence is impressive to be sure. I don't see diplomatic plates on the car, so I'm trying to figure out where on earth that SUV goes each day. Strangely though, it hasn't ocurred to him to ask my name again.
So goes my commute. On the way home, the second shift of hecklers are usually out and around the taxi park. Some just want to give me a ride. "Taski! How far you going? I'll give you cheap price. 50 to Cape Point."
"It's ok, I don't need a TAXI."
There's a guy who works the shrimp market by latching onto you as you pass, only he's not a shrimp seller but some sort of bumster broker who speaks on behalf of the shrimp sellers, trying to drag you in to a particular bucket of shrimp, as if it somehow differed. He must get a cut or something, but it's perplexing to think that he could actually improve shrimp sales. He makes me want chicken for dinner.
After passing the three boys who sleep in wheel barrows all day, and sometimes call me "Angel" or "sweetie" or ask if they can help me, I enter the most peaceful part of my walk home.
I escape into the airconditioned Rite Choice mini-mart and am greeted by Maneesh, the young Indian man who runs the place. He looks outside rather than at me.
"It's raining,"he notices.
"Yeah, it is."
"You should wait in here until it stops."
I drink a cold perrier from his cooler and he wraps my bag in plastic. We both miss home, we are both strangers here, but we like it too. He redeems his gender for the time being, and I head home.
I pass the craft market and the old Fula man who weaves. "Hello, Mariama. Are you tired?" These guys remember my name from a year and a half ago, buying trinkets with my father. They used to annoy me, but now they remind me of up-country, where people greet just to greet. They all want me to learn their respective langauges and have a sort of competition going to see which one I can manage best. They talk about me as I pass, not like firemen or the taxi guys, who see white skin. I even hear Nene, the Batik lady say "Mariama is one of us." I cash in a thousand boss lady's
for that one kind statement.