I sat staring through the bus window, watching as we drove past each building. We had only passed two bus stops so far, but it felt as if I had been on this bus for a millennium!
My eyes remained transfixed on the window.
“Hold on a little longer,” I told myself, ” You’ll be getting off sooner than you think.”
The stranger sitting opposite me, had a demented smile cemented on his face. He had been smiling since I sat down.
At first I smiled back politely. We exchanged greetings and after that, I had nothing to say. I then resorted to doing the one thing I could; pretend I was enjoying the view outside.
There was not much of a view. Just some familiar, almost identical grey Russian buildings. Anyone who has had the pleasure to visit a Russian city will tell you this. Most Russian buildings are the same. Their neighbourhoods, the same. If you drove off from one end of the city in the opposite direction, to stop and hour later; you’ll probably think you haven’t moved an inch.
We have a saying amongst international students, one we are still to verify.
Once you see one Russian town/city; you’ve seen them all.
The only thing that changes about Russian towns are their sizes.
I soon got tired of stealing glances (through the corner of my eye) at my new neighbour. I am certain he knew that he was making me uncomfortable. I fidgeted with my hair and stole a glance at my cleavage (as subtle as I could possibly be). Some of my tops have a tendency of showing a bit too much. A stare like the one I was getting from my neighbour is usually a red flag.
I thought of standing up and offering my seat to someone. But I quickly dismissed that idea. My bag was too heavy and my camera too delicate. It could not withstand all that pressure from people standing around me, or those maneuvering to get off the bus.
I tapped my feet quietly. Why was there no music on this bus? Normally I would ask why it was playing. Ninety percent of the time, the music irritated me. Russian music, I was never going to get used to. A reality I had accepted as my fate.
I closed my eyes, and prayed for some music. I promised I was going to enjoy it.
After I was convinced no music was going to play, I sat up straight. Since he was staring at me, I was going to stare back. I took a good look at him, for the first time since I had sat in the bus.
I remember he had grey hair, a long face and dark eyes.
“Good afternoon, I see you got tired of avoiding me,” he started.
He had an American accent!
“Excuse me?”I cleared my throat, recovering from my shock.
The stranger chuckled, ” Where are you from?”
“Zimbabwe,” I replied, “And am guessing you are American?”
“On the contrary, I am Russian,” he smiled.
“But you lived in America for a while?”
“No. Never been to America,” he replied.
“Hmm, you speak well,” I said quietly. I am obsessed with accents. A bad trait I picked up in high school. One I have failed to shake off.
“You speak well yourself. It’s interesting to meet someone from Zimbabwe. This town mostly has Nigerians; a conclusion from my observations. ”
I raised an eyebrow. Did he even know where Zimbabwe was? Most people I meet don’t even know Africa is a continent! Mainstream media does a great job to keep ignorant masses in their darkness. I hate it when people say Africa when they really mean South Africa or Mozambique.
“I have been to Tanzania, Rwanda and Namibia,” he told me, ” Zimbabwe is closest to Namibia. Am I correct?”
“Yes you are!” I replied excitedly.
He had my undivided attention now. He knew the names of five African countries? That practically made us family!
“You are a tourist?” I asked.
It seemed the only logical explanation. His knowledge about Africa was too deep. Yes, very deep. I learnt, on my arrival to Russia, how Europeans and Americans pictured Africa.
Despite the fact that I had flown in from abroad, or that I wore the same type of clothes they wore, they thought I lived in a massive jungle. They probably thought I wore animal skins when I was back at home.
“No, I taught English language, at different universities,” he captivated my wondering thoughts.
“That is very interesting,” I smiled at him.
“How long did you live in Africa?”
“Twenty years,” he replied, ” But I lived mostly in Namibia, for fifteen years.”
“What brought you back to Russia?”
“This is my home,” he smiled.
When did I arrive at my busstop? I stood up, “Sorry, but I must get off now.”
“It’s been great talking to you. I always enjoy practicing my English. Any opportunity I get. Thank you, young lady.”
He bowed slightly, I curtsied.
“Have a great day, sir.”
I remember that old man. He knew about Africa, my motherland. Not only that it is a continent, but also that it was not a jungle. That my beautiful continent had universities, growing economies, towns and cities. After twenty years of living among my people, of course knew that.
My joy soon faded as reality sank in. He was the first stranger I had met so far (among Russians) who didn’t have the poverty-stricken stereotype of Africa. Thousands, millions of Europeans, Asians and Americans remained ignorant.
He did not tell me his name, neither did he ask for mine. However, this stranger I will remember for the rest of my life. He is the stranger I conversed with on a quiet Russian bus.
Let me take this opportunity to say this. I am African, from southern Africa. I don’t live in a hut, thatched with hay. I wear clothes, not animal skins. In the night, after supper (yes, my family can afford decent meals, and I know many that do) we watch television. We don’t gather around a fire and sing folk songs. Though that is fun around a camp fire.
I don’t own a pet elephant. You might find this hard to believe, but I have actually never seen one. I don’t plan to, actually, because the thought freaks me out.