Unknown: Scrawled on a Coffee-Stained Serviette

You sit across the coffee shop with a white turban, each crease folded with care, undulating like lines in the Mombasa sand at low tide. I watch you sipping your espresso and fiddling with your phone and I realize there are no enemies. Only others who are really us but for the gap of knowing. If only we were knowing. If I could know the name of your daughter in med school and the colour of your wife’s shimmering sari. If I could know the journey from your childhood over the oceans here to this morning and this conversation with the freckled man across the table, then you would become us and there would be no other. It’s the same for everyone. Yet we work so hard at not knowing. At walls, boundaries, rhetoric. For all our traveling and internet networking, we really aren’t knowing. Even our friends are objects on a screen, thumbnails and login names, remaining safely other. Because what would happen if we really knew? If the frizzyhaired woman with the bird nose and the scowl across the aisle actually knew me, and hugged my children, and saw my tears of fatigue? Then maybe I’d end up hugging her too and she’d see my obsessions and suddenly there’d be no room for all my entertaining judgments. Because of course I like the comfort of other. Of being able to compare and come out triumphant. Of projecting extremism on the turban and cowardice on the frizzy hair and snobbery on the silvery strappy heels that swing beneath the goodlooking lovers in the corner. Oh, Universe. Forgive us for our refusal to know and be known. For our diehard commitment to maintaining otherness and enemies. Forgive us for our unknowing.

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