By Okot Nyormoi, editor

Standing her groundThe bus picked up a man from the suburb of Kampala when trouble started. Upon boarding the bus, the man found that all the seats were already occupied. Not wishing to stand, he ordered a nearby woman to vacate her seat for him.

The woman was strikingly pretty and in a tight-fitting denim skirt. Some of the passengers gawked at her when she was boarding the bus at the Bus Park. She was thirty something, about five and a half feet tall, and about fifty-five kilograms or one hundred twenty pounds. She was in an aisle seat, on the left-hand side of the bus, four rows in front of me on the opposite side from where I was sitting.

The woman looked up at the man momentarily but said nothing. From her look alone, it was clear what she meant by her silence. The man either did not get the message or deliberately chose to ignore it. This time he did not just ask but ordered her to move.

“Are you my father, mother, grandmother for whom I should give up my seat?” came the response in slow, drawn out, clearly enunciated words for maximum effect.

“I am none of those, but I am a man”, he explained with an apparent naivety about the seating ethics on the bus.

“Does that entitle you to my seat?” she asked him.

“Yes,” the man replied with an air of arrogant confidence.

Then, she sat up straight with her hands on her hips and turned sideways towards the man. With each sentence, she lifted and forcefully nodded her head in defiance when she said, “Then you are crazy, which I cannot do anything about, but maybe they can send you to a Mental Hospital. But in case you are just stupid, let me tell you that I paid for my seat just like the rest of the passengers. The seats were occupied on a first-come, first-served basis. It is unfortunate that you came late, so you must stand. Do you have any problem with that? If you do, then that is not my problem.”

By this time, all eyes and ears were directed towards the verbal combatants. At first, I could not make out anything of what was happening. Then it dawned on me that this was a clear case of resistance to male chauvinism. The man was behaving as if he was absolutely entitled to preferential treatment over women.

“If you were old, pregnant, carrying a baby, or sick, I would give up my seat for you, but I would expect you to accept it with humility”, the woman said.

“No, I cannot stand while a mere woman like you sits down. Since when has that been allowed in our tradition?”

The man’s remark, which he deliberately made loudly for everyone to hear, stirred up the bus, which had been rather quiet up to that point. Some people sympathized, hissed, clapped approvingly, or smacked their lips in disgust. It was not clear whether most of the responses were in his favor or the woman’s.

“Look here, mister! In your tradition, people used to walk. There were no buses. Why don’t you get out and walk according to your tradition? In fact, if you did that, you would not worry about my seat. That makes sense, doesn’t it?”

“Why should I walk when there is a bus? Walking takes too long. I want to be in Bombo by early afternoon,” the man said with the highest authority that his small voice could command.

“Very well, sir. If you accept modern things such as traveling by bus, let me tell you that modern things come with their own rules. The rule for traveling by bus is that the fare you pay is the cost of transporting you from one place to another, seated or standing. The ticket that I bought does not say that a woman must give up her seat to any man, especially one who happens to come late. Certainly not one who is rude, arrogant, and ignorant like you. I am sorry to call anybody ignorant, but by your words and actions, you forced me to do so.”

This was followed by a loud round of applause. The man looked bewildered. He looked around for support, but there was none. Meanwhile, the woman continued to say more.

“The trouble with men like you are that you want to use tradition when it suits you but throw it away when it does not. Sorry! You are knocking on the wrong door because I am not the type of woman that can be intimidated and bullied by men of your type. You are free to try removing me from my seat but let me warn you that you will be sorry if you lay your hands on me.”

This was accompanied by another round of applause. A few people shouted, “That is a strong woman right there.”

Physically, the woman was no match for the man. He was short but weighed about ninety kilograms or two hundred pounds. However, her argument was so strong that it reduced the man to the size of a child. Because of the challenge that the woman gave him, some people began to tease and to dare him move the woman from her seat.

“How can a man like you let a woman ridicule you like that?” asked one man.

“Oh! If it were me, I would remove that woman in seconds with just one finger,” said another.

“My friend, why do you want to make a big fool of yourself in a situation in which you are so wrong? We no longer live in a world where brute force is the order of the day. Even a fool can see that you are wrong. Shut the hell up and let us travel in peace.”

“No, let him try it, and we shall help our sister. We shall not only ensure that she stays in her seat but that the troublemaker will be thrown out of the bus. We were all peaceful in here until he came in with his nonsensical demand. We are tired of people who don’t respect the rights of other people. They think they are the only ones with rights.”

By this time, the man was so embarrassed that he decided to say no more and moved away from the woman. What promised to be a slugfest between a small woman and a big man turned out to be a verbal fight between a David and a Goliath. Fairness prevailed, and peace returned to the bus once more.

Edited excerpt from my novel Burden of Failure (Editor).