Being In The Way — flash fiction

(from Diary of a Geezer)

The other day I experienced a trivial incident. The Easter holiday was coming up. Schools had closed, and some adults might have taken time off work.

In one Swedish suburbia, indigenous citizens of various ages and sexes crowded into the community pool. Several expatriates were relishing the time away.

A woman looked Swedish to him with blue-yellow headgear. The older man seemed to have upset her. His style of stopping and going might have made it harder for the woman to swim.

Some minutes later, the woman swimmer commanded him to practise in a smaller, shallower pool where foreign kids had fun.

The older man seemed surprised by the woman swimmer’s audacity and made it clear that he wasn’t going to swim anywhere else.

The woman didn’t argue and kept swimming.

A few minutes later, the older man approached her to discuss the matter. But her body language suggested she didn’t have anything else to say.

The older man’s arms were spread wide in the air, and he looked baffled.

Other swimmers, both men and mostly women, didn’t seem to care about the dispute.

Some minutes followed, and another female swimmer entered the pool. The older man’s face lit up when he saw her, and he related the incident after greeting her. She listened and seemed astonished at the woman’s request.

“What a rude thing for her to say,” she said and wondered whether he had taken it up with the personnel.

After the older man retired from the pool, a Swedish man in his mid-forties approached him in a friendly way. The man said sorry (in English) for the woman’s behaviour and then joked about two sacred (cardinal) customs many Swedes follow. Tradition says that swimmers must stay on the right side of the pool. The second rule was to walk on the left side of the sidewalk.

The older man appeared bemused and seemed to think about what he had just heard as he scratched his white-bearded chin, and his face appeared as if in thought. He mightn’t have been sure if the stranger was trying to pull his leg.

“Pardon me, but those two rules still don’t make much sense to me,” he said to the middle-aged Swedish man, almost in a whisper. “I’m afraid it’s not as simple as you make it sound,” he said louder and more precisely as if to make a point. He didn’t have a smile on his face anymore.

The middle-aged Swedish man showed a smiling countenance.

The older man said that he walked on the left side of the sidewalk when he went for his morning walk, but he saw not every walker observed the left side rule, thus compelling him to give way to avoid a collision.

“There were no such rules in places like the Mall, the older man said. “Neither right nor left, just good old common sense.

“I agree,” the middle-aged Swedish man said, laughing before greeting the older man “a good continuation of the day,” as he left.

A light-skinned man who looked like he was from another country went to the older man and told him he was sorry about what had happened.

He said, “Don’t worry about the woman’s ill-mannered behaviour.”

“I know,” replied the older man. “but sometimes it can be irritating. I try to take insults on the chin and move on.

“It’s a typical manner used against émigrés. To talk down to or scold. The way that woman treated you showed that she didn’t respect you. I saw it.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” the older man said, “But that’s usually the case in some instances. She mightn’t have been herself. When people are upset, they can do things and later regret them. My slow swimming might’ve gotten to her. I was glad she didn’t use the N-word or say I should return to where I came from. Both insults would have made me lose my temper.”

The man with light skin, who seemed to be Middle Eastern, nodded and then said:

“She looks like a snob! There’re so many in this area. I run into them every day. Your appearance might have aggravated her. Who knows. Prejudice has increased with the rise of the anti-migrant party.”

“Dear young man,” the older man said with a smile, “Xenophobia and racism exist everywhere. Since my arrival some fifty-five years ago, both have existed. Some say both never existed until refugees and people moved to Sweden to find work. What concerns me more is disrespect for older adults. You work your butt off to be considered a burden during retirement, whether you are a foreign brand or homemade.

“Pardon my asking,” the light-skinned fellow said, smiling. “What country are you from? I’m from Greece.”

“And you,” the Greek asked, smiling.

“Guyana, a far-flung once-upon-a-time, belonged to Great Britain. Both the adjective and colonies are no longer there. I came to this Nordic land long before that presumptuous upstart in the pool entered the world. I guess she is an expatriate, like me, because of her accent. Most likely from Eastern Europe.”

“Really?” the Greek fellow laughed, “It never crossed my mind, but you might be right.”

“Some people are difficult to communicate with,” the older man said. “Many people aren’t happy with their lives and take their problems with them everywhere.”

“You seem very tolerant,” the Greek fellow said.

“Not really. But I try to behave respectfully to all. Sometimes I’m too humble and kind.”

“Being kind is a good quality,” the Greek fellow said, nodding. “There’re moments when my reasoning ability takes a backseat.”

“Rather graciously put, young man,” said the smiling older man. “It happens to us all!

***

After getting some groceries, I hurried home to jot down a few lines about what had transpired between the woman and the older man in the community pool, contemplating the older man’s behaviour.

.

Sitting at my desk with a pen and an open diary, I assessed the incident objectively. The feeling of displeasure has subsided. There are family and friends to relate the incident, but they are more than weary of my complaints, for they prefer to tell me about theirs than listen to my tales of displeasure.

The diary has become my soul mate.

In my diary, I attempt to understand human behaviour and their (failed) attempts to resolve problems. It helps me to maintain a sane mind and probably or hopefully keep senility at bay, some years away, if ever.

In conclusion, I’m unsure how I might’ve handled today’s pool incident, whether in anger or with blasé.

Of course, I might’ve laughed at the woman’s displeasure, refusing to be offended by ignoring her. She caught the older man by surprise. It seemed no one had complained to him before about swimming on the wrong side of the pool.

Like the older man in the pool, I gladly continue to suffer fools! The pool incident affected me. I felt like I was in the older man’s shoes.

I can easily be offended by a singular or chorus of complaints and foolishly hope that the next day shall cleanse my pride of pain.

(For the record) I felt like I was that older guy who got into a small standoff in the pool. Because the thought or feeling was often there — being in the way.

© Lawrence G. Taylor

THE END

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Lawrence G.Taylor writer

Born in Guyana, lived in England; settled in Sweden. Retired from a mental-healthcare job. Literary Fiction. Long&Short Stories: Black Diaspora in 🇬🇾🇬🇧🇸🇪