Friday, 16 August 2013

Turning into my mother.

Well, as of this afternoon, I have officially turned into my mother. 

As we get older, we start to recognise certain behavioural tendencies in ourselves. Habits that once incurred eyeball-rolling and embarrassment when our mothers did them, we find ourselves adopting with more frequency. In my case, talking to strangers for no apparent reason, using particular expressions in conversation, physical mannerisms and even strange noises escaping my body, all seem to be creeping up on me. But today I did something that only my mother would do. 

I was happily minding my own business, sitting on the top deck of a London bus as I travelled home through south London, when I noticed a good looking, clean cut, well dressed pair of young men at the next bus stop. As they boarded the bus and came upstairs, I looked them up and down and whispered to myself.... Mormons!

It's quite easy to spot a Mormon these days. It helps that the musical, "The Book of Mormon" is currently the hottest ticket in town, and the poster advertising the show depicts a handsome young man with short cropped hair, wearing black trousers, black shoes, white shirt and black tie, jumping euphorically in the air, grinning a white toothy smile and holding a bible under his arm. For years, they have been wandering through London, always in pairs, stopping to talk to strangers while seducing them with their all-American good looks and lovely manners as they brainwash them into joining their Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But now, the notoriety of the show has made them a curious intrigue and much more recognisable. 

They walked past me and headed for the back row of the bus. Annoyingly, they were just out of earshot as they began to chat to each other and I knew I had to get closer.

Eavesdropping is an art... too far away from your victim and you only manage to pick up the odd word or sentence, leading to excessive neck craning or covert lip reading. My mother was once so involved in a couple's dinner conversation at the next table, that she leant back in her chair to hear better. Every few minutes she would lean forward and in hushed tones, relay their conversation back to us... updates on who was having affairs with who, and so on, until she got so overexcited that she pushed her chair further away from our table and tipped over backwards! Eavesdropping is also hazardous if you get too close to the unsuspecting party, because you risk being found out. You may suddenly nod in agreement with something they've said or react verbally, 'Nooo, he didn't do that!', as if you are part of the exchange. 

I judged, by the volume of the Mormon's voices, that I needed to sit about two rows in front of them for optimum aural satisfaction. But how to do it without them suspecting? Aha... and then it came to me. Thank goodness it was a hot day. I quickly looked around for a closed window, spotted one just in front of them and then fanned myself dramatically with my newspaper. I got up, opened the window and sighing contentedly, sat down. Genius. They began talking about their families (very large by the sounds of it) and how much they were missing them; they talked about being in London and how strange it was; about their mission and spreading the word; about what they were having for dinner and what kind of cooks they were; about their flat mates; about God. I was absolutely in the zone... totally transfixed. 

Suddenly they stopped talking. A large black man, wearing a very 'bling' tracksuit, trainers and baseball cap, sat down in front of them, on the opposite side of the bus to me. One of the Mormon guys nudged the other, and quick as a flash, leant forward, proffering a business card and said, 'Hi there, can I give you this?", with a very charming smile. The man took it, looked at it, sucked his teeth, and frowned. I thought that was it, but then the Mormon guy shifted forward in his seat, so he's right behind the guys shoulder, and says, "Are you from Africa... are you Christian?". And smiled again. 

I must have gasped loudly... Oh My God! Not only had he talked to a stranger in public (very odd in London) but he had gone for the double whammy question. Race and religion. This Mormon had balls. I held my breath and sunk down into my seat. The black guy turned around very slowly in his seat and stared at them. And then his face suddenly lit up and with a look of astonishment, he grinned and said, very loudly, "Yessss, I am from Africa. I am from Nigeria. Yessss, I am a Christian". What? This was too much! I turned around and actually gawped. I couldn't help it. Of all the black men in south London, they managed to pick the jovial African Christian. These guys were good.

At this point, I realised I was fast approaching my bus stop and needed to get off. At this point, I also realised I had turned into my mother because instead of getting off, I continued three more stops, going totally out of my way, just so I could see what happened next. The only difference between my mother and I, is that she would have already introduced herself to the Mormons and the African man and joined in the conversation. I'm not quite there yet... but there's still time!

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