Commotion in Commute


Commotion in Commute

Diaspora tax!

Kidane the Swedish-Eritrean feels blessed to live away from his country of birth. Sadly, the nefariousness of the ruler continues to touch him in one or the other way though farther from that country.

Diaspora tax!

On a sunny evening, Kidane was returning home from work. He sat in the last carriage of Tram 7 which he boarded at the Central Station in Gothenburg, and wished to cook an evening meal of tsebhi the stew but the news about the tax popped up again in his hmind. The diaspora tax provoked a mixture of anger and laughter. The tax has become a common thread of conversation among his ethnic folk, and those hailing from one of the countries in the Horn of Africa but living in Scandinavia.

The tram trundled towards the destination in Bersjön; Kidane immersed himself in his thoughts and feeling the sunniness in the precincts. The elementary pleasure of commuting without noise and in calm was taken away from him. A group of boys were going berserk with their vulgar chatter and blitzkrieg of music. He requested one of them who was standing and blocking the commuters from getting in and getting out, and shouting loudly, “Please.”

Biniyam the de facto leader of the group, quipped, “What?”

Kidane again uttered, “Please.”

Biniyam tittered. He swaggered, and held a beer can in one hand. He shared a joke with his mates who were all spread out in different seats. They erupted into a laughter, and cast a glance at Kidane assessing ‘what the hell he says!’ Kidane could make out from Biniyam’s half-baked Swedish laced with one those languages from one of those countries in the Horn of Africa.

More commuters were getting down as the tram left Kortedala and trundled towards the destination stop in Bersjön.

Kidane requested once again, “Please. Your music disturbs, everyone.”

Biniyam laughed mockingly, “What will you do?”

Kidane was enraged. He is used to unusual behaviour from few commuters who turned unruly as the trams get closer towards Bersjön but behaved obediently when they headed to the city centre. Mostly, he ignored the unacceptable behaviour of others: you mind your business and go to your pigeonhole or palace. Sometimes the tram driver resorted to an action: either stopped the tram and commanded the commuters to get down citing a reason, or in the worst case, police were called to come to the rescue. This evening, Kidane struggled to maintain an unaffected attitude of a commuter, and to mind his business.

The antics of the boys was getting worse. They were spilling and spraying the liquid from their cans, and getting louder and louder, and vulgar with their swear words.

Kidane was disappointed. Like many Swedes, natural or absorbed, he sat silently, mutely. He surmised if they would have been living in those countries, from where their parents had migrated, they would have been conscripted or forced to take up weapons as is the case in most cases in the Horn of Africa, or would have been struggling to source a single meal in a day.

Biniyam the Swedish-Ethiopian waited what Kidane would say, but assessed that he would sit silent like any other commuter like at any other time.

Kidane stood up. For he was stirred by the stranger’s challenge ‘what will do, ah?’ He is a big man. His figure dominated the rear-window of the carriage. He inched three steps, wrapped Biniyam in his arms and planked him to the side of the carriage. Their eyes met. Kidane’s eyes reddened. He left Biniyam to the wall of the carriage, got back to his seat and sat.

There was a sudden silence. Biniyam’s mates were surprised, and turned alert but silent. They did not respond to the pleading eyes of Biniyam, and he made calls from his phone.

At Galileisgatan, all of them disembarked from the tram. Kidane too got down and waited on the pavement. Biniyam was still on the phone.

Kidane could understand what Biniyam was urging to the guy on the other end of the phone: ‘kom past, mauderfuker’.

Biniyam and Kidane squared up again: they came closer. Kidane smiled at the size of Biniyam but with a loud mouth. He had been in more vulnerable situations (devil and death).

“Sorry,” said Kidane in Tigrinya. He knew it is not a Swedish way to manhandle another person, or to touch someone without his or her consent. And he suggested to Biniyam, “When you are in danger, call the police.”

Biniyam looked away, lowered his head, and walked away!

—Lucinda Palme