January 6, 2024

Food Courts and School Buses: An Abstract Pondering

Seating is so limited at the mall today that people have resorted to sharing tables with strangers.  

How very European of us.  American’s prefer to keep a fair margin of empty seats around us.

I watch each awkward exchange.
It makes the seated person so uncomfortable as the standing one approaches.
I notice an irregular pattern, that the stander may or may not ask permission to share the space,
which reminds me of school bus culture, when I always felt like I had to ask before I sat down -
before I seated my brother and myself -
but then sometimes the seated person said no, we could not in fact sit there in the empty space,
which left us standing in the aisle
while the person boarding at the next stop simply took the empty seat without asking first.

I wonder if I ever learned my lesson about that,
that I could take a seat without asking,
that I could take up space without apologizing.

I don’t think that lesson took root.

Even now, I sit here feeling like I’m being frivolous, indulgent, even selfish, by taking up a table for two when there is only one of me.

Which makes me wonder
if single people are made to feel guilty for not being coupled,
for consequently taking up the space two people could occupy.

I remember my frugal grandmother teaching me that two people could live more cheaply than one,
which only just now makes sense to me as I realize two people could fill the space I’m in,
which means one of them would require only half the space I occupy.

I find myself trying to take up less space, or at least to appear to need what I have claimed of myself.

“Excuse me,” a man pardons. He’s wearing a baseball cap. “Is someone sitting here?”
He points to the freshly vacated table beside me.
“No, please help yourself,” I say.
And he turns to find his other half.  “Where’d she go?” he says aloud,
maybe to himself, but maybe to me,
certainly to show that he has a person - and thereby a reason - to take up the space.

An abundance mentality prompts me to say there is room for all of us,
but in truth, the math of the room has a finite number of tables and chairs.

I don’t know what any of this means,
except that I just heard myself apologize to the baseball hat,
and yet I didn’t get up to move.

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