Second seats and empty languages

So, I am in one of those cheap domestic flights, destination Jozi.

The aisle sit is mine, the middle sit empty, a nice mama has the window seat. I, following an example set by Usihlwele, a character in a short story, have constructed a porous but ‘imaginary’ wall around myself. I am sure Asiphe-a-psychologist, would say this ‘imaginary’ wall is created out of fear.

A first language speaker comes in all hurried and, to be fair, no time for self-awareness in relation to others. Or perhaps she had no time to perform self-awareness?

Since she is no African dictator in a post-colonial narrative, the kind that wins literary prizes for truth and daring, we will pursue this line of thinking no further.

The first language speaker, still several paces away, says to me, “You are in my seat.”

Now, dear reader, there is absolutely no a priori reason why she could not have been right. If the seat had been assigned her, and not me, and she had correctly matched her assigned seat to the actual seat, and I had incorrectly matched mine, and I were sitting in her seat, and…I am sure you see why in some possible world she is right, and therefore not a priori wrong.

My response was to stand up, move aside, so that she can take the empty middle seat. It was, I declare, a perfect example of a second language response. I sought to get her seated first so that I could whisper to her how wrong she is. Even when you know you are absolutely right, you recognize the right of the other person to be wrong. As such the fact that they are wrong is absolutely no reason to respond to that first. They will, once they realize it, have a choice to persist in their wrong or repent. Either one of those is a real choice, nothing about choices mean they should be right. Still, the first step is always to recognize umntu. The wrong or right might never even arise.

But the mama in the window seat, structured in a first language, had no time for my sensibilities or the sensitivity to stay out of it. Having helped me locate my seat earlier, she assured the first language speaker that she is wrong.

There, just like that, another second language response bit the dust.


  1. I’m inspired by you bro, I hope to get where you are , and write about life touching social issues

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