I often find more interesting stories on a train than through other means of travel. During the last leg of yesterday’s 18-hour train ride home, I unwittingly made friends with a small Yemeni child. It seemed like whenever I looked up, I would see him leering down at me from atop the back of the seat in front. If I made the mistake of eye contact, the child would shout at me. He would point at everything around him and shout “Sebben! Sebben sebben sebben!” In rapid succession. “Seven what?” I asked him once, but he just continued shouting. Alice suggested that this child may be speaking in Arabic, and “Sebben” might mean something completely different. I tried to look it up, but without much luck. I figured if he was mispronouncing it or I just didn’t know how to spell it it would never arise in a web search, so I just did my best to ignore him.
Later on, a large man sitting between the child and his father became drunk. He harassed the child’s parents, insisting that they let him pray for them. He would ask the woman on one side of the aisle to translate for him as he spoke to the man he had mashed against the wall on the other side. Mostly what he wanted translated were his repeated explanations that it didn’t matter that it wasn’t their religion, they should hold hands with him as he prayed anyway because that was his religion.
When the woman told him that her captive husband didn’t want to pray while they were unclean from a train ride, he said “I don’t need to be clean. My savior makes me clean.” The poor muslim caught me staring and we exchanged shrugs across the oblivious drunk. I wondered if I should do something to help, but I didn’t want to risk him becoming an angry drunk. Eventually he passed out, leaving the man trapped but unmolested.
Finally, as I waited to get off the train, I had the opportunity to stand with the Muslim family. I took the chance to ask what “Sebben” means an Arabic. The mother smiled and told me her son was very excited about learning English, especially counting, although he wasn’t very good at it yet. The father informed me that he had managed not to be forced into prayer by his seatmate, but he did have to shake his hand close to fifty times.