On the way to school — The bus stopped, and several people got up, including an old woman. Everyone who had got on then had a seat, except her. She walked to the middle of the bus, peered around the back of the bus for seats, realised there were none, and stood where she was.
Seat in front
I was three seats away from her, wondering if I should do the right thing and give up my seat for her, when I noticed there was an empty seat at the front of the bus — “if she needed a seat she’d have got that one,” I thought to myself.
But then again, perhaps that seat is dirty or spoilt? unusable? Should I or shouldn’t I? I looked around to see how other people reacted to the situation — nobody seemed to notice her; if they did, they tried their best not to.
Didn’t do it
I looked at her face one last time, and then looked away — partly in shame, partly in guilt, partly in resignation, as well as partly for her — there just wasn’t a way to give up my seat without a proper back-up plan to handle rejection, for her and for me. There were many people on the bus, but not enough for everyone to mind their own business.
I was afraid she’d say no because she was only going a few stops. I was also trying to help her avoid being obligated to sit. What can you do when a stranger offers you a seat? Can you not take it? — if you did, that’d be rude.
To say no
To say “no” to one who offers you a seat is akin to saying “I don’t wish to sit at a place where you have just got up from,” and from here, dozens of meanings could be gotten, and most aren’t very nice (“I do not wish to sit next to the person you’re presently sitting next to,” or “No thanks. You stank up the seat by your sitting there,” or “I don’t sit where commoners have just sat.”)
To say “no” would be rude indeed.
Urban Myth — the Butt-worm
Older Singaporeans (and occasionally the younger ones) have a habit of hitting a seat that is warm (from the body-heat of a previous sitter’s bottom) to disappate the heat — it is popular belief that sitting on a warm seat will give you “butt-worms” — butt-worms make your butt itchy. (My reasoning is that worms from the intestines are attracted to heat, so when a heat source is found they float towards it.)
If I had offered my seat, chances are she wouldn’t want to hit the seat for fear of offending me. If she sat without hitting the seat, and hitting the seat is something she normally does (because of the butt-worm theory), would she not have prefered just standing?