The Belly Laugh
I was on the 210 bus the other day winding my through Hampstead Garden suburb on my way to Golders Green. I had taken this particular route often enough to know that most of the people that used this bus service were not people that lived in the area but people that worked in the area. As I watched a Filipino nanny struggle onto the bus with a pushchair and shopping bags I wondered how she was feeling. Was she grateful to have a job? Did she have her own kids back home and if so did she get the chance to go back and visit? Did she ache for them or was she happy that she could at least provide them with an education or neither? As I was busy musing two large African women got on the bus. They squeezed into a seat for two and began talking. I couldn’t hear exactly what they were saying but I could follow the rise and fall of their melodic voices. I began to wonder about them too. What jobs were they doing? Did they work together or were they friends? I was pretty sure that they had just finished work, as it was the end of the day, they looked tired and had simple house shoes on. The truth was probably a million miles away but I was enjoying my imaginings. Then they began to laugh. At first the laughter was stifled but then it got louder and louder. They were laughing from their bellies and their voices were rising. I continued my imaginings and decided they had just come from work in one of the big houses we had just passed. I wondered whether their employers had laughed like that recently. I recalled a short (true) story by Maya Angelou about a black maid who was treated so-called well by her white employers. Unlike some of her friends she was allowed to entertain guests in her little room in the servants quarters out the back. One night as she was drinking whiskey, playing cards and having a merry time with a special friend, she heard a noise outside her door. When she went to see what was going on, she saw her two employers standing meekly outside. They asked if she wouldn’t mind leaving the door slightly ajar so they could listen to the sounds of merriment coming from the room. They had the money and the big house but not enough spirit or joy to carry them through the winter nights so they became voyeurs of joy instead.
Of course the story was from a different place and era. Times have changed thank god. But what hasn’t changed is that true joy and happiness comes from a spirit within, a spirit that no money can buy and no big house can give you.