I feel sad when someone turns up late for an appointment and I get annoyed with myself when I am late. Lateness is rude. It suggests that you have no respect for my time and by extension for me. It is said that punctuality became history with the arrival of mobile telephony. People can now be late with impunity because they can call to let you know they will be late.
One Friday evening last month I stopped by the swanky offices of a city law firm to pick up a friend. As I entered the threshold I glanced up at the large clock on the wall above the receptionist’s desk and it said tick tock tick tock tick tock (sorry). The time was showing 5.50pm.
I was a few minutes early. I always like to be early so that the person that I am meeting feels relaxed. I grew up in an extremely time deprived home background, always the last kid to arrive at a party and the last one to be collected by the parents after everyone else had gone home. If we were going to catch the 7.00 train we would leave the house a few minutes to 7.00. Everything we did was so last minute that I grew up to become a clock watching tyrant.
Rubina had said she would be finished in the office at six. I had arranged to take her to see a short play as a surprise. I thought she would like Oscar Wilde’s The importance of being Earnest by the Mashinani Theatre Company. There would just be enough time to have a quick coffee before the seven o’clock performance. I hoped that after the play perhaps we could do something else. I was thinking dinner; or dancing if she preferred. We would see. I picked up a random magazine from a pile on the coffee table and sat down in the middle of the large brown sofa.
I was leafing through the magazine in an idle sort of way when an article by well-known writer and commentator caught my eye. I wish I could tell you the name of the writer or even the magazine. Sorry I just don’t remember. The article’s main theme was that society was in terminal decline. According to the writer we were heading the way of the ancient kingdoms of Ashanti and Old Zimbabwe. All that would be left of the modern east African cities would be ruins for archaeologists and anthropologists of latter years to pick over.
Now you might be thinking Wars, Insurgencies and Revolutions or Corrupt Politicians and Tribalist Leaders or maybe Al-shabbab and Boko-haram lunatic terrorists. You might even think Global Climate Change or perhaps Catastrophic Seismic Events and Solar winds as the most likely candidates to lead to the end of life as we know it. You would be wrong. You see according to this eminent writer our society is doomed because of our failure to understand the importance of punctuality. Interesting, I thought
I was just turning the page to read more of this fascinating theory when the double doors opened and Rubina stepped out of the lift. Sometimes one comes across funny writing and strange sentences like ‘She can light up a room just by walking into it’ and one often thinks : sweet sentimental poppycock. I honestly don’t know. The big clock had stopped ticking – or perhaps my racing heart was pounding in my ears, blocking out every other sound. Whatever the case, I have no recollection of anything at all that occurred before six pm that Friday evening in late June.
We now fast forward events to this morning to find that I have woken up with the early birds before 7.00 am. I have a shave and a quick shower. I am ironing a shirt when the phone rings. Rubina has called with some information regarding our current case. We talk shop for a while and once that is over she asks me what time the wedding will start. I am looking at the invitation card which they sent and I say to Rubina, “It says here that The service will begin at Ten O’clock prompt.”
“Is that Kenyan time”, Rubina asks, drily. I laugh and after a short while we conclude the conversation.
The time now is 10:57 people have been seated quietly in the church for nearly an hour and still there is no sign of the bride. Ushers and other important and stern looking people are walking quickly in all directions across the floor looking at the clocks on their phones and tut tutting. There are parents with restless toddlers. Earlier they were looking at one another in some bemused sort of way but now it seems some are getting slightly agitated. Nobody seems to know what has caused the delay. One man remarks how it is incredibly unfair for people to keep others waiting for so long. A lady usher observes quietly that this is a record in lateness for their church. Still we wait.
A fellow guest seated beside me says ‘Brides are special. We need to give them time. It is our Kenyan way. Let’s just grin and bear it.’
‘But it is unfair, I retort. ‘Other people have made sacrifices to be here on time. There are folks here from different countries too. What image are we giving them of ourselves?’
My friend chuckles and says, ‘Look, there is literally nothing you can do about it so stop fussing and just relax. You are their captive for the day. You should have brought a book or something. Better yet avoid the church ceremony altogether next time.’
It is 11:20 am now and reports are filtering through that the bridal party have been held up in a traffic jam caused by a serious traffic collision on the highway. We are assured that they are not too far away. Everyone is more understanding. Nobody likes to hear of traffic collisions and most people are just relieved that there are no reported casualties.
At 11:41 am a huge cheer goes up. The white stretch limousine carrying the bridesmaids has been spotted turning slowly into the road that leads to the church. In front and leading the way is a yellow old type classic car. Travelling in this car the bride and her father look out to see the cheering and waving crowds. The one overwhelming feeling that is coming across is that people don’t really care that they had to wait so long. The person they had all come to see has finally arrived. That is all that matters. The wedding ceremony begins late but is already showing the signs that it will be a great
I feel sad when someone turns up late for an appointment and I get annoyed with myself when I am late. Lateness is rude. Have you been punctual for all your appointments this past week?