There are certain disadvantages to being petite, which is the polite way of saying ridiculously short. You come to accept that you will go through life introducing yourself to people’s bellybuttons. You hang on your companions’ hems in a crowd, because if you lose each other you’ll never find each other again. When you graduate from college and attempt to buy a business suit for your first job interview, you are directed to the children’s section and emerge looking like one of those Victorian-era toddlers who were dressed up like little men, in teeny tiny formal trousers and jackets.
Parents forget that while you’re still five foot more or less nothing tall, as you were when you were fifteen years old, you are now actually a thirty five year old hag who should be scheduling regular bone density tests, and that you have human rights protected by the Geneva Convention, such as the right to stay out late, especially when you no longer live with them.
But there is also the other side of the proverbial coin, a proverbial silver lining. You can really spread out, sometimes actually curl up in, an economy class airline seat. It takes less time to fall to the floor, so you can get under a table faster in the event of an earthquake. You can pose as someone’s child and cut queues. In a transport squeeze you get to sit on somebody’s lap rather than be sat on. Nobody asks you to help them move house. Your centre of gravity is lower, so you’re likely to do better than average in many situations, such as inside a kayak. And if you decide to skip a class or a meeting, nobody will notice, as long as you send an email putting forward some decent ideas of which you can remind people later.
In this post-9/11 world there is one more important way in which being little is not such a bad thing, and that is in the matter of security checks at airports, cinema theatres and other assorted public spaces. While it’s positively demeaning never to be seen as a threat, I can’t say that I regret never having been cavity-searched in the style to which other people have become accustomed. The worst thing that has ever happened to me was that I was asked to take off my shoes at Srinagar airport, and that was more traumatic for the security officer than for me since I was travelling light and hadn’t packed all that many pairs of socks.
But it’s not as if security officers are all that vigilant anyway. The other day I went to watch a movie at a theatre near you, about which I will say no more than that it’s very popular and would make a first class terrorist target. I’d forgotten that I was carrying a bright red Swiss army knife in my small bag, in addition to a pack of cigarettes. The grim woman who searched my bag took away my smokes without a flicker of compassion, which meant that if I didn’t want to lose my knife I would have to take drastic action. She was diligently searching the zip pocket, and in another second would be seeing red. “What a nice colour your uniform is,” I remarked. She stopped, decided I was too small to bother with, grinned, and waved me through, weapon and all.
She’s lucky that I didn’t go into one of my ideological moods and start trimming my fingernails, or race up to the screen in a suicidal frenzy and poke a hole in it with the toothpick. I hate being underestimated, especially when armed.