Editors’ Note: This post was originally published in April 2012, and is part of our #ThrowbackThursday series, in which we will highlight articles from One Voice’s previous print issues.
~ based on the true experience of a friend ~
I don’t know if I have some magnet, but I always meet the weirdest people wherever I go. It’s a fact.
Like the time when my elderly neighbor told me I was going to die because I was sledding down a makeshift pile of snow in her backyard. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being just stepping outside and 10 being swimming with hungry killer whales, that sledding was a -5. I was 9 years old at the time. Thankfully, I wasn’t scarred by the death threat.
Or the time the woman sat on my head while we were praying. Truthfully, that wasn’t a face-to-face meeting, but I’ll save the details for another day. Recently, I had another one of my encounters but let’s start from the beginning.
Breathe. Ah. The cool, evening air embraces me as I walk into the Student Center, which always smells like freshly baked cookies. With forty-five minutes to spare, I head to the coffee shop to grab some tea and then kill the time until I head to the 2 ½ hour class where my teacher will go on and on about Hawthorne and Thoreau. She admits she has a crush on Hawthorne. He’s been dead for decades.
Clutching my cup of tea, I sit on the patterned armchairs nearby the constantly opening doors. Ah, Earl Grey. What could be better than this?
“Assalam Alaikum.” I look up from my book to see an old man dressed like a professor sitting in the armchair next to me. His hands clutch a briefcase uncomfortably as he smiles. It’s too big and bulky to sit in his lap, and I think he thinks someone might run away with it if he left it by his feet.
I smile politely, return his greeting and go back to my Norton Anthology textbook. The heavy book balances precariously on my knees as I try to take sips of the scalding tea. If you haven’t ever had the misfortune of purchasing a Norton Anthology, let me enlighten you that firstly the book weighs a ton. It’s tiny but incredibly dense. Think neutron star. Secondly, the pages are paper thin. That sounds redundant, but really the papers are silk-like thin. You could burn a hole in one just by staring at it for too long. And lastly, the kicker is the 6 point font size and 0.125 margins. Go ahead. Measure it with your ruler, if you dare. In essence, the book is designed to deliberately dissuade you from reading. With class starting soon and 100 pages still left to read, I tried to plow through the material.
“You know, when I see you with the scarf, I feel comfortable. I’m Muslim, too.” Though CREEP is screaming in my head, I get it. What he means is a lot more innocent than how it was worded. Old man, broken English. I nod my head and let it slide.
At this point, I’ve lost my spot in my book. I search, scanning the indecipherable tiny letters. “These people, you know, I don’t feel comfortable,” he points with his finger. My mind is in a frenzy. WHAT THE HELL IS THIS GUY SAYING? Mind you, we’re sitting at a fairly busy place. There are entrances from which people come and go frequently. Not to mention there are five armchairs all around us, and two of which are occupied. Anyone can hear him. What’s worse is that because I was sitting next to the guy, I figured if he said something crazy, I’d be implicated as well. Desperate to change the subject, I blurted out. “Are you a professor here?”
“Yes. I’m new here. I used to teach in Saudi Arabia.”
“Oh! Where?” Okay, this was my mistake in starting conversation. It could have ended here and saved me embarrassment later. Alas, I was curious. Most people have varied feelings towards Saudi Arabia, and I wanted to know what he thought of it.
“Are you familiar with Saudi Arabia?” he asked, seeing my interest. I walked myself into this one.
::FACE PALM:: “Yeah, I was born there.”
Then, he started asking me where, why, and how. What on earth was I doing in Saudi Arabia? How did I get here? When? How do I know English? So I answered hesitatingly, giving him only bits of information. But dang it, he would not stop asking questions. I tried going back to my homework, but even that proved elusive. URGH.
Eventually, I just shut the book because between my constant turning to answer his questions, trying to drink the hot tea, and balancing the dense book, something was going to give. I glanced at the clock. 5:00. Half hour until class.
For the next 10 minutes, I pretended to put my stuff away. He got the hint and stopped asking questions. However, seeing that I only had a big book and a purse, there wasn’t much I could use to pretend. We sat in uncomfortable silence as I pretended to scan every last inch of my tiny purse.
5:10! Close enough. What the heck? I’d go 20 minutes early. “Excuse me, but I have to get to class.” I smiled and got up to leave. VICTORY!
“Oh, of course. But next time, we’ll both have coffee. Same place, same time.” He grinned.
My smile vanished, and I suddenly remembered Stranger Danger. I ran.
Every Tuesday that semester, I took a different route to class, hoping I’d never run into that creepy guy again. Knowing my luck, you can imagine what happened. I ran into him at the prayer room where he was talking to some other girl, trying to offer her an editing job for someone he knew. “It’s a paid position,” he said.
Throughout the entire conversation, I turned my head at an angle, so he wouldn’t recognize me. But eventually I looked up. Recognition dawned on his face with maybe even a hint of sadness. No mention of the coffee date. Sorry, old man, but you’re just not my type.
Image (C) Patrick Nouhailler