Can I have your number please?

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bakery“Can I have your number please? You’re a nice American, and sometimes I just need to talk to a nice American, you know?”

I looked at her, big black eyes brimmed with tears and staring into my soul, and thought, “Boy, she doesn’t know me very well, does she?”

And I hoped sincerely that she couldn’t see into my mind at that moment, because what she would see wasn’t very pretty. But at least it was on her behalf.

It’s been non-stop around here lately, what with yellow journalism trying to close down an entire glass artform, the antmind suddenly invading in force, long hours at work, and my annual bollix-up-the-blog technical difficulties.

This time around, my attempt to update the file structure for several thousand images on Morganica pretty much broke every link, and the only way to restore them is to PAINFULLY replace each one, post-by-post, going back to 2006.

Ouch. So if new posts die down for a bit, my apologies, but I need to fix my goof.

But THIS Sunday morning, the sun broke through the clouds and slanted golden-bright through the leaves. I stopped typing “H-T-T-P-:-/-/” and headed for the bakery cafe around the corner for breakfast. The special was potato leek soup, my favorite, so I made it brunch instead, topped off with a slice of fresh cherry tart.

I shouldered my laptop case, gathered my bounty, and made my way to the only empty table, passing a plump, dark figure, a girl hunched over her phone. She glanced up, and quickly averted her eyes.

I smiled, not sure if she’d see it, and sat down, intending to write about the aforesaid yellow journalism and cadmium pollution. Ironic, that.

“I like your hair,” said a small voice, shyly.

“Excuse me?” I looked up, and the girl was looking at me with the beginnings of a hopeful smile.

“Your hair, the blue stripe. I really like it. It’s you.”

“Well, thanks. It’s supposed to be red, but no matter what I do, the blue just keeps coming through.” She smiled broadly, and moved off her stool to  sit at my table. So much for shy, I thought.

“I like it, though. It makes you look younger.”

Well, strike one for that, anyway.

“My hair, it won’t take color at all,” she said, picking up a lock of her hair, which was long, shiny, and luxuriously, indulgently black. “I tried coloring it red once, and it just disappeared like I never did anything.”

“Why would you want to color it?” I asked curiously, “Your hair is gorgeous. Your hair is what the rest of us go to the hairdresser to get.”

She shrugged, “Well, it has hair straightener on it because it’s so thick and bushy, I have to have something to make it manageable. My mom has a hair salon just down the street; I live over there.”

She looked at my hair–which really was a mess–wistfully. “Sometimes…well, you can have any color you want. I tried blonde once and I looked dumb. Really dumb. My people, we have hair that is really dark and…”

“You’re Persian?”

She looked astonished. “Yes, how did you know? Most people just call us Arabs. Or Muslims. Like it’s a dirty word.”

I shrugged. “I guess I’ve been around a lot of Iranians, a lot of people from that area. I grew up in Central California, so I don’t know, never really thought about it.”

“Thank you.”

“For what?

“For keeping an open mind about me.”

“Beg pardon?”

“For letting me sit down. For not calling me a dirty terrorist. I’m so TIRED of not being able to..I was born in this country. My mom and dad are legal citizens here, my sister was born here. She’s a doctor in the army. I’ve never lived anywhere but the West Coast. I’m as American as you. And last week…” she said, and gulped, “…last week a man comes up to me from nowhere and he tells me to go back to my own country!”

I grimaced. I knew what was coming. She started to cry.

“I tried to tell him. I said I was born here and he shoved me on the shoulder and he yelled all these four-letter words. He said, ‘I support Donald Trump, and terrorists like you need to get out before we throw you out. This is a Christian country and Muslims don’t belong. Get the hell out of my country!'”

“I wasn’t doing anything, I was just coming back from class, I didn’t even look at him.”

“I’m sorry,” I said softly, “Some people are just assholes. I wish I knew how to stop people like that. But I don’t.”

“Muslims aren’t bad people,” she said tearfully, “There are bad Muslims, sure, but there are bad Christians, too. A lot of us are really nice if you just give us a chance.”

“Bad isn’t tied to religion,” I said, “Bad uses religion as a way to excuse being bad. Americans never learn about Islam, that’s why it scares them.”

“I should be used to this. My sister, she says I should just shrug this off and not worry about it anymore. But I’m scared. I was bullied a lot when I was a kid because all the other kids were white. There was this boy, he and his friends held me down and put worms in my hair because I’m Muslim, and he said,” and here her voice started to rise, “We should be rotting in the earth.”

She stopped then, and her voice softened, nearly to a whisper, as she looked around at people at the rest of the tables.

“But this, with this Trump guy, I think this is different. It’s one thing when kids bully you at recess, they just go after anyone who is different, and you kind of get used to it. But I never used to be afraid to be alone with…, with, well, with people like you. Now, no offense, but it’s like I’m taking a chance even coming in here.”

She glanced at me, from under hooded eyes. I kept my face carefully neutral, but inside, I felt the rage building. She was a young, pretty girl in a nice suburban neighborhood. It’s not Hells Kitchen, not by a longshot. It’s her neighborhood. My neighborhood.

And she knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she doesn’t belong. Who the hell has the right to make her feel that way?

“I love my religion, don’t get me wrong. I love being Persian. But I feel like I can get beat up just for looking like what I am. And if I put on a wig, you know, my skin is light enough, well, that’s like a lie, you know?”

Damn. I want to say, “Sweetheart, you FLAUNT who you are. You tell those jerks to GO TO HELL for even trying to make you feel second-class.”

But what if she’s right? What if flaunting her identity could get her hurt?

I suddenly realize that I’m sitting here, in my smug, safe, well-to-do white middle-aged female world, about to pontificate defiance to someone who really could get beaten up simply for having the wrong color of skin and hair. In OUR neighborhood.

And now Donald Trump, with his campaign of hatred and leg-breaking and neo-Nazi, “I’ll pay your legal bills if you punch ’em in the face,” becomes very real, and very scary.

Is this how it started in Germany? Perfectly nice, educated folk, coming to the realization that it was safest to advise their neighbors to keep a low profile, or even get out..for their own good?

It’s easy for me to tell someone else to be brave and bold and a bitch. To prate about black lives mattering, or sympathize deeply with the plight of Syrian refugees…because I know I’ll never have to put my money where my mouth is.

I looked at her, and was ashamed.

“I’m sorry,” I said, taking her hand. And we started to talk. I learned a lot. I don’t know if I’ll ever learn enough.

2017-07-03T14:33:48+00:00

9 Comments

  1. Janis March 19, 2016 at 1:54 pm - Reply

    Living where U of O students roam the cafe’s and bars, it is a surprise to Muslim students when I smile and say hi. They mostly give back a shy smile or a “hello”, then look over their shoulders to see what other people around them perceive is happening…so I go out of my way to be friendly. It takes such a small part of my time, and may be the only positive interaction they get in a 24 hour period.

  2. Shereen March 16, 2016 at 1:13 am - Reply

    I had 2 family members in the United States everyone else is in Europe while I grew up. Being fair haired and blue eyes I never had to deal with shallow minded folks like that poor girl. My mother was born in Holland and married a military man and he brought her over here – then took off never to be found. I too , joined the navy and worked at Air Fields as an ATC and met my husband as a pilot. We have always been adopted by our community and neighbors. I share this because it’s so unfair to a gal like her, how skin tone and hair color can effect narrow minded people.

  3. Sunny March 15, 2016 at 6:41 am - Reply

    here on the other side of the Atlantic…our brand of ultra conservatives make Donaldt Rump seem like just another Bozo on the bus. And the Persians, Syrians, etc etc etc were not born here. But here is where they are looking to escape to. And the welcome mat has been taken inside, the doors barred, windows shuttered, and we Eu-are-peeins are hunkered down sipping our tea, waiting for our governments to sort out the way to protect the system from all those poor poor wanderers. You can’t imagine the depth of the word “pathetic”.

  4. KaCe March 15, 2016 at 12:03 am - Reply

    We (you, me, others who care about decency) must stand united against hate mongers. I need to practice my delivery, so I’ll know what to say when face to face with someone who would be mean to others. We all must smile at people like your new acquaintance. Be nice to all. I think it is a bible quote that says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

    When good people do nothing, evil wins.

  5. Jane Morgan March 14, 2016 at 7:28 pm - Reply

    Your post touched me and I wish I knew what to say. Please tell your friend she is not alone and give her a hug for me.

  6. carenashford March 14, 2016 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    very true re trump….glad I live in NZ..you did right.bless you

  7. karen March 14, 2016 at 3:53 pm - Reply

    Your post brought tears to my eyes, the thought of Trump being elected scares me and the thought of American citizens, like your friend, being bullied because their religion is atrocious. After all America is a melting pot of different races and religions. I believe Americans are smarter and more compassionate than to elect a bigot as our president. Hopefully, the minority that are considering voting for him will wake-up before it’s too late! thank you for your post and give your friend a big hug from me!

  8. Haunt Rama March 14, 2016 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    Wonderful.

  9. bobjheathBob Heath March 14, 2016 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    Very touching piece Cynthia. You meet the most interesting people. I appreciate your reminder about how those of us who are not being targeted can easily forget about the daily struggles of those who are. It didn’t start with Trump, but he’s certainly made it worse. I keep hoping that Trump will lose big time and that will be the end of it, but in my heart, I know it won’t. He has exposed, but also given license to, the dark side of the American populace and I don’t think they’re going to crawl back into their holes after the election.

Comments welcome! (thanks)

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