Always staring, always watching.
It was around eight when I finished a Physics review session and started heading towards Cafe Hermann for dinner; met a couple of roomies and friends on the way there, and commenced to wait in line to get food. It’s the hospital stuff…ya know how it goes.
So I was just standing there helping my roomie decide whether or not she should waste her dinner stipend on chicken fried steak-something she’s never seen or tried before, and something I’ve personally had bad experiences with because of school cafeteria lunches-when the nightshift janitor stops his daily rounds to start a conversation with us. I’ve seen him several times before now, and almost every time he never fails to tell me Hello Sister. I never really thought much about why he called me sister, I always thought that it was a nice gesture from a nice probably around sixty year old black man who called everyone his brother and sister, and it just made sense.
But it really wasn’t that.
I can’t remember what exactly started the conversation, but he commented on my comment on the chicken friend steak.
"You should listen to my sister over here, she’s had some experience," he told my roomie.
She somewhat glanced him over, in her motherly ways, and I could tell she started getting a little overprotective of me on his usage of the term sister.
He then turned to me, with this huge, silly grin on his face, and says "I know all about your culture. Assalamualaikum sister, Wa’allaikumassalam”.
Honestly, at this point, I thought he was going to drop some Kanye West Power Remix on me, but instead he gave me a light hug. Which was somewhat awkward-actually, really awkward, but really funny at the same time because he was so goofy and chill and laughing the whole time and genuinely meant what he said.
And then our conversation started. My roomie questioned him, asking him if that’s why he called me sister, and then asked if he was muslim. She admitted that she always wondered why he always called me out.
"I’m not a Muslim, but I read a lot. It don’t matter what you are. I believe in God, man I got God in me. The Quran, the Torah, the Bible (he listed several books included), they all teach you the same thing. Respect, respect each other. Respect cultures. Culture is important. I talk to a person with Respect no matter who they are, that’s my belief. Keep it nice, keep it equal. Why you got to put someone down because of what they believe? You got to keep reading. Read man read. Reading will open your mind, and people need to have their mind open."
And then he looked at me.
"You’re going to have a lot of problems. I know you’re going to have a lot of problems in this field. People don’t understand you, they just don’t understand. You got to work on your head, and your heart. It’s tough, it’s going to be tough. But I can see it in you, I see it in you. You got it sister, you got it. It’s going to be tough but you’re going to make it. You got a nice head, and you got a nice heart, and you’re going to make it, I see that."
I was in shock, just at how randomly this conversation came up, just at how randomly it escalated to me, just at how no matter how many times I forget that I’m a visual representation of Islam, there is always someone who brings it to light. And I honestly find it so incredibly beautiful, so incredibly eye opening, to see a person leap out of their comfort zone to start a conversation with a person who doesn’t look the norm. This man here, he was protecting me in a way, defending me, defending my beliefs and my right to practice, and my right to do as I seem fit to my religion, and my culture, and defending my decision to enter the health field.
And he continued talking. He talked about religion, culture, things he read from books. He was so incredibly articulate, so incredibly knowledgeable, standing and talking to us in the food line about everything that came to his mind, all respectful, all mindful, all logical, standing there in his sanitation scrubs and cleaning supplies in hands. He gave us boy advice, relationship advice, marriage advice, friend advice. And the whole time he called me sister. Sister this, sister that. Have faith, keep reading, keep learning, it’s amazing what you learn from a book, what you can teach yourself.
And then it came our turn in line, and as the man and my roommate and I parted ways, I just couldn’t stop thinking about how this man thought, and how he chose the precise words to describe exactly what he meant.
"I’ve never met a person like that. Just the way he defended you and he doesn’t even know you? That was amazing."
Yeah, that was amazing. Yeah, there are pretty amazing people in this world. And yeah, I’ve just been touched by one of them.