“They have the best Greek feta cheese you can get anywhere,” my husband said, pointing to the Middle Eastern grocery store around the corner from our house where he and his late wife used to shop all the time.
“It comes from France.”
Hm. Greek feta cheese from France. How enticing.
“I’ll check it out,” I told him.
Thus began, three years ago, my almost daily trips to that wonderful little corner of the world, the Middle Eastern market.
From the big sheets of warm-from-the-oven flatbread stacked next to the cash-register, to the six to eight varieties of glistening olives crowded together in bins under protective glass, to the boxes of fresh produce stacked on the floor all bearing labels from small California farms, to the colorful half gallon cans of imported oils, the marmalade from England and the chocolate bars from Germany, I have always managed to find something to buy.
Shopping there reminds me of the Italian delicatessens I would go to with my mother when I was a little girl. It has the same “other-worldly” feeling to it, including the you-can’t-move-freely-down-the-aisle crowdedness of it, and the friendliness of it.
I revel in all the different languages spoken around me, I love all the smiles with their heavily accented “How are you today?” greetings...
... and I love the trust.
“Never mind,” the man behind the register told me. “You can pay for it the next time you come in.”
“You don’t want me to sign an IOU or something?” I asked.
But shrugging his shoulders in that non-verbal way that says so much, added that we all forget our credit cards from time to time.
“Not to worry. You’ll pay next time. I know you.”
I happened to be in the market the day after the terrorist bombing in Belgium. I’d had a tugging at my heart for the people in the Middle Eastern market every time something similar had happened.
This time, I stood at the counter and waited until the line was gone.
I wanted to say something I had wanted to say several times before but I hadn’t followed up on my impulse.
“Yes, ma’am?” the man behind the cash register asked.
I’d had many previous interactions with this particular person and thought of him as the manager of the store.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but you’re Muslim, aren’t you?” I asked quietly.
Of course, I knew he was Muslim. There were racks of women’s long black garments for sale in the store and all of the women shopping there, except me, wore head scarves. Besides, I’d had to make a mental note that they were closed on Fridays between 1:00 and 3:00 to go to mosque.
I saw a flicker — just a flicker — of doubt come into his eye.
He nodded his head solemnly.
“I’m sure you know I’m not Muslim,” I said. “But — with the cloud of terrorist bombs hanging over us in the news — I wanted to tell you that whatever I am, I am your friend.”
I put my hand out and took his in both of mine.
“I wanted to tell you that because of what happened in Belgium. I wanted you to know that I understand what that could be like for you.”
He teared up and I teared up.
I let go of his hand.
“Thank you,” he said.
“No problem, I responded.
“I’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll need more olives by then.”
That was it. Nothing more. Neither of us have mentioned it since but I had proclaimed myself. I had made a public statement about where I stood.
With the bombings and with so many of our leaders and politicians preaching hatred, even if my voice was only between me and one other person, I had raised it.
It felt good.