I’ve been here in New York for about a week now. With all the ‘scary’ stories about life in New York, I set out with lots of apprehensions and doubts, of whether I am doing the right thing to move here. When we first arrived at JFK, we were met by very, very friendly passport immigration staffs, who asked us questions, laughed and joked with us. The check-out process was smooth and quick. Those happy moments really uplifted my spirits and I told myself that maybe New York is not such a bad place.
We stayed in a hotel in Long Island City, Queens. Despite the relief moments at the airport, I still look at people around me with suspicions. Being Muslims, we need to be cautious as there may be people who hate us and do not like us here in New York.
But so far, as we went to places around New York, all the people we bumped into are amiable, cheery and helpful. But on the 5th day, I had a small scare. We were in the subway train going towards World Trade Center. Seated exactly opposite me was an old lady (about sixty plus) in a flowery dress. She had a walking stick hooked onto her right arm. I looked up to her, expecting to see a smiling face, but what greeted me made me shiver to the bones. The look on her face shocked me. Her eyes were sharp and frigid. There was not a flicker of smile on her lips. I quickly looked away and from the corner of my eyes, I could see that she was eyeing me and my family, one by one.
When the train was reaching Times Square, she stood up and walked forward towards me. I shivered a little and told myself ‘Oh Gosh! A hate crime is going to happen’. I pretended not to see her and fumbled with my bag as my children got up to get off the train too. I saw the old woman walked nearer to me and I was bracing for an attack of the walking stick from the old woman. But all I heard was the words ‘Assalamualaikum’, the Arabic phrase which means ‘Peace be upon you’. I looked up and saw the old woman grinning and nodding at me as if to really show that she meant what she said ‘Peace’. I was stunned for a while but got hold of myself and smiled and nodded back at her. I was too shocked for words. She walked out of the train door and we followed suit behind her.
It was really sweet of her to make the effort to pronounce the Arabic phrase. It was an unexpected but a pleasant surprise. She really made my day, although I was really scared initially. Come to think of it, it was kind of silly of me to fear a fragile old lady to attack me with a walking stick, but in this unpredictable world, anything goes. Nevertheless, her small but meaningful gesture adds up to my list of positive points of staying in New York.
New York, thank you for the pleasant hospitality.