Houston is home to “The Galleria”
Located in the Uptown District, it’s one of the largest, oldest and covered (with air conditioning, might I add) shopping centers in the country. It houses mostly higher end stores, such Saks, Neiman-Marcus, Lord and Taylor (well it used to be there, as was Gumps) Macy’s and countless designer shops. In other words, if they’re foreign, if they can sew and their names end in vowels, their couture creations can be found at astronomically marked up prices within the hallowed halls of The Galleria.
I try to avoid this crowded place at all costs. I only go sparingly and this past weekend was one of those occasions. It was my youngest niece’s 20th birthday and she’s always wanted earrings from Tiffany’s. So, I saved up a few shekels and high-tailed it to “The Galleria”.
I found a parking spot relatively quickly on on the upper floors of the parking garage and made my way to the elevators.
She was already standing there.
I first saw her from the back; she was wearing a hijab along with a long sleeve shirt, baggy pants, with closed toe shoes–nothing but her hands, neck and face were exposed. God, she must have been hot; it was 95 in the city that day. She heard my footsteps, turned and looked at me.
I will admit, I was surprised. She was Anglo; fair skinned with azure eyes. Reddish hair poked out of the hijab. She looked more Irish Catholic than anything else. She smiled at me tentatively and asked in her no accent-accent, if this was the way to The Galleria. I told her it was and she thanked me.
We rode down six floors in silence, stopping at every floor to bring on more shoppers. I studied her as she stood in the corner of the car.
She was Muslim.
I was confounded by my own feelings over this fact. I wanted to understand this woman. What was it about Islam that made her convert? That is, if she converted. Was it her birthright? Did she marry into it? I didn’t know her story, but something in her eyes was writing it for me.
I was feeling an odd plethora of things.
By the time we reached the second floor, there was a part of me that wanted to walk right up to her and scream “You belong to a religion that subjugates women!!! How can you be a Muslim??”
There was another part of me that wanted to shout in her face, “Was September 11th worth it? Huh? Was it???”
I then snapped out of it, realizing that to even think these things was wrong. This is a free country and this woman is entitled to worship as she wants and can within reason, dress in accordance to the tenets of her religion. Besides, I can’t blame every Muslim for the actions of a few insane extremists who’ve bastardized Islam for their own warped benefit. I try to be open minded, but I will admit, I often have to remind myself of this. It’s hard for me to look at someone who’s obviously of Middle Eastern extraction and not think about what happened seven years ago. I think about the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Flight 93 a lot. September 11th made it difficult for me to be exclusionary.
The elevator reached the bottom floor and the human sardines emptied out near the entrance to the mall to exercise their right to full throttle capitalism.
I forgot about the woman as I did my shopping at Tiffany‘s. Twenty-five minutes later, I bought some earrings which were boxed, bowed and bagged. I paid for my purchase and sprinted out of there.
As I rounded the corner to return to the parking lot, so did the Muslim woman. We both laughed. What were the odds.
She looked at my blue Tiffany bag and asked what I bought. I described the earrings and she said she remembered her first pair of Tiffany earrings which were given to her 35-years ago.
Then she sighed.
And I’ll never forget this; she followed that by saying, “But that was a long, long time ago”. There was sadness in her voice.
She then asked me my age. I told her that I was turning 50 in April. She then volunteered that she was 52.
I was surprised. My guess would’ve been mid-60’s. The wrinkles made her look so much older. She then started talking to me about aging and how she was glad to have gotten her painful 30’s and 40’s out of the way. But what about now? What about her 50’s?
She adjusted her hijab, then feigned a smile and said, “The things you do for love.”
This comment answered every question I had, and prompted so many more.
I didn’t know this woman, but I felt sorry for her. I couldn’t help but wonder; what exactly did she do for love and what was her life like before she made the literal leap of faith?
When I reached my car, I put my bag down and touched my uncovered head. The hijab. I was raised Catholic and taught catechism by Carmelite nuns in full habit which wasn’t really all that different from a burkha, but I’m still awed when I see a woman wearing a hijab, yet theoretically, I understand why they do. Muslim women wear them to keep from being objectified by men and to appear moral and chaste.
I know what a hijab is supposed to keep out, but I also wonder what a hijab keeps in.
And on this warm, balmy Saturday in early September, it wasn’t doing a very good job of concealing one woman’s regret.
Look, I understand we love who we love. I understand that we make sacrifices and sometimes, difficult decisions to be with the people we care about. But if pressed, could I ever do this? Could I shuck everything I know and hold dear for a belief system and lifestyle so completely alien to me? Could I have done any of these things?
As I was pulling out of the parking garage, my cell phone rang. It was The Boyfriend asking me to pick up a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips and some bologna. How I HATE bologna and those chips in particular. They stink, they taste terrible and what these so-called “foodstuffs” do to a human burp is criminal!
I argued briefly, then conceded. I made one stop on my way home–at a grocery store to buy bologna and sour cream and onion potato chips.
The things we do for love.