Mohammad stood behind his vending pushcart on Manhattan’s 47th street. He wore a heavy coat and a plaid winter scarf wrapped around his head like a turban. He was bundled up against the cold and chilling wind that barreled down Broadway.
He had a prime location outside of the M&M candy store in the chaotic hustle of Times Square and kept company with a Nigerian selling knock-off hand bags and Russians peddling framed images of the Brooklyn Bridge.
I worried about him after the terrorist attacks in Paris and the general suspicion of Muslims that ensued. I was somehow certain he must be affected by the events in France. I walked over to see how he was.
“Salaam, Mohammed,” I yelled, my voice barely audible above the city din.
He looked up at me, smiling. “Salaam!”
I passed Mohammed daily on my way to the gym at lunch hour. He always seemed happy despite having to face the elements daily. He kept a prayer mat close by. If he wasn’t standing behind the grill, I could find him on his knees praying mere inches from the street curb.
“It’s too cold today, Mohammad,” I said, huddling under my coat.
“Yes, yes,” he said smiling with a shrug. “What can you do? This is life.”
“It is indeed,” I replied.
Mohammad began his usual series of questions. “How is your family? How are your parents? Is everyone okay?”
“Yes, everyone’s fine, thank you,” I said lying, wanting to avoid personal details.
“Thank God,” he said, raising his hands toward the sky then laying them on his heart. “Thank God.”
I shrugged my shoulders in response. He knows I’m an atheist but he doesn’t seem to care. God is what he knows.
I learned over the years that he emigrated from Jordan. “There’s no work there,” he once told me. “I had to come here to eat. I still try to send money back.” He has two grown sons and his wife died several years ago.
On this particular day, with so much discussion of Muslims in the news, I was glad to see he was his normal cheerful self. I detected no worry on his face.
“Come, let me give you something to eat, something to drink,” he said, waving his plastic-gloved hands over his grill of kebabs. “Whatever you want.”
“No, thank you, Mohammad. I’m going to work out now.”
“Maybe on your way back then? You have to eat something.”
“Maybe,” I said, smiling and went to the sports club in the next block. He seemed fine, but maybe he simply didn’t want to talk about what was on his mind.
When I returned from the gym, Mohammad was waiting for me. “Come, I want to ask you something.”
His face grew quizzical and I thought perhaps things were not all right after all. Maybe he might now open up and share his experience being Muslim in America or speak out on current events. I was concerned and listened with attention.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
He cocked his head and set his eyes to twinkling. “You know I don’t have my wife and I work here all day and go home alone. Don’t you need someone to be with?”
I smiled big, outside and in. For all my concern about my Muslim friend, he was just tying to pick me up — a different and more reassuring kind of current event.
“Ah, Mohammed. That’s very sweet of you to ask, but no, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
He shrugged unbothered. “You are such a nice girl. Maybe you will change your mind, Inshallah.”
I smiled with relief, waving as I went on my way. “Salaam Mohammad.”
Now it’s official. I can report to France no crisis here. At least not on 47th street where my friend Mohammad is just fine.