The small stones from the sidewalk some toddler briskly walked on crunched with each step, leaving me satisfied as I could imagine the little rocks breaking underneath the soles of her gray sneakers. Cliché enough, the day had been nothing short of perfect so far, and the sun shining just enough behind the clouds only added to the light relief I felt throughout my body.
There were a few birds chirping here and there, but the sound of a man’s shouting distracted me from the peacefulness unwrapped around me, directing my attention to the scene unfolding just a few feet away. As I sat silently near the gravel pathway with the wind blowing against my face, I saw the woman on the bench with the royal blue hijab hold tightly to her black faux leather purse, the contorted look in her elegant eyes clearly demonstrating a sign of danger.
That man wore a bright red vest on top of his dark blue turtleneck, an outfit he somehow made look worse than it already sounded. He'd inch closer to her with his anger-filled footsteps, and I could hear the force with which he stomped the soles of his shoes on the ground.
“Say, lady, mind showing me what’s under that scarf?” he taunted.
I couldn’t move, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t convince myself to pick up my feet off the ground and walk over to her before any further damage would ensue. I was screaming internally out of guilt and frustration to just take one step forward, but my brain shouted back differently, warning me that the danger would fall on my hands if I shuffled any closer.
But her eyes were intriguing, more than anything else. The hijab she wore was a rich blue diamond, complemented by the sunlight that fell perfectly on top of the silk-like fabric, and she had large brown eyes that stood out even further because of the sea of blue that shielded her hair. I wanted, more than anything else, to go up to her and talk to her, and maybe we could be friends.
Maybe we could have been friends had I simply walked forward.
The scenario progressed further, with his taunting turning into cold-hearted, raw insults, and the mask he wore beforehand that shielded his words from becoming pure hatred was ripped off.
All I saw was destruction in his eyes.
All I saw was the pure, unfiltered hatred he was so determined to inflict in her direction, and it was so strange to me that on such a lovely day, people could still find a way to let the bigotry seep through. I waited even longer, even patiently to an extent. I wanted to just see her stand up and walk away, or she could even tell him off. There were hundreds of different actions I wanted her to take to show that no matter what he tried to instill in her mind, she was worth more than the flick of his tongue against his teeth when he uttered each syllable.
She sat there, and her expression was unmoving. He pounced on her with derogatory statements that I could not find myself bearing to hear, even if I wasn’t the target.
“If it wasn’t for you Muslims, maybe our country would be safe again, right? Isn’t that right, ya terrorist?” he yelled at this point. “Isn’t it true that all y’all you do all day’s discuss with your Muslim friends the best ways to destroy my country?”
“I have done nothing to hurt you,” she finally spoke. Although those were her first words I had heard her utter, I wish I could convey the amount of emotion she held with her statement. There was no sign of trembling in her voice, but her face was solemn and calm.
I thought she was being too cowardly because she refused to stand up straight and tall and tell him off for his uneducated and emotional behavior. There wasn’t any sign of a crowd gathering, for it was just me waiting to see what would happen next.
“Take off your hat,” he commanded.
She finally turned up to look at him for the first time.
“Excuse me?” she asked, taken aback by his sudden comment.
“I said it loud and clear, lady. Take off that hat.”
SEE ALSO: To The Boy Who Yanked Off My Hijab
I could feel the heat radiating from her, the anger in her face extremely apparent. Her intriguing eyes had changed from understanding of his perspective to becoming full of rage, but I couldn’t blame her. To walk up to a stranger and torment her for her religion, I could not find that to be acceptable. But I still couldn’t find courage in her actions, no matter how hard I tried to look for the silver lining in the way she composed herself. Maybe I could give her credit for the relaxed position she sat in, though she was more on-edge now than before.
“Leave her alone,” I thought I had stated loud enough for him to hear, but the words only came out as a whisper. “Leave her alone.”
Though I was waiting for her find the strength to stand up and walk away, I couldn’t even muster up enough dignity to defend that same person.
Surprisingly, he left just at that instance, and it wasn’t until I saw a group of teenagers walk by that I understood why he had suddenly gone from a madman to a quiet passerby in a crowd of people.
But who was the real monster in the scenario?
I had replayed that moment in my head over a million times as I watched people walk down that sidewalk the rest of that morning, and I didn’t even try crossing a few more feet to talk to the lady with the blue hijab. I had just sat there, sometimes staring at her occasionally shifting her position, and that same lack of respect made me question if I was partially at fault for what had happened.
Maybe I wasn’t the one directly putting down others and spitting out rash commentary, but I let it happen. To most people, he was the monster during those few minutes of verbal abuse that made her feel like she was absolutely nothing, but I knew I wasn’t overanalyzing the situation when I concluded that my position as a bystander only made the situation worse.
I wish I could have the ability to turn back time and reach out to her, and just that gesture would have been enough for him to walk away, just as he did when the teenagers passed by. His demeanor was so quiet when he left, but his mind was screaming with fear, portrayed through the anger he felt like letting out on someone he had simply found to be an easy target. I didn’t know who he was or how his lifestyle was outside of that scene, but I knew that he had ruined her day. It was obvious on her face, too, when she replaced her dignified look with relief and exhaustion.
And it dawned on me why she was so kept during his outburst: she had experienced this before. More than anything else, that broke my heart.
“Yes, Amma, I’m fine,” I heard her say into her phone after dialing a number. She still clutched her purse close to her chest.
The tears rolled down her face faster than I could keep up with her change in emotions, and I had to redact my original opposition to her reaction to the man. The courage in her actions was none other than the power to shut down what he had to say, and even that had the ability to take the life out of her. I should have known better than to call her out for this in a situation where someone else was doing much worse.
She took the bus home from that bench on the sidewalk, and I wished in those final moments that I had the ability to move. It was never easy being the statue of a gargoyle, especially when I was considered the monster myself. The image I had to uphold in front of a disturbingly-hateful society was purely ironic, for it was not I who had just put down someone of my own species. It was the humans, who loved so much to prove that even if they were monsters, everything else around them was worse.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Also, please note that this has been an essay previously submitted as an assignment in a class.