I wrote this out quite a few years back. It’s still true and still haunting me.
In the six months we were situated in Bremen, Germany, years and years ago, my mother and I found a wonderful women’s clothing store that had good-quality, low-priced clothing. We had lived in Africa for the past three years, so our supply of winter clothing was meager. After one of our afternoon trips to that shop and around town, we were waiting at the tram station waiting for the number three train that would take us home. I had my one-way trip ticket ready to be stamped. My mother beside me was frantically searching her wallet for her ticket. She pulled out one orange ticket after another orange ticket. Every single one of them had already been stamped and previously used! What to do?!
“Mum, why in the world do you keep the tickets you use?” I asked in a tone.
“You have to keep them for the whole tram trip, so I put them back in my wallet and forget to throw them out,” she replied, slightly irritated. “Don’t you have another one?”
“No, this is one’s my last.”
At that moment, a man I assumed to be Turkish – the largest minority in Germany being the Turks – started to say something to me in Deutsche. He went on for several sentences before I stopped him and tried to utter out “Ich kann nicht Deutsch sprechen.” Down the road, the number three tram was honking its horn to passers-by. The man tried to explain in English what he was saying in German.
“Er, I have a… monthly ticket? Yes. On weekends, er, it is good for two people. You can er, share it? Yes, with me.” My mother and I lighted up and agreed immediately as the tram was pulling up to the station. The three of us boarded the train together. We sat in three seats parallel to the door, myself being seated between my mother and the magnanimous man. We thanked him copiously as we got comfortable.
The tram started to move. We all sat in awkward silence, not knowing what to say after expressing our gratitude. My mother the Great Evangelizer, being braver than I, started to speak to the man.
“So! What country are you from?” my mother said with a beaming smile.
“Oh, er, I’m from Syria,” the man said with a sheepish grin.
“Oh really! What are you doing in Germany? Are you a student?” my mother inquired genially.
“Yes! I am, er, a little late? Yes, a little late. But it’s good! It’s good.”
“Oh, I see. That’s okay!” A slight nod and smile from the man. Silence.
“So, do you go to church?” my mother pressed on. The man chuckled.
“Oh no, I’m Muslim. Syria, you know? We are Muslim nation.”
“Oh I see. Jesus bring life, you know. He is the Way.” my mother had just begun her preaching. The man, suddenly empowered by his duty to defend his religion, started to speak with more confidence.
“Oh, I believe Jesus,” the man replied.
“Oh?” my mother cocked an eyebrow.
“Yes, I believe he was a prophet… He was a good man!”
“Oh no no no. He is the only One. He loves you,” my mother persisted. The man laughed out of awkward politeness.
“Jesus loves you, and he died for you on the cross. It’d be great if you went to church,” my mother continued. The man tried to be deferential under my mother’s hearty encouragements that were questioning his beliefs. My mother wasn’t being denunciatory. She was being warm and affable, trying to make this man go to church at least once. My mother soldiered on.
“You must be lonely sometimes as a student, right?” my mother said sympathetically. The man released a nervous chuckle.
“Well… yes,” another small laugh.
“See, if you go to church, you won’t be lonely! People are friendly and cordial, and you’ll make great friends. You’ll meet the greatest Friend of all.” She grinned with warmth. The man didn’t say anything. He didn’t smile. He didn’t let out his routine laugh. The Syrian man was looking from my mother to me. Me to my mother. My mother to me. He let out a long sigh. He looked at me again. His face was serious, unsmiling. After a few minutes, he started to say something and hesitated. A few more moments of quiet passed. My mother did not back down. She watched him with an unwavering gaze. I sat between them, casting furtive glances at the both of them, feeling more than a little uncomfortable sandwiched between two people voicing their beliefs.
The silence broke.
“Okay,” the man said. My mother’s face brightened.
“Okay,” the man repeated. “I will go to church.” My mother beamed.
“I will go to church,” pause. “I will go to church if you let me marry your daughter.” My mother’s face turned icy. Any signs of a smile ever existing vanished. The man stared intensely at my mother. She took a deep breath.
“Are. You. CRAZY?!” she uttered venomously. The Syrian man seemed taken aback. He stuttered.
“Er, erm, I’ll… I’ll go to church!” he finally said. My mother snorted.
“She’s fourteen!” my mother pronounced, exasperated. The man seemed perplexed.
“Yes, and?” the man said, shrugging.
My mother gave him a horrified look and pulled me closer to her, and we sat in tense silence all the way to our destination. Much to our chagrin, there were no more seats to which we could move, and the tram was already crowded. On top of that, the man got off at the same station we disembarked at, so we dealt with his ominous presence all the way home. Needless to say, my eyes were as big as saucers, and I was petrified the whole ride. So ladies, lonely, Syrian student in Bremen. Any takers?