As I rounded the second stair well my abaya ros (long silky black cloak that sits on your head and covers the whole body) caught under my shoe and ripped. I gripped a large piece of material that I had gathered up and clutched in my fist in order to keep everything precariously fixed upon my head. I knew it could fly off in a second and everything else with it, but that was the least of my concerns. The face cover that was purchased at the open market, had a mere slit for eyes to peer out. In my haphazard departure from the front doors of the apartment building, it had shifted and covered my right eye, allowing vision from only one eye. None of these details mattered much as I hobbled up the cement stairs, 9 month old attached to my hip, two year old Foof propped upon weary arms and Saleeha grasping at my abaya. Her high pitched fussing had turned into sobs as she strained to keep up. I was still befuddled as to the reason for this mad chase through the doors and up the stairs of the building, nevertheless I continued shuffling, stumbling and preventing this parade from careening into the rails and down the stairwell. I could hear the harrass (doorman and maintenance man) through his nervous giggles trying to reason with the crazed man. He kept repeating in his broken english, “no sir no sir, madam lives here sir” but it was quite clear nothing would stop this advance.
It had all started as I approached the door to our building and rifled through my diaper bag for the key to the outer door. At that time a man, like any other man, approached me and eventually stepped in front of the doors, blocking my entry. His demeanor was unsettling but not alarming and he made numerous demands that I answer what appeared to be inquiries about my residence. I knew that it was not appropriate for men to engage with females not related through family ties and so I politely explained through broken Arabic that I did not speak the language. This did not suffice and his tone and attitude rapidly escalated from agitation to animosity and hatred. My heart raced as I gathered my little ones next to me, in my arms and behind me. The harras (doorman) then intervened, speaking in bits and pieces of Arabic and English. I took this opportunity to slide through the doors and up the stairs, relieved that this intruder would now be locked out.
basic face cover that I wore
As I made it up to the first landing I heard footsteps that kept a steady click and seemed to accelerate with each raise of voices that now echoed in the halls. The only thing that kept him from catching up to us, was the well meaning harrass who kept repeating his words regarding my place of residence. I tripped and hung onto a small railing near the stairs feeling much like I was climbing a mountain gripping at rocks and plants along the path. The man stepped in front of me several times and I repeated the words I had heard the harrass repeat, “ live here, live here!!” The man now spoke in English and told me “Leave my wife alone go away do not come back!!” As I stood at the top of the third floor quite a mess, but safely to my destination, the invasion stopped cold. I found the key, hands trembling and stuck it in the lock. We entered the apartment and fell into a heap in front of the door. A relief came over me, I ripped off my abaya and face cover and comforted the kids who sat next to me in a daze.
We sat for a few minutes and then it occurred to me that this rampage might just be the beginning. I ran to the kitchen to use the phone ( a recent improvement to the apartment) and dialed him to a friend’s number. I told him what had happened in a calm and monotone voice, holding back tears as I knew anything else would be taken as hysteria. He didn’t seem alarmed and questioned me about the man and then let out a hearty laugh. He informed me that this was the new neighbor man he had met weeks before. He had recently brought his bride from Syria to live in an apartment downstairs. He (husband) had insisted that I go and visit this man’s wife, a poor, lonely newlywed. I made a carrot cake and made my way to her door. I rang and heard movement behind the door but no answer so I returned the next day with the same routine. It was evident at this time, her husband was the crazed man! I was highly agitated that a good deed and a difficult one for me was met with this response. He (husband) explained to me that this man must have thought I was an unwelcome intruder or a beggar when he saw me in front of the building. He reminded me that visits of this kind needed a message sent beforehand!