I’m at a kosher restaurant trying to pay my bill, but no one’s there to take my money. Suddenly an Orthodox man comes in from the rain, shoots me a look of surprise and then shifts his eyes away. Is it because I’m not orthodox? Or is he just shy?
I say, “Hi” to him and he does not look at me or say, “Hi” back. Is there a religious rule that I’ve violated by saying hi to him?
I don’t know, but what I do know is that he should have said “hi” back, religious differences or not. We are all God’s children. It’s just common courtesy to acknowledge the person who is standing in a room alone with you.
We wait silently for the owner to come out. There is no music playing to distract us, no T.V blaring for us to stare at.
“She’s back there,” I say to him. “She’ll be out in a minute.”
He nods and looks at me. An ever-so-small smile appears on his face. The fair skin of his face has converted from pale to rose, and in this instant, I see a flash of someone I just might want to have a conversation with, someone whose life is so different than mine.
“Your food is almost ready,” the owner calls to the Orthodox man as she opens the kitchen door. This moment transports me back to 1979, when I was a teenager living for a few weeks in Tokyo, Japan.
I’m on the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. The people are not talking to each other. All you hear is the swooshing sound the train makes as it passes the outside world at a dizzying speed. The tracks move and shift underneath as if they will never get used to this much adrenaline. I have never experienced this rush. It’s very exotic and foreign. I realize that America does not always have the latest and greatest and this surprises me.
Suddenly, I see a man look at me and then abruptly look away. I realize he’s looking at me because I’m unfamiliar. No one else looks like me, or talks like me. I’m a Caucasian American teenager.
He might be pondering, what is her life like being an American? I’m wondering, what is his life like being Japanese?
When I look back at him, he shifts his eyes away and does not let them shift back. I find myself studying him, now safe in the knowledge that he is finished looking at me.
When the owner of the kosher restaurant comes out of the kitchen, I pay my bill.
As I close the door and walk to my car, I can smell my warm falafel sandwich in the cold, rainy air. From inside of my car, I can see the back of the man in the restaurant.
He is chatting away with the owner, who is Orthodox. She wears a long skirt and her hair is in a scarf. I see he is comfortable with her. Maybe if we were in a different time and place, he’d want to talk to me.