On the Streets of Dublin: Not All Men

SubhanAllah. It is 21:36. My bus is in 24 minutes and I am on campus, looking at the stars. We have just stepped out of the Graduate Memorial Building, after a successful collaboration with the Theological Society. The stars are glimmering in the sky spectacularly and my neck is snapped as far back as it can go as I trip on the cobblestones while staring at the sky. The brothers are standing with the guest speaker in a small circle, and I’m not sure what they’re discussing. There is no light pollution in Front Square and the stars sparkle, the moon glowing proudly in the centre. SubhanAllah, the creation of Allah.

I leave. I walk through Front Arch past men in suits and women in dresses as a man turns around to take a picture of his friends as they walk behind him. I stand just outside the Arch and contemplate going back to the other end of campus to get the bag holding my change of outfit from before the event. I decide it would be cutting it finely to get my bus if I turn back and the building where the prayer room is would probably be closed, and I can always get it tomorrow anyway in sha Allah. I think of my outfit, whether a white hijab paired with a white niqab makes me look like a ghost to people. I think that I think too much about my appearance, that I ought to train myself in being less self-obsessed. (I am later told that I looked like an angel in my white and gold.)

I walk my walk to the bus stop, conscious of how much time I have to kill. I consider going another way for once, to see the lights by the docks and cross the bridge that crosses the river. I decide that this time of night is not the best to explore what lies beyond my normal route, so I keep walking when the green man signals to me to cross the road, aware of how long I will have to stand at my bus stop for.

Walk, walk, walk. I am approaching another zebra crossing by the Luas tracks and a cafe, just after the donut place and pharmacy. I am looking at the Ukrainian flags masted on the trees and lamposts on O’Connell street. There are quite few people around. I see a man standing by the pergola of a cafe that is closed because of the hour. He steps off the corner as he sees me approaching and steps right into my path, stopping me. He is talking, or maybe he isn’t talking, or maybe I do not remember because he is looking at me intensely and I am trying to step out of his way. I step back and he steps forward. I step right and he mirrors me. Good God.

‘Can you step back please?’ I say directly, pointing my hand at him.

‘Why?’, he says, smiling in a weird way, laughing at me. His eyes are beady and I have never seen The Joker, but he appears to me what The Joker ought to look like. He has a wispy goatee and a wispy mustache and a navy jacket and a backpack and he looks not that much older than me.

‘Because you’re making me uncomfortable’, I say, and these lines have worked on men before and they step back because I say these things directly and with assertion because I am not a woman who shows her fear.

But he laughs at me again, all of this happening in seconds and while I am speaking, I am stepping backwards and to the side and he is mirroring me, so my body is responding before my brain has even processed this danger. So I am turning around, about to run back in the direction of where I came.
It is hard to explain because it happens all at once, but three more men appear out of nowhere on what was an almost empty street just seconds prior.
So I am about to keep running because this man on the corner may well have been the first step of a set-up where he distracts me — and then they step in to carry out some sinister plan — and I have calculated all of this as they are crossing the road to where I am — and I haven’t even thought of where I am going to run to when I hear what the men who have all started to come to my direction are saying:

‘What is your problem, man?’ says the man who crossed the road from the left, and the man who crossed the road from the forward-left joins in, berating him and the man who stopped me is now facing them as they are moving closer to him while I am still about to run in the direction behind me. Freak is defending himself, his innocence. I hear no more.

The man who came out of nowhere on my right behind me has approached the zebra crossing. He is a Deliveroo driver with a bicycle. He turns around to me as the other two men are accosting the freak who stopped me.
He tells me in a firm voice something along the lines of ‘come on, don’t turn around, keep walking’ and I am worried and don’t know whether to trust him so I am about to ignore him and carry through with my plan to make a senseless dash backwards, but he repeats with authority, almost shouting at me to keep walking with him, now. In split seconds of mental computing I realise that the freak may not be kept by the other two men forever and so I have to keep moving far away from him, so I move quickly to where Deliveroo man is now that the freak is out of my way, and I keep walking in my intended direction.

He is pushing his bike and tells me that I have to ignore people like this and have to keep walking when these things happen. And I say okay and thank you, and I don’t know where to begin or what to process — a part of me wants to be mad and defensive — a part of me is frustrated at this being the time that I am told to ignore someone, like this is primary school and I am meant to rise above any old person who is bothering me. He calls me sister at some point and I am about to suspect he is an Arab Muslim, but I settle on him being Brazilian, because I have been called mother, sister and daughter all in one day by confused monotheistic strangers anyway, so maybe he thinks I’m a nun.

I say thank you again, as he starts to fall behind me, now actually cycling, probably to continue wherever he was going before he stepped in and commanded me to keep walking, and I keep walking and I turn around multiple times to see if the freak is following me and I flinch, jump out of my skin any time a man passes me by. I am walking and I do not see faces or features, just male and female bodies and someone with the same colour hair as the freak and someone with a beard that looks the freak’s, but it is not a beard, it is a lowered black mask. I look back again and again, and think that Deliveroo man is long gone, but I see his bicycle’s light and I assume that he must be working somewhere on this street, but I am glad to have him around, because he would be closer to the freak if the freak decided to follow me, and he could shout at him too, or mow him down with his bicycle.

I walk and walk, and at any point, Deliveroo man is always in front of me or behind me, until I turn the last corner to my bus stop and check the time and am worried all over again about standing and waiting until the bus comes, because I still have 13 minutes to wait, and my bus stop is on a road by a corner, but you can not see who is coming around the corner until they are around it. Deliveroo man is off his bike and looks at me. So he was with me, confirmed. He speaks.

‘This is the bus station. You are safe here?’

‘Yes’, I say, and I thank him again. My bus has not arrived, but the area by my stop is well-lit and people come in and out of the pub nearby, people bustle back and forth, walking briskly and holding shopping.

He says something about how he just saw that the freak was scaring me, and I say thank you very much.

My body is far from rest, my arms are tightly crossed over myself and I am holding my elbow and looking for anyone who will turn the corner. And perhaps to make sure I’m okay, he asks me:

‘Where are you going?’

And I look at him suspiciously and hesitate and stutter when I answer anyway, which I decided because most people don’t even know where my town is.

‘And where are you from?

I tell him Nigeria, because he is clearly ethnic too and will be confused if I say Dublin.

‘And is this your first time here, in Dublin?’

‘No.’

‘How long have you been in Dublin?’

‘My whole life!’

‘So you were born here?’

And I nod.

‘And is this your first time walking on this street?’ and I say no and I am laughing a bit, reflexively, laughing a laugh of embarrassment and a laugh because I am almost apologetic for the situation, now that I realised he has escorted me all the way to my bus stop, laughing because I don’t want him to think I am a young and scared girl.

And he moves his bike out of the path and tells me that I mustn’t do that again, that I must ignore them and walk past them and keep walking. And he asks me where I was going to go when I was turning around, about to make my genius dash backwards to nowhere in particular. Was I going to go back and cross the street and then come around again? And what if I met another person wherever I turned back? He clearly thinks I’m not the brightest.

‘Is this how you’re gonna act?’ he says, and I laugh and I know that my eyes are sad and my laugh is sad, because my body is no longer being defensive and I am beginning to process how shaken I am and I shake my head. No, this is not how I’m going to act, I want to say. I have handled this before, I want to say.

‘And what are you doing in your life?’ I realise he asks this question because he does not want me to be sad, does not want to lecture me about how to stand my ground.

I speak awkwardly, telling him I am a student, telling him I study Law, telling him in Trinity. And a part of me tallies that he now knows where I am getting my bus to and where I study, and I am conscious of this, prepared to analyse the next questions, in case I have moved from one freak to the false safety of another creep.

He asks if I was born in a Muslim family. Yes, alhamdulillah.

‘And you wear the hijab all the time?’ I do, and he says ma sha Allah.

‘I am Muslim too’, he says. He is from Egypt. And we say both say salam alaykum to each other at the same time, and I try to fix it by saying walaykum salam quietly.

‘I have a lot of friends from Egypt’, I offer.

‘They study with you?’ and I say yes and it is his turn to look sad, but so briefly that I am not even sure.

‘How old are you?’ he asks. I tell him.

’20, still young’, he says and he is ready to wheel his bike away, perhaps satisfied that I am a sheltered young girl who can be forgiven for reacting in awkward fright to danger, and satisfied and hoping that I will toughen up with time and experience.

And he says that he saw me and he came for me and that his name is Magdy, Magdy the Egyptian and that anytime you need me, call Magdy, he says. He laughs and slaps his bicycle seat, saying he is always here. I laugh with him — wondering how I would ever possibly find him if I needed him again — wanting to tell him that I will not need him again because I pray that this will not happen again. His closely shaven beard and winter hat and airpods and big smile and straight teeth, Magdy the Egyptian, the saviour of the night, is leaving.

Jazak Allahu khairan, I say. The force of it hits me, because I am about to cry at this point, I have never said ‘may God reward you with goodness’ to someone with so much feeling from the bottom of my heart before. Jazak Allahu khairan, I repeat. Barak Allah feek, and I want to keep praying for him forever: may God bless you and protect you and love you and make you happy and keep you happy now and forever, ameen, ameen, ameen. Maybe he is shy or doesn’t know how to reply, so he nods and walks back towards where we met, pushing his bicycle slowly. I watch him walk and he almost turns back to look at me, but he has already made sure of my safety, and knows that I would be watching him walk away, so he doesn’t turn his head fully.

I finally cry, aware as I do that only 20 per cent of my tears are for what happened, the fear leaving my body. The rest are for Magdy’s kindness, for the fact that three men came out of nowhere for me. For his matter-of-fact reasoning for why he came to help, why he came so far out of his way for me. Watching him walk away, I think of Magdy and the men and the stars. All beautiful creations of Allah.

I get on the bus, at 4 minutes to 10, and see him about to cross the road as we drive onto the next stop. On the bus, there are a father and his child with their North Dublin accents speaking factually about ships and historic voyages. The child is an enthusiast, and his father can keep up, correcting him when he confuses the names of the ships. His father is encouraging and his son gushes with awe for his father as he speaks to him, reverence in his voice for his old man’s knowledge. About 10 Indian students get on and off the bus, each one giggling as they say their 10 thank you’s in a row to the driver. We drive past flashing lights and everyone cranes their necks to see the ambulance and police cars.

I am looking out the window, catching my own reflection, and thinking all sorts of things. At some point I post on my Whatsapp status, aware that everyone will jump to conclusions about what man or men made me post this:

‘I have so so so so so so so so so so so so much faith in Muslim men. May Allah protect them and preserve them and be pleased with them and make them leaders of the righteous’.

Then I am home: warm, safe. My parents are awake in the living room and tell me that they knew I would be late, but they didn’t know I would be this late, that I clearly don’t know how much they worry about me. My father, glad to see me at last, asks me, in Yoruba, if I journeyed and arrived well. I nod because I don’t want to worry them with my story. My mother says: ‘well clearly she did, isn’t this her standing in front of us?’ I almost laugh.

I change my clothes and heat a dinner made hours ago that is now cold. I am playing with chopsticks trying to pick up a piece of slippery mango, and I think that I have Magdy to thank for being home safe right now, and able to do my silly little things. Magdy, acting by God’s will. I mention God’s name and eat, wondering how I will write this all down.

Photo by Finn IJspeert on Unsplash

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Fadilah

Fadilah

183 Followers

A young woman attempting to seek and express reflections of knowledge and truth, trying to find meaning in everything under the sun.