The day began at 4 AM, when I woke reluctantly. I spent the early morning hours writing and talking to my best friend overseas on the phone. I was not ready to start my day even after that, so I went back to bed and re-awakened when housekeeping knocked on my door.
I didn’t plan to spend all day sleeping, even though it was understandable that my jet lag and personal lack of biorhythms had finally exhausted me. I made my way to the shower in one of the shared bathrooms and made myself wake up fully. Before leaving, I shoved my prayer rug, wallet and kufs into the larger shoulder bag I had brought, hoping to find some better shoes before I got too far down the road. I grabbed my phone, trotted down the stairs and out into the sunny street where life had already begun hours before.
I began walking down Bush toward Market St. My plan was to begin at the UBH offices located there, then divine a course to follow from that point. When I reached Grant, I felt like my heart was going to tumble up and out of my throat. I saw the indelibly familiar Chinese lions and architecture that forged an entrance to what was presumably a section of Chinatown. It was the exact location that I stood at almost 20 years ago when I met my mother for the first time; where our photos together were taken. Overwhelmed and suddenly nauseated, but aching to connect with her somehow, I walked over there and just stood in that very place, looking down the hill as I would had I been getting that photo taken at that moment. I tried to picture her standing next to me- anything to ease the heartache that was pounding in my chest.
But she wasn’t there, and I was reminded again of what I am trying to do here. I needed to find a way through the pain of this loneliness; these unhealed wounds. I moved past that monument and into one of the stores believing surely I would find the shoes I needed there, and indeed I did. I walked out to a wooden bench gripping a $10 pair of black flats with rubber soles and elastic fabric. I tore off my heeled boots, stuffed them into my bag, and zipped on my kufs before working the new shoes over them. Perfect fit!
I waited a minute for the last of the nausea to subside and then arose to continue on. What a relief to be able to walk at a more comfortable pace (read: faster) as I scuttled down the hill. Coming up to Sansome I felt like I could just extend my arms and run, and somehow magically fly into the air to weave between the buildings like a hawk. It made me giddy to watch everyone coming and going…from the others on foot talking on their Bluetooths, to the bike messengers whipping to a stop in front of a business, to the impatiently honking cars trying to pass the slower moving buses.
I came to my destination, and looked all around. Now would be a good time to eat lunch, so I briefly pretended I already worked there and pinged my intuition for a direction to find it. I continued down Market just a little farther, and spied a small shop that advertised halal gyros- Bingo! I took my food to one of the small chrome tables situated outside on the sidewalk and spent another meal with my best text buddy. I sent her a picture of what I hoped would be my next place of employment, while making dua in my mind for the same.
After lunch I decided to make dhuhr, but I needed to find a place. Looking up and down the street I felt that continuing in the same direction I was going would bring me to what I was looking for. Sure enough, just a bit farther down was the Embarcadero. I checked my phone for Kiblah and laid my rug out on one of the grassy knolls there, not far from where a couple men were sleeping. I looped the straps of my shoulder bag around my ankle and made the salat efficiently, then arose to check out the piers across the road.
It was there that I called to mind a poem my sister had written…where she was standing on a pier, looking for love. She was actually born here, and a lot of feelings came up as I sat on the bench overlooking that bay. I had to write, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a glimpse of my future to come- working just down the way, living nearby, and frequently visiting the piers to write out my grief.
After about an hour I rose and scanned the area, noting there were apartments or condos nearby. I walked to them to write down their names for future research, even though they were likely higher priced because of their location near the water. Yet, one never knows what Allah can do. I walked back up Drumm toward Market, feeling I had a sufficient idea what was over that way. I wanted to check out the other side of Market, going away from the water front.
So off I went in that direction. When I reached Kearny, I remembered suddenly that I was in what was before today only a fictional location in my mind. Sure enough, I found myself standing right next to Lotta’s Fountain, although without any water I wouldn’t have readily recognized it without reading the placard on it. I looked all around, expecting imaginary characters to flash through the crowd. Unable to resist temptation, I decided to go ahead and continue my trek to Seventh…just in case they happened to be there waiting for me with a recently recovered bike.
I passed through a retail district that reminded me more of downtown Atlanta, with their name-brand stores and mass produced wares. I was not impressed, but it was clear that it was a tourist boon. I continued on and once I past that area, I felt the energy change and became more wary. Looking around I could tell the differences in the type of stores and clientele, and the smell of weed hit me every other intersection it seemed. Wherever I was, I didn’t think it was prudent to linger there, so I hustled myself down to my hare-brained destination. En route I passed the Asian man, marching in place between two sidewalk chess tables. I wondered if he was psychotic or just exercising.
When I reached Seventh, I saw the Hibernia Bank building standing alone with no one nearby. It was cordoned off and a huge flock of pigeons paced on its stairs. I walked over to them, expecting to instigate their massive exodus. Instead, they eyed me cautiously and shuffled somewhat, but didn’t make any efforts to escape. I laughed aloud at them, decided I could check this off my silly “to do” list, and abruptly turned to walk back down Market street the way I had come. The marching Asian was still in place when I passed him again.
I decided this time to go left on Kearny when I reached that intersection…perhaps there would be some other housing that would interest me in that area. I found that segment rather unremarkable, and checked the time. The afternoon was wearing on and I wouldn’t have much longer before Maghrib came in. I took another left on California when the adhan for asr shrilled into my ears. I didn’t expect to find a place to pray, and was debating about whether to return early to make it in the hotel room when I passed a small inner city playground right outside of Chinatown. I rounded the corner into one of the shops to buy a bottle of water for wudu, then returned to the small park to complete my obligations. I noticed, while I prayed, that I was standing next to a tree with beautiful violet blossoms. Their fallen petals littered the grass around my prayer rug, which strangely brought an ease to my heart.
I checked the time again as I was leaving that gem of a refuge, and decided I feasibly had enough time to make another trip to Swensen’s for a very worthy treat before returning to my room. I trekked up the murderous hill toward Hyde, stopping once to catch my breath and take in the lovely view of the Bay Bridge which seemed parallel to where I was standing. Once I reached Hyde I felt so carefree that I just began singing aloud to the song that was playing through my headphones:…if you can wait ’til I get home, then I swear to you, that we can make this last. If you can wait ’til I get home, then I swear come tomorrow this will all be in the past… I didn’t care who heard. I had to get home. This should be home.
As I approached Swensen’s, I wondered if perhaps I just happened to get lucky yesterday. What are the chances that all of their ice cream is that mind-blowing? Really good, actually. I decided to order another hot fudge sundae, this time with raspberry marble ice cream. I walked with it down to my red bench (Yes, it is my bench now), and about passed out from the way the succulent raspberry ribbon played with the sweet fudge in my mouth. There was no rush, no fear…just a delicious reprieve from an adventurous day.
Yet, as I sat there, I realized how lonely I still felt. As amazing as today was, and as much hope as I have, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone. I wanted to share moments like that with someone, no matter how hard I try to convince myself that I can make solitude my closest friend. I know better than to hold my breath for another marriage proposal ever coming from out of the blue, and I don’t foresee myself seeking a prospective spouse out anytime in the foreseeable future. How would this work? I needed friends here…maybe a roommate, which would provide two benefits in one. Things to think about, problems to solve. I finished my sundae reminding myself that I have found ways to find such solutions before, and I can do it again by Allah’s will.
Maghrib would be in soon, so I walked briskly back toward Bush. I kept singing as I went -…I can tell it’s what you want, you don’t want to be alone, you don’t want to be alone. And I can say it’s what you know, but you’ve known it the whole time, yeah you’ve known it the whole time…I made it inside the hotel foyer just minutes after the maghrib adhan. Returning to my room, I made maghrib and put my fingers back to work, sealing these memories for my eventual dissection and planning while the band plays on from their clandestine studio.
Until tomorrow, in shaa Allah…