Siren on the Bay

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Tonight I write from a cozy room with high ceilings, a wrought iron bed, and a window view to some type of rooftop garden with skylights in its center. There is a rock band practicing in some other part of the building, and their rifts are faintly audible in the silence of this space. When I arrived here, an aged wannabe rocker who may or may not have been past his prime popped in the office and greeted the desk clerk while I was checking in. I believe he lives here.

After lugging my suitcase up the winding flight of stairs to my room and delightedly finding two Hershey kisses on my pillows, I unloaded the bulk of what I had brought with me and left again with only what I needed. I walked around the block to a halal Mediterranean restaurant I spotted when I initially drove into the neighborhood, and was seated at the table that sister Salma was setting when I entered. She took my order and offered me some complimentary tea, which I graciously accepted.

The afternoon sun angled through the broad windows as I surveyed the establishment. I felt at peace being in there, and that feeling gave me a reassurance that I can do this after all…this “new life alone” thing. I sipped the tea while texting my friend about all the important things running through my heart and mind, until the best shish tawook I’ve ever had was served. I took my time eating it while I thought about how I was going to spend the next couple of days. Salma asked me where I was from and confirmed that I was a convert. She asked my name, and as I am accustomed to doing with other Muslims I told her “Jamylah”. She said, “no, what’s your other name?” I couldn’t believe it, this was the first time I had been asked for my legal name by another Muslim. So I beamingly told her “Amy”, to which she replied, “that’s a very nice name!” I was so tickled by this.

After my meal, I rounded the corner with my bag of leftovers and started up Hyde (or would it be down?) for dessert. I have always been fond of walking and I wanted to get a taste of what I might be in for with being on foot as I complete my mission here. Surprisingly, going up hills were easier than descents for me given that I was foolishly wearing heeled boots. I had stopped at a shoe store earlier this morning but couldn’t find anything I could comfortably wear with my kufs, so I decided to see if I might be able to handle it after all. Let’s just say I need to scout out a shoe store as soon as I can.

As I walked while listening to Maher Zain songs, I felt the ease in how everyone was minding their own business. No one cared where I was walking or why, or why my scarf was tangerine orange, or why I smiled at them. Instead, they smiled back and continued on in their own affairs. How so very different is this city from Atlanta, and it gave me hope that some of the weariness I’ve taken on from living there for so many years might be eased here some day soon, in shaa Allah.

I entered the small and unassuming ice cream shop mentioned by a friend, not knowing what to expect. I quickly scanned their menu and decided to get a hot fudge sundae with mocha fudge ice cream. While it was being made, I popped across the street to get cash out of the corner market’s ATM machine (note to self: there may be a lot of places around here that only take cash besides Swensen’s) and felt a sense of deja vu as I noted the way the canned goods were aligned on the shelves while walking out the door. I went back to retrieve my prize, and began walking back down (up?) Hyde toward my hotel to sit on the random red bench I had past earlier and so enjoy the treat.

When others tell me that a certain place has good sweets, I tend to be pretty skeptical. I’m a fiend for all things saccharine, so it takes a lot to impress me into saying that something is the “best”. Yet I tell you the truth, when I took my first bite of that unbelievable creation, I was utterly flabbergasted. I never had ice cream with such a rich and balanced flavor since Godiva sold pints. I really believe this franchise needs to make a comeback and give places like Cold Stone Creamery a serious run for their money.

That being the case, I deliberately took my time savoring each bite. I sat on the bench alone, listening to the electrified hum of the cable car rails and watching passer-bys with their freshly groomed puppies while ruing the fact that this will be the only time I will be able to enjoy such phenomenal ice cream until further notice. As the sun began to set I started to feel a bit vulnerable, realizing that I was entirely alone in a profoundly large city where I knew absolutely no one. I recognized I was taking a risk to stay out past maghrib (which was not yet quite in), and made dua that Allah keep me safe during my time here. I made sure I kept my eyes on everything and stayed aware of my surroundings while I reluctantly finished the syrupy remains of what I would call a perfect sundae. I then arose and continued down the hill to Bush St.

As I purposefully strode through each crosswalk, I glanced at the others coming and going by me. I understand now why so many creative types come here: because the people alone, with their unique stories and personalities (whether real or imagined) are enough to inspire countless works. Even I started having ideas of what to write about if I ever were to try my hand at fiction, which was something I had not anticipated at all prior to my arrival.

I then began to think about how my mother used to live here, and contemplated what drew her to this city. I tried to picture what my life might have been like if I had been with her, and grew up here. What kind of person might I have been? For better? For worse? Better yet, what kind of person will I become if I manage to get myself settled here, in shaa Allah? That might be a question I will someday actually answer, if Allah wills it.

I swiped my keycard on the front door of the hotel to gain entry just as the maghrib adhan was playing through my headphones. Once back in my room, I quickly changed into my comfortable pajamas and put my leftovers in the fridge. My sons are in bed, and for the time being I get to spend my evening puttering online and reading while the mysterious band continues their grooving.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings, because so far in this short afternoon I have been baptized into something richly exotic, vaguely familiar, and altogether entrancing!

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2 responses »

  1. Yeah, that’s the City for you. No one cares if you’re dressed differently, or of a different race or nationality. It’s live and let live. I was tickled to read that you made it to Swensen’s after all.

    The cable car rails are not electrified. There is an actual steel cable within the rails, and it’s constantly moving, pulled by massive pulleys at a station on the other side of Russian Hill. What you’re hearing is the vibration of the steel rails as the taut cable slides along. The cable car has a grip that grabs onto the cable. The car is then pulled along with the cable. When the driver wants to stop, he releases the grip, and the car coasts to a stop. The cable car has no propulsion or braking system of its own. That’s why the car can only stop on the flat intersections, never on a hill – though an operator did once release the cable halfway up Nob Hill because of me. I’ll tell you that story sometime, or maybe write about it.

    • What’s crazy is that I kept having this thought that I should’ve left out that adjective (electrified), but it didn’t make logical sense to me because I really believed that they worked off electricity. Sometimes I think my subconscious is smarter than me.

      Sorry to say, though, that Swensen’s no longer serves your beloved banana splits đŸ˜¦

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