“Hello? Hello? Excuse me?”
Any normal person from America would probably respond to these opening words by a stranger (not trying to sell something or give you a handbill of some sort) with a tiny bit of openness and friendliness.
But I am no longer a normal person… Because now when I hear these words, I very clearly, self-consciously ignore them and start walking faster.
This is because the stranger is normally a young man expecting to meet the foreign woman of his dreams (and many Hollywood and Bollywood films)… easy and immoral. The best way to handle their advances is to ignore them. It usual works…
Except for yesterday morning, on my way to the train station, when it didn’t. One persistent fellow saw me coming towards him on the (early morning, empty) street, stopped in his tracks and then spun to follow me.
When “Hello? Hello?” didn’t work, he switched to trying, “Hey, Sexy? Sexy?” as though “sexy” were a helpful replacement for not knowing my name.
He kept drawing closer and closer and I kept feeling more and more like a trapped animal. Finally, I spun on my heel and spat out (more loudly than I’d intended) the only Hindi phrase that came to mind, “Go away, jerk!”
Clearly puzzled by this unexpected response, his cat calls faded off and his stride after me lost its gusto.
My fight response, after winning its battle, wasn’t ready to go back to sleep quietly.
Even after I’d boarded my train, found my seat, settled into it with a magazine and bought a cup of chai from the wandering chai salesman – I was still ready to fly at the next offender (whomever or whatever they may do).
So my body tensed when I heard another, “Hello?”
Everything in me went rigid, I kept my eyes determinedly glued to the paper though I was no longer reading its contents.
Maybe it was the “ma’am” he used… maybe it was something in his voice, but I looked up. He was standing a respectful distance back from me.
“You wanted boxcar one?”
Apparently he’d heard me asking outside. “Yes.”
“This is four. You need to go further up for one.”
Instantly, a feeling of needing to apologize to this helpful stranger overwhelmed me. I wanted to say, “I’m so sorry – but I prejudged you based on my earlier experience with someone of your age and gender. I was ready to label you a jerk too. But you were just trying to be helpful… Thanks.”
Instead, I cradled my chai and went off in search of boxcar number one.
Incidentally, there was another helpful, respectful (young, male) stranger in that boxcar who brotherly made sure I knew when my station stop was coming up and otherwise left me alone.
The fight response still hadn’t completely worn off… but as God and I discussed the morning’s events… it was as if He whispered to me “Suspicion doesn’t suit you, my daughter.”
Whether it’s a bad experience with someone of another gender or culture, a different ideology or philosophy of life, or with a church – its much, much too easy to begin classifying everyone who looks or talks the same way as the exact same as the one who gave us the bad experience. We judge all new people on our preconceptions… which often turn out to be misconceptions.
Just being reminded to take each new person, each new experience as it comes.
Suspicion doesn’t suit those called to love their neighbor as themselves!