Assimilation?

I saw them every morning. Two women, a mother and daughter, their heads veiled, long pants or long skirts, long sleeves, gloves, even in the heat of a Georgia summer. The weather didn’t matter; they remained covered. Every morning I jogged past them with plenty of skin showing. I could feel the sun. I could feel the wind. Why shouldn’t they? Their heads were down, their eyes scanning the sidewalk immediately in front of them, never looking up, never looking around. Did they even see the flowers? I felt sorry for them.

I saw them every morning. Two women, and I always waved and said hello. They always ignored me, their heads down, their eyes scanning the sidewalk immediately in front of them, never looking up, never looking around. Did they even hear me? They did and they deliberately began to avoid me, turning their heads away, turning their backs to me. Still, every morning, I waved and said hello. It made no difference.

I saw them every morning. Two women, for more than two years. I waved and said hello. I wanted to scream, look at me! I wanted to ask them both if they’d ever felt the wind in their hair or the sun on their back. Maybe, in a controlled environment. I felt sorry for them. I wanted to tell them, rip that off and run with me! You don’t have to live this way here! But they would have ignored me and moped along, veiled and impervious.

I saw them every morning. Time passed and the pity faded. I began to see them differently, and swallowed a rush of disgust when they passed. How could they see me and other women walk or jog past them, bare arms and legs, hair trailing in the breeze, so happy and free, while they shuffled along, heads down and covered? How could they see that difference and not seem to see anything? Were they happy? They never smiled. They never even looked up.

I saw them every morning, two miserable women walking the same route as if they were lost souls trapped in a repeating cycle. It had been almost three years and I stopped waving.  I stopped saying hello. I started wondering why they’d moved here. Maybe they were running from bombs and bullets; I could understand that. What I could never understand is why an immigrant who’d found safe haven would never look up, never say hello, never change.

I saw them again not too long ago, walking the same route. It had been a few years since I’d moved to a different neighborhood, but there they were, exactly the same with one significant addition ~ a baby in a stroller. I laughed when I drove past; maybe that would at long last pull them into the arms of Americana.

May that child be the most stubborn, defiant, rebellious, and American child yet known. May that child wear blue jeans and tank tops, listen to rock and roll, and brazenly celebrate with the loudest of fireworks every Fourth of July. May that child refuse a hijab while eating a hot dog. May that child wave and say hello to the neighbors. May that child be the reason his mother and grandmother finally feel the wind in their hair and the sun on their backs. May that child bring freedom, finally, into their home.

Rachel Summers