"Sister"

We made eye contact as she made her way up the spiral staircase of a bureaucratic agency in Iraq. Beautiful in the most simple of ways: pure chocolate skin, petite and of good height, she happened to be the most modestly dressed woman in a sea of people all trying to conduct business as quickly as possible. Each person appeared as diverse in character as did every article of clothing that she wore. 

Her long skirt was made of dark velvet in a blend of several plum tones; the white long-sleeved buttoned down cotton shirt was striped with several colours all associated with the Caribbean or Africa: yellow, green, red and perhaps brown if I remember correctly. 

To top that off she wore a scarf. It was not a hijab but a brown scarf that most black women would wear on a short trip to a neighbour's house or to the corner store. Only thing different was that somehow it screamed 'Catholic'.

And I do believe that she was religious too, even though I am not certain to which affiliation she belonged. 

What I do know, is that the moment our eyes met, it was as if I had known her before.

Perhaps it was the fear or anxiety in her eyes as they quickly surveyed the floor landing looking for something... or someone that made her seem familiar.

She had seen me on the ground floor as I had made my entrance into the bureaucratic agency a few minutes before and had decided to follow me up the staircase. 

As she finally made eye contact with her subject, a look of duty and responsibility took over her countenance. 

And even though the look of submissive anxiety was now more subtle, she, after reaching the landing of the first floor, took a few minutes to survey it and the people there, carefully, before making her next move. 

I was now sitting in a row of seats sandwiched in between two people, my head looking down and staring at the floor. It was this perspective that had allowed me to make eye contact with her as she made her way up the staircase parallel to me. 

Two years in Turkey had taught me not to gaze, lest I be assaulted by stares of disgust, anger or confusion. It was a well learned habit. 

Surveillance complete, she shuffled so quickly to the remaining seats in my row that I thought for one moment she had been a figment of my own constant daydreaming. 

Concentration not broken though, I kept my blank emotionless stare on the floor faithful. 

Now sitting two seats away from me, I did not need to look at her to feel her faint anxiety and concern. 

For what? I do not know. 


Even though, I did mention the headscarf that she was wearing that screamed Catholic, I failed to adequately convey her innocence beyond that. Indeed, there was an innocence of spirit which religion cannot inspire. 

It was the kind of innocence that is often seen in and trapped by sad eyes. The world is a cold, clinical place that oftentimes has no capacity for empathy, non judgement or love i.e. innocence. 

As I continued to gaze intently on the floor, there came a succession of incessant calls,

"Sister, Sister, Sister, Sister."

Clutching the collar of her blouse tight as she held her black 'church' bag to her chest, she was now leaning forward in her seat in an attempt to get my attention. 

Still not registering, her calls continued until I finally glanced to my right. 

Still it was not her voice that caught me, but the biggest discs of brown lying under the clearest cling wrap of pain; endured only by the lowest of the low. 

Still clutching her bag to her chest and her collar she leaned forward even farther and whispered softly, 

"Sister."

Looking deep into my eyes with a steadfastness that calmed the two years of anxiety that I had suffered while in Turkey, I was reminded,

Fear not for I am with you...
— Isaiah 41:10

She, perhaps knowing the dormant anxiety that lay inside of me from being the 'only black person' in a sea of others, made it her business to follow and find me with the only intent of reminding me that I was not, nor never shall I be alone. 

Medicine administered and healing in process, I turned in her direction to ask her her name. 

Too late. 

The train of her ankle length pencil skirt swept each step as she made her way down the spiral staircase and into the crowd of people on the ground floor.