There is a Mediterranean grocery store in the town I live. It is owned by a Syrian. I do not know his story, but I think his family came to the US before the conflict started in Syria. Whenever I go to his store, I seem to have a back-in-the-past experience. Regardless of what he does at that moment, the owner, who is at the same time helping other people or doing anything else that needs to be done, turns his head and greets me, intently, not because he is doing his job. He takes me in, together with all the others, regardless of how busy he is. It feels as an acknowledgement that we are all together in the store and that the experience of each one of us is touched by the presence of each and all the others.
I have met various people in Saad’s store. Many of them are immigrants. Many also come from Middle East–some of them are Muslims, others Orthodox Christians, other Catholics. People are not silent about what they believe in. They do not hide their identity and, what is even more, celebrate the others. There is always joy in that store. I may feel this way because I find Romanian food :). But I sometimes think that it is because of Saad and his friendly countenance. Or perhaps because of his ability to take his customers into his care, a care that makes one feel no longer a customer, but a friend.
From time to time, there is one more person in the store: Saad’s father. He speaks no English, but he comes to you, shakes your hand with both of his hands, while looking straight into your eyes, saying, “good! good!” You have no idea what is good. But it is good. And he brings you something; first time we met, he made me a coffee. Today, he gave me an orange, an orange so fresh that it seemed he just got it from a tree. Then he comes back and he shakes your hands again, still looking intently into your eyes. “Romania good, America good.” Everything is good, and in Saad’s store it truly seems like there is no evil in the world. When I left the store, he hugged me.
“I think he has seen things that are not so beautiful,” my son said today, after we left from the store. It may have been my impression, but I thought my son’s eyes were wet. Same wetness that I see in the hard, resolved, but also warm and melancholic eyes of Saad’s father.