We’re sitting at a small plastic table next to a ‘restaurant’, which is actually a little too fancy a word for this tiny, glass enclosed square area with a counter out front, a small stove in the back and a huge picture of a shaykh on the wall, inside which a group of students somehow make delicious and ridiculously cheap Malaysian food. It’s hidden away behind the women’s-only park a few steps down from Abu Nour, on the opposite, lesser-known side of some fast-food shwarma and fried chicken places. Its neighbors are a tire repair garage and another place that fixes engines.
It’s a little before Maghrib time and there’s a sort of calmness that’s settling on the city as the sun cools down. We’re sitting outside, the little restaurant behind us, facing a big generator and a fence that separates us from the park. The table holds an antique looking silver pitcher sitting on a cylindrical container, which is an old fashioned means of washing your hands. We hear children playing. A group of old men lounge on chairs a few steps down from us, their backs to the park, watching young men work on tire parts.
An orange cat seats herself at a convenient location to watch us eat. We drink water from plastic mugs, take in the green trees and a soft breeze and wait for our meal. The generator turns off and we hear quiet, the birds singing, and the murmur of the old men talking.
The food comes, beautifully displayed on simple blue dishes: rice with small pieces of chicken shaped into a perfect circle, with cucumber slices delicately placed on the side. Little potato filled samosas in another small plate, and another with squares of flaky, warm bread just made. It’s homemade kind of food that instantly reminds me of my mom’s. I look to the restaurant and see the Malaysian woman (‘auntie’) who’d cooked it, my mom’s age, wearing a long top and skirt printed with small flowers, a simple hijab with lacy edges… and her husband, a dignified older looking man, who could have been cast as a Malaysian shaykh, tidying things in the tiny kitchen. Some younger brothers who study at Abu Nour also work there. I’ve seen them in the afternoons making bread sometimes, shaping the dough in what looked like an expert manner on a small marble counter, their Arabic books on the back shelf.
A cute Malaysian couple approaches from the same way we had come; he’s wearing one of those tall black caps and a goatee, and she has a big book bag on like she’d just come from school and is wearing a soft creamy colored hijab and niqab. They’re holding hands. They sit at another table, placed closer to the gate of the park and the generator, and drink some fresh juice.
I feel soothed by the calmness of this moment… relative quiet, baraka filled food, temperate weather, my husband giving the cat a wary eye as he eats. It’s just a lovely summer day and the rush of the city, the worries and business of life and inner complexities seem somehow far removed. Alhamdulillah for simple moments like these.
(Written June 2007)