We’re sitting on the curb in the shade of a fine old tree in the already steam heat of a long hot day ahead. For a while we don’t speak beyond Assalamu alaikum; Wa alaikum assalaam. For a while, anyway. And then slowly we get to know each other. Ozone Park guy (born in Bangladesh) and Bay Ridge guy (born in Brooklyn) both waiting quietly for the funeral services. Hours away, but we are timeless at the moment, and not concerned with the heat. Just trading stories; getting to know. There’s history, and there’s memory, but nothin’ comes close to tellin’ stories.
“This was back home, you know. I was about 19. 18, 19. I hadn’t seen my folks in months and I was on my way to them. But it wasn’t like just taking a taxi. First the train and then a bus, and then the walking. You couldn’t just call a cab. The station was a small town. A village, really. Nothing much more than the railroad station. It was night and raining and quiet with everything closed down for the night.
The next bus was in the morning, so I wanted to see my family so I started out walking, in the rain, in the night. From there I walked, in the dark with nobody else around. It was late, and no one else was out in the town. And once out of town here is just the farms. I kept walking in the rain looking for the dirt road that led to our farm but soon it was so dark I could not see. I didn’t know where the road was. Not a road really. A narrow path sometimes just a pair of wheel ruts, grass in between, you know. Really, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. So dark.
I kept walking, being blown around by the wind. And then I couldn’t see any landmarks and I knew I was lost. I stopped. And then I felt a hand on my arm. Like this.
“Where are you going?” asked my uncle.
“I’m trying to get home but I have no light. I can’t find the path.”
“You can borrow my furnace.”
“You know a furnace, a…gas light. Yes. A lantern.
I followed him and waited outside while he got the furnace. You know? A lantern. And with the lantern I could see some landmarks and make my way. I was very wet. I was very glad to be with my family. The next day I went to return the lantern and my aunt came to the door. I told her the whole story, what I am telling you now, and she looked at me in a strange way, saying “Your uncle is not here.”
He was away, you see on one of his…like a pilgrimage, every few months to go away and…speak to people…for religion…I insisted I’d seen him last night and he had given me this lantern to light my way. She just smiled at me. I remember that night.
But that is 50 years ago. When I came here this was, the, gang, the, the mob, the Ghotti neighborhood. We had problems then. Not over religion. We just weren’t Italian. That was it! So it was a little rough but little by little there were more of us and then, now we are here…”