Wherefore Art Thou, Uno?

1:27:00 AM

بِسْــــــــــــــــــــــمِ اﷲِارَّحْمَنِ ارَّحِيم

I was coming down from the second floor and through the glass window, I saw him. Oh men. What's the rush? I better hurry if I don't wanna miss him. He crossed the street going to the East direction. Dude...chill. Why do you walk so fast. Then I ran while shouting "Uno!" I realized he was carrying a bag pack with him which he never did before. He stopped and took something out of his pocket which seemed to me like a phone. Wait a minute. Uno doesn't have a phone. Then he started walking again and when I managed to catch up with him, I realized it wasn't Uno.

A Week ago.

"It'll be spring break next week. That means, school closes for a week. "
"Oh really?"
"Yeah...will you be OK?"
"Yeah I'll be OK. I'll manage."

After checking in my bank account, I thought "Hmm, I cannot afford to buy any more subway sandwich this month. I have to make time to prepare food from home. He said he likes pizza. All I have to do is just stuff the frozen pizza inside the oven and it'll be done in any minute."

I always asked myself. Why do I bother? The answer to that is always "How could I not bother?" I'd always get daunted silently even when I tried to pretend as though everything was completely OK. As though there was no problem.

The first time I knew him I felt tempted to directly ask, "Where are your people?!" But I decided to be more implicit in asking that question so as to not hurt his feelings. There was also a subliminal message that I wanted him to think about.

"Do you have any friend around here?"
"Yeah they're here. Somewhere."
"Do you see them always?"
"Where do you live?"
"Well, I used to live in Lincoln Towers Apartment."
"That's crazy! That's where I live. Which floor are you at?"
"I used to stay in the fifth floor for a while where there was an empty room. Then the police came and got me. I stay in Hope Haven now."

Hope Haven is an organization that helps homeless individuals and families.

Other occasion.

"How's your stay at Hope Haven?"
"I don't stay there anymore. They don't have anymore now I stay at another apartment building. It's all right you know. They let me sleep in the lobby"
"Is it far away from here?"
"Na, it's pretty close."

He said he had a family in Chicago. But he didn't want to go back. I thought, why not? Family is where home is. Then I remembered having a conversation with Rapunzel (not a real name) who is my classmate. I asked her just recently about the whereabouts of her family and whether or not she was going back home for the spring break. She replied, "Pfftftf..yeah, no. I've not seen them in a while. But they're alive. Still exist. Maybe not this spring break."I thought, what is it that made her loath her family so much? When I almost fell into the trap of judging  her, I thought yeah, there are broken families out there. Would I want to go back if my dad was abusive? if my mom was a drunk head? if my brothers and sisters were there and only there for a good fight. Maybe she has a good reason...which I later found out.

So I reserved some of my thoughts locked up inside because God knows what she's going through. Maybe it's the same case with my homeless friend here. Maybe there's more pleasure and bliss being alone and homeless than being with his family. Actually there's no such thing as bliss and pleasure in being alone and homeless. Let me rephrase that. Maybe there's less pain in being alone and homeless compared to being with his family. Just imagine that.

Then I felt a temptation to ask him, what it is like to be a homeless? By that I don't mean to offend at all, but just honestly out of curiosity. I watched the Human Experience documentary the other day. It's about two brothers on a journey of a lifetime experiencing what it's like to be homeless for a week in the middle of winter, helping kids in with special needs in different parts of the world and etc. But, I didn't ask him. Whatever it was, I knew he'd always answer me in affirmative. He was still pretty reserved although we've gotten used to each other's company a couple of days a week in the student lounge. He joined a couple of MSA meetings because he was always sitting there from 7am-9pm in front of the TV set alone. Sometimes we'd just eat, not talk while I studied. It was fine.

So what does it feel to be a homeless? I kind of had an inspiration from my camping in the living room with Mamat. One day (actually, a many days) the temperature dropped to almost -20 degrees. That's below freezing temperature. If you left your water bottle in the car, it'll go hard rock icy. It was winter and the central heating didn't work. We slept through some of the worse nights in the winter without the proper heat. However, we did have a portable electric heater that more or less helped a little bit. In order to save some energy, with that one electric heater, Mamat and I decided to sleep the living room with our comforters, pillows, coats and socks on to save some energy as the heater will be left turned on throughout the whole night. It was still reaaaaally cold death. We didn't feel the heat unless we were within the radius of one foot from it. Let alone having the heat circulating the living room.

So I realized. It's quite easy to imagine the minimum of what it feels like to be homeless. Just try sleeping without the heater on, my bubble coat nor my comforter. I can't even bare. Trying sleeping without anything covering me up but my everyday clothes and without anything to rest my head on. If that's not enough, now imagine sleeping without a ceiling, walls and roof to keep me from the gusty wind, snow, heat and rain. Yeah, it's pretty bad. The camping in the living room situation didn't even give a taste of what it's like to be homeless and I was barely surviving. Then the question "Is it my responsibility?" and "Where are your people?" popped up again.

A day or two go, a couple from Turkey approached me. They just arrived in the US, stayed in a hotel, had no car, no phone, knew nobody, didn't know where to search for halal food and couldn't speak fluent English. But they approached me because they could relate to me as I looked like Muslim. This is what I mean by "your own people". When humans get lost or stranded, they are aware that someone, somewhere would help them find their way back. Although we know there are friendly and benign strangers out there, we can't run away from always wanting to find someone whom we can relate to or look like us. For some reason, we're instilled with the idea that they might just be more helpful and understanding because of the common grounds that we share. So as much as I could help them, I referred them to my Azeri friends couple whom I think could help them better as far as searching for a home and car. Plus, when Azeris and Turkish meet, it's like the Malaysian and Indonesian meet. Someone who you can relate more to. We could go by anything for instance, skin color, race, gender, status and in my case, religion - Islam. Alhamdulillah :) it's rocks to be wearing the hijab and be notified as Muslim. If we can't proudly wear our belief, how are we supposed to convince or offer others of it?

Rather than focusing on the question of "Where are your people?" which by now I realize how racist it sounds, I should have focused more on questioning myself, "What common grounds do I share with this guy that we may benefit from each other?" We're humans who share the same human experience. Cold, warm, sick, healthy. I remember doing an exercise for my speech class years ago...
"To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we shall resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction."
- The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare 

There are plenty of things that we share in common. When I felt to ask "Where are your people?", it was more out of a mixed feelings of guilt, anger and perturbance. As we all have our own 'tribes' or boxes that we tick ourselves as, what about him? Why did he get left out? In some of the African countries, when your mom passes away, the community would replace her with another mother arbitrarily. There's always somebody to rely on and take care of you. I could also look at the whole situation a different view. If I saw him as possible Muslim, how would I treat him differently? The thing is, everybody is a potential Muslim. Then should I not treat him and everybody else as I would my brothers and sisters?

Then I wonder, "Ya Allah, for how long do you want me to do this for?Until I expose him with all of my ideology and see if he accepts it or not, then I leave him?  Until I improve the welfare system of the poor and homeless? Or have you presented me with a new responsibility to carry as long as I'm at NIU? Is it okay, Allah?" With those question and many more lingering around my head, I arrived home and got notified with a hadith that says;

Hadith Qudsi 13:

On the authority of Adiyy ibn Hatim (may Allah be pleased with him), who said: I was with the Messenger of Allah (may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) and there came to him two men: one of them was complaining of penury (being very poor), while the other was complaining of brigandry (robbery). The Messenger of Allah (may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: As for brigandry, it will be but a short time before a caravan will [be able to] go out of Mecca without a guard. As for penury, the Hour (Day of Judgement) will not arrive before one of you takes his charity around without finding anyone to accept it from him. Then (1) one of you will surely stand before Allah, there being no screed between Him and him, nor an interpreter to translate for him. Then He will say to him: Did I not bring you wealth? And he will say: Yes. Then He will say: Did I not send to you a messenger? And he will say: Yes. And he will look to his right and will see nothing but Hell-fire, then he will look to his left and will see nothing but Hell-fire, so let each of you protect himself against Hell-fire, be it with even half a date - and if he finds it not, then with a kind word.
(1) i.e. at the time of the Hour. It was related by al-Bukhari.
Right. Bereh. My questions were answered now. I knew what to do from then on. Alhamdulillah.
While there is still time, I need to plant the seed. While people are still asking and accepting of your favor, give. Give while you still can. One day, when the day no one  accepts anything from you comes, you'd be wondering what do I do with this wealth? The words of Syakh Yassir Qadri echoed instantly - "The reason for pain and evil in this world is so that you may do good. This is actually a gift from Allah for his servants." Aren't we all honored to titled as His servants? A servant means exactly what it says - we serve others.

After the spring break, I throw my glance at where he used to seat every time I pass by the student lounge. After having so many questions answered, there's only one more question left that I yearn an answer for, that is, "Where is Uno?".


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