Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Loneliest Man on Earth

I developed a strange habit of sizing up women on the train on the way to work and back home. I get on, spot women in the age of 25 to 40 and try to look at their ring fingers, all as inconspicuously as possible. I position myself all the way in the back of the car, right below where an emergency break hangs like some obscene tongue of a salivating animal. I scan the car methodically, clock-wise- there, no she has a ring on, over there, no too young. As the car fills up with commuters as we approach downtown, the task becomes more difficult. And I’m not that thick skinned not to notice when women shoot back the look of displeasure as I stretch my neck at an impossible angle to look through under someone’s armpit just to have glimpses of them.

I was looking at a tall pretty Russian girl and her older sister (maybe mother?) one day on the train. It was a weekend and the car was almost empty. The older woman noticed me looking at the girl. I looked away but not fast enough. They looked at me and talked with each other and to my surprise, the older woman came up to me with a very serious face.

You looking at my sister? She accused me with a heavy accent.
Uh, no.
You looking at my sister, I saw you. She narrowed her unibrow.
I looked away embarrassed. She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me toward her.
You like that? You like looking at girls?
I looked at the tall blushing girl in the distance.
You do this all the time, checking out girls?
I was silent. The woman punched me on the shoulder.
Aw, that hurts.
How about us looking at you like that, huh?
Like what? I tried to sound as innocent as possible.
Oh, I think you know what I mean!
She went on punching my shoulder.
You are sick. She kept saying.
I noticed that the woman wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.
Are you married? I asked her as I was pulling out my cell phone from my pocket.

* * * *

Hello! How are you? I looked up and saw a short balding man with glasses.
Oh hello. I replied.
How are you my friend? How is your wife?
Oh fine, fine. She’s fine also.

I’ve seen him around. I’ve been living in Kensington in Brooklyn for the last six years. The area was dubbed as the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the US by Newsweek Magazine recently, for whatever it’s worth. It’s true though- although heavily dominated by Hasidic Jewish and Pakistani population, there are also healthy Indian, Bengali, Tibetan, Mexican, Armenian and Russian population present as well.

Mohammed, as I came to know him, is a Bangladeshi immigrant and from what I gather, is a very lonely bachelor. We got into half a dozen lengthy conversations over the years, always on the street, on our way home. There on the sidewalk of Kensington, he presented his case.

Do you know any girls who want to marry?
Excuse me?
Do you know anyone who’s interested in marriage?
Hm. I can’t think of any at the moment.

I remembered my wife telling me that he started hitting on her on the street. She told Mohammed that she was married and his grin changed to an expression that resembled a death row inmate in an instant.

I’ve been living alone for twenty years. I’m 46 years old now. I came to this country and I’ve worked very hard. I have my own house. I have my own business. But it’s very hard to find a woman to marry. He said.
That’s hard to believe, I said, a good-looking guy like you-
I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs. I’m a very good Muslim!
I’m sure you are-
You know I go home and turn on my computer- guess how much time I spend on the internet?
…um, how much?
I spend three hours everyday! Three hours, looking for a woman to marry!
But you have everything. I really can’t believe you can’t find anybody.
Mohammed felt silent.
They don’t want to marry me because I’m a Muslim. They look at my profile online and they are not interested. They get scared.
You think?

* * * *

I was riding the train home with Olivia, a young co-worker of mine who recently moved to Kensington area. When the train almost reached our stop, I noticed Mohammed in the corner grinning at our direction. I waved and he waved back.
After Olivia and I went our separate ways, Mohammed caught up with me.

Man, I thought you were married! He exclaimed.
I am married Mohammed. I said, defensively.
Who’s the girl then? She’s beautiful!
That’s Olie. She walks with me.
Oh man, she is beautiful. She’s not married, no? It hurts. He grabbed his chest. His eyes were glistening with tears.
It hurts to see you with a woman smiling and I’m so lonely it brings tears to my eyes.
Mohammed, she has a boyfriend. Forget about her!
It hurts so much! He wiped the tears off of his eyes with a handkerchief.
Can you please let me know if you find someone who wants to marry? He pleaded.
I don’t care if they are young or old. Please let me know, my friend.
I promise Mohammed. I’ll let you know. I told him as I was putting in his telephone number into my cell phone directory.