Being a charming host is not easy, especially when dealing with difficult guests. Now don't get me wrong, I love people. I love having them over as much as visiting. Those little encounters where we shoot the breeze and chow down? They are amongst the best things. But there are some guests who just don't know their place. Why do I put up with them? This week I got a call from a brother. That wasn't the problem. Timing is everything. Here we go. 4:30am on Tuesday:
"Hello, barader! How are you?"
"What time is it?"
"Don't you remember meeee? I meet you at masjid on Jumah. You said I could come over anytime! So I thought I call you. You such good barader, I know, you have too much noor on face, barader. So, I thought you praying Salatul Layl, barader. Is it problem brother?"
"I was asleep … maybe you should call back later. And… hey, what are you doing up so late?"
"Barader… I vas up all night vith… uh… friends, barader. But now I vant to come over. Please?"
So I told him to come over at 6pm.
"Salaam brother, welcome home, my home is yours, please come in."
"Masha-Allah barader, I am sooo happy to see you, barader. Should I come in?"
"Yes, come in."
"Yes! Please come in."
"Thank you barader, you really are too kind barader… Hey, this very good home barader! How much money you make?"
"That's kind of personal."
"Oh, come on barader, how does the saying go? Vat's yours is mine, hee hee! Don't you trust me barader?"
"It's not that, it's just that it's not a topic for discussion with me, it's personal. But Alhamdulillah, Allah has been good to us."
"I see, I see… that is soooo good barader. So vat job you have barader?"
"Um, actually none… I was downsized last year. It's been difficult to find work in this economy."
"I see, I see barader! And is it nice car barader?"
"Oh, veren't you talking about the car?"
"Barader, vy the long face?"
Obviously he hadn't been listening.
"I was saying I lost my job."
"Barader, that is sooo sad! How you get fired?"
"WHAT? I didn't get fired, my position was eliminated!"
"Barader, you still not have job after vun year. But you vith family?"
"Barader, please don't take it personal! Ve all baraders, fee sabeelillah, Allah vill forgive you for not working! Oh, you bring nice chai, good. Is this cheap generic, barader?"
"How many sugars would you like?"
"Barader, five is good, you know vat they say, tea vith no sveet bad, hee-hee!"
"Uh, yeah. So tell me, why did you decide to come to this country?"
My hitherto extroverted guest paused. His shoulders sagged slightly. Silence rolled into the sitting room like a slow river.
Answer: nothing good.
"Can I get you some more tea?"
"That vould be gooood, barader."
In the kitchen, our old kettle reached a glorious boil.
"So… you work in the city, right? What do you do?"
"I verk in gas station. It not good verk, barader. You know, too many drunk people buy in night. Vun day I fight bad people. They have knifes, but I scare them vith shotgun."
"Good God! I don't know how I would handle that."
"You have to barader, this is life. Ah, more chai, thanks. Vhere vas I. Oh yes, this is life, barader. Being strong wery good. You know, in my country they kill you for follow wrong religion."
"They kill you not because you veak. They kill you because they know you strong. That is our fate, barader. Ve Shi'a. Ve can never be scare."
"Barader, I not like gas station job, but I know nothing else. No one help me. I proud Shi'a, but no one even say come over before. Vy is that, barader?
I nodded. In the distance, a dog barked.
"You wery good listener. You know, I never talk to anyone like this in whole time here. Vy you so nice, barader."
It was more a statement than a question.
"How can I be like you, barader?"
"You know right thing to say, you not get mad at me."
"Why should I get mad at you? You're my brother and you should be listened to, not judged."
"I never feel at home like here, barader. You invite me again?"
"Of course, didn't I say my home is your home?"
As my new friend crept up the dark street in his wheezing ride, I waved, turned, and plopped down.
At one time I was much the same way. How could I forget my roots? How lucky I was to have made it. How could I forget this? And this brother was eking out a living, even though it was dangerous. What was I doing sitting at home? Fine, I didn't have work, but maybe I could start looking again. Maybe I could even start a business from home.
It's easy to go off track when you're far away from friends and family. I knew what I'd be if I was still in his shoes. So many people think others only go from good to bad. That's not how it is. People can get better too, as long as they're sincere and have guidance.
Maybe it was not such a bad visit after all. We all have to look out for each other.
Allah was so kind to me. And that's life. Alhamdulillah.