I listened to Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk, “The danger of a single story” sometime ago and promised myself I’d never settle for the single story on person or place, so here’s the other story about Nika; a.k.a. Ms Just N. Fair.
Nika Frasheri’s Albanian and spent her early years in a Catholic school, back in her native Kosovo. Working with her is such fun, so I invite her to hang out with my friend Kakra and I at church on Sunday.
“Oh, am I allowed to go?”
“Why not?” I asked
“I’m not Christian.”
“Minor details, Nika, minor details.”
Its Sunday morning. I’m seated up in the balcony at Church and hoping that Nika really will show up. I had no way of reaching her yesterday, because my phone was stolen at work and that’s the only record I have of her contact number. (The robbery deserves a post of its own, so I’ll drop that subject for now). As I look around anxiously, I notice Nika seated a few pews below me. She too is looking around and as her gaze turns upwards, I wave frantically to catch her attention and invite her to join Kakra and I. There’s just enough time to for introductions before the service begins.
Nika announces she’s hungry, after the service ends. “I thought you said church gave food,” she says to me accusingly.
“No, that’s the church my parents go to,” I reply.
“Well, why didn’t we go there? I’m hungry.” That draws a laugh from Kakra and I. Kakra asks what she thought about this service.
“It was nice; everyone was singing and dancing. Why is everyone so damn happy? And is this a real church? It doesn’t have that old smell. The priest didn’t bring that smoky thing and the benches had cushions on them!” Oh, Nika!
Kakra compliments her for outfit. “Oh, thanks; I really didn’t know what to wear. I googled what to wear to church and saw hats and stuff, but I don’t own a hat, and I can’t wear a club dress.”
She brings us back to the matter of food. “Yo, I’m hungry can we still go to the other church for the food? What time do they close?” We get into planning-mode on how to get there, what to say when we do get there and what foods will be served today. The bus crosses the traffic lights and stops across the street, as we exit from our church.
“Is that our bus?” Nika asks. “We have to get on this bus. You guys are Christians; pray we catch the bus!” (The sermon we just heard in church was about prayer and how it works).
“No, you pray,” I respond.
As she presses the pedestrian-crossing button, she utters a little prayer: “Oh God, I don’t do this, but please help us make this bus; we have to catch it. Amen?”
“Amen,” Kakra and I reply, laughing.
The pedestrian-crossing signal turns on and Nika is so excited! “It works! My first answered prayer. YAY!” We run to the bus and discover as we board, that she doesn’t have to pay the fare. Its Sundays and two may ride on one bus pass! “OMG are you kidding me? I should come to church more often.” She tells everyone who will listen that she came from church; never mind that everyone on the bus is from church too. Everyone seems to be saying hello, or God bless you. Nika is astonished and excited.
We disembark at the Canada Line station and just as she begins to think we’ve arrived, I tell her, “We’re going to the other side of town. Are you sure you want o do this?” I ask mainly because I feel bad about going to another church just for the food.
“Let’s go. I want to see your parents too.”
Everyone is coming from the church auditorium into the lobby for lunch, as we arrive at my parents’ church. I tell Kakra to join the queue, as I dish out the Hi’s and Hello’s to everyone; I haven’t been here in a while. Nika keeps giving me stares as if to say, “Stop talking to them and come get some food.” She comes over as I’m talking to a friend and says “OMG, this is amazing! Have you tried this? This is good food! Dude, seriously, go get some!” I introduce her as my supervisor at work. Everyone is so pleasant; it’s a wonderful experience. They keep pushing her toward the tables.
“Have you had dessert?” I ask her.
“What; there’s dessert? Where? What kind of church is this? I’m so full, man, but I think I have some room for dessert.”
“Its in the corner; see the chocolate cake and fruit salad?”
“OMG chocolate!” she exclaims, as she heads towards the dessert table. My Dad is getting some himself. They meet there and start chatting, as a family friend of ours approaches them. My Dad leaves Yaa and Nika to go and mingle with another group.
“So you work with Aaki; I hope she’s hardworking,” Yaa says.
“Oh yes, she’s great! She’s a quick learner.”
“Which church do you normally go to?”
“Oh I don’t go to church; I’m Muslim.” There’s an awkward silence, then Yaa makes a break for a second serving of dessert. Nika can hardly hide her amusement at Yaa’s discomfiture.
Nika meets just about everyone in church that day. She’s obviously enjoying herself. As we walk out she keeps imitating the way everyone said “Hello!” in that sing-song voice. Kakra brings out a bar of chocolate, as we wait at the bus stop.
“Oh! Where did you get that? What chocolate is that?” Nika asks. Someone in church gave it to Kakra.
“How come I didn’t get one? Let’s go back; I want my chocolate. But I said hello to everyone!” We settle in to wait again when I offer her my chocolate. The bus comes a few minutes later and as she boards it, she tells the driver, “Hello! I went to two churches today; met a bunch of happy people.” And that’s the refrain all week. She can’t stop talking about the “bunch of happy people” she met in church.
Its Thursday morning and I’m having an awful time trying to understand the Serbian couple I’m attending to. I walk over to Nika and ask naively, “Do you speak Serbian? I can’t understand a word of … OK I get it.” How stupid of me; some things just don’t mix, not even at UN Optometry.