Linda Scheller

This Is How

In the center of the diner, a woman in a hijab 
sat writing while her little boy dropped a ball
which rolled this way and that. He trotted after it, 
bent to retrieve the ball, returned to his mother, 
dropped and retrieved, returned and dropped. 
A white-haired man with a paper cup in his hand
shuffled to the center from the opposite side.
He stopped behind the boy’s mother, lifted his cup 
and dumped it over the seated woman’s head. 
Ice slid down her hijab and skittered over the floor.
He yelled, Get that brat out of here and go back 
to wherever you came from. The woman jumped up 
and shouted, You bad man! My son did nothing wrong. 
The boy cried, and my daughter hid under our table.

I sat in shocked silence. I sat and did nothing.
I said nothing. Nothing. I sat in silence and did nothing.

The manager ran over and yelled at the man,
told him to get out and never come back. 
The manager apologized to the woman
and gave her a package of terrycloth towels 
so she could wipe the soda from her hijab. 

I wanted to apologize to the woman.
I wanted to tell her she is welcome here.
I wanted to tell her I thought her son
was very well-behaved, 
but I was afraid and said nothing. 

Twenty years later, one of my students asks 
how the Holocaust could have happened.
I tell them about the woman in the hijab 
and her son, the old man and the manager,
and how I watched and did nothing, 
walked past her and said nothing.
This is how.