Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Man in the Mirror

Steve was nervous. He had never liked flying, especially since 9/11, and he especially hated flying with his family. But here they were anyway, waiting in the terminal to go to his parents' place for Thanksgiving. It didn't help that President Trump was on CNN talking about his plan to ban Muslims from flying. Steve would have never agreed with this kind of talk before, but the more he heard it, the less outrageous it seemed. He looked up at his son, playing with his Han Solo toy, and thought about how he would do anything to protect him. "Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?"

Seeing their plane pull into the gate, he thought about how packed it would be, and decided to go the the restroom before they boarded. As he flushed and walked over to the sink, he was still thinking about Trump's proposal. He washed his hands, looked up in the mirror to check his hair, and jumped back, startled.

Looking back at him was a Middle Eastern man about his age, wearing one of those little caps some Muslims wear. He jumped back at the same time Steve did. Then they both realized there wasn't a mirror above the sink at all. There were actually two rows of sinks, back-to-back. Some had mirrors above them, while others just had a gap in the wall between them, so that it gave the the illusion of being a full wall of mirrors. The two men were looking at each other through that wall.

Steve looked down along the wall, saw what was causing the illusion, and then looked back at the man standing where his reflection should have been. He had a pained expression. "I'm sorry," the man said in an American accent. "I thought there was a mirror there. It just startled me for a second."

"Me too! No problem," Steve said. Then he laughed, "Man, that was weird, wasn't it?"

The man in the mirror laughed, too. "It really was. I thought I had a new face!"

They nodded at each other and walked out of the bathroom through separate entrances. Steve was still smiling, but he felt weirdly disoriented. Looking up and seeing another man in the mirror had made him feel disembodied, as if the boundaries of his self had fallen away, or expanded out beyond his body. He had looked up expecting to see himself, and found another person there--another man's face where his own should have been. For a second he had the sensation that the face in the mirror actually was his own; like he was seeing the world through the other man's eyes.

And then he realized why the other man had seemed pained as well as startled. He was a Muslim in an airport--he knew people were looking at him suspiciously. Some of them didn't even try to hide it. They just stared at him through hard, narrow eyes. He tried to ignore it and seem unobtrusive, but now he had scared a guy just by looking in a mirror.

Steve thought, "That can't be fun. Flying must be a lot more uncomfortable for him than it is for me" He wondered if the man had been watching Trump on TV, too, and how he must have felt.

Walking back to where his family was sitting, he saw that the man and his family were sitting in the chairs across from his wife and son. The man had a son, too, and the two boys were playing with their Star Wars figures. The Muslim boy had Luke Skywalker, and he and Han seemed to be in pitched battle with Boba Fett. Steve walked up and held out his hand. "Looks like our kids have met, too. I'm Steve. Where are you guys headed?"

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