I should have written this post at least six weeks ago.
It was a Friday, well into September, but still high summer in this exceptionally warm year.
On that day, I had to pick up my mother's old car that had failed its MOT test from the garage that had failed it. I had to get it to a scrapper's yard. Then I had to get over to Stoke Newington, half way across London, where the replacement car I'd bought was waiting to be picked up. I had to get that car across the centre of London over to my mother's flat in Maida Vale. And then I had to get back home in time to make everything ready for Erev Shabbos.
It didn't look good. It started off when I tried ringing the scrapper's yard I'd taken my mother's last clapped out car to. I was already late getting the day started. No answer. I tried two more around my local area. No answer. In the end, I located a place that was open in Borehamwood. It was fourteen miles away.
So I got to the scrapper's yard which was, as they usually are, in the middle of nowhere, along with six or seven other scrapper's yards. Instead of the usual macho looking three-day stubble types who usually run such places, the one I'd found was run by a couple of guys who I thought were Kenyan Asians. Their place was immaculate and their style courteous. They did the business quickly and efficiently.
Umm, can you tell me where the nearest public transport is, I said. Because I have to get to Stoke Newington. So I would like to get to the local rail network.
Oh, there's a bus stop just half a mile away, the boss said. Just up the road. Listen, he'll take you.
"He" was a huge well built man standing at the back of the office. We walked out towards his car.
Are you sure about this, I said. I really don't want to bother you.
He smiled, and we got in his car. I was preoccupied with mentally sorting out the complicated route I'd have to take. But he wanted to talk.
Beautiful weather, he said. Yes, I answered, and got back into route planning.
He was having none of it. Are you following the cricket, he asked.
Now, this was the biggest cricketing day of the year. It was the last day of the fifth test match. It was a whole big deal. Because nobody could tell who was going to win and the winner would get the Ashes.
The man laughed. Are you from north London, he asked. I like to think I can tell where people come from, even though I didn't come from this country. I told him I thought his English was really good if he could tell a north London accent, because I don't think mine is at all strong. He asked my name, and I told him, Judy.
If you regularly read my blog, you'll be aware that I have lots of opinions, many of them strongly held. And I don't hestitate to give them. So you might be surprised to know that though I'm usually fairly articulate in person, there are often times when I'm quite...reserved. You could call it emotional insecurity. So I didn't ask him his name. Because I was, well....reserved.
He began to tell me where he came from. It was Islamabad, he said. But he had been in this country many years. He told me he'd been a teacher in Islamabad, and had tried to teach in this country, but hated it. I asked him if that was because of the difference between the discipline in schools in this country and Pakistan, and he said it was.
I told him a little about my work as a school inspector. About my experience of visiting an Islamic school, which I had liked. I talked about the fact that I'd done a lot of work with Jewish schools, and how there were quite a lot of similarities between the two types of school. And I explained about how the system was loaded against setting up Islamic state schools and how unfair this was.
And all this time, I wondered if he did realise I was Jewish. He hadn't said he was a Muslim. And somehow I wasn't able to be explicit about being Jewish. I was, well....reserved.
And he told me about his worries about his mother, who has cancer. He said he was been trying to get her into this country so he can look after her. He was finding the authorities make it very difficult. And I said that, yes, the immigration authorities seem to make it very difficult, particularly for people from India and Pakistan. But I didn't tell him about my own parents' difficulties in getting into the UK. Or about the fact that my father wasn't allowed to work for nearly two years after he got here. Or about the Home Office immigration file on my father that I'd seen just two weeks earlier which had comments scribbled on it like "Are these aliens married yet?" and "When can we get these aliens to leave the country?". Because I was, well....reserved.
And then I noticed that this car ride, which should have been about half a mile, was going on and on. We were riding deep into open countryside, miles from anywhere. He just kept on driving. I realised that no-one knew where we were, and no-one who knew me knew remotely where I was. And he was a very big, powerfully built man. I'd been mugged the previous December. The man who mugged me was well spoken and very neatly dressed. You'd never have taken him for a mugger. But I didn't ask now where we were going. Because I was, well....reserved.
Then just as I was going through my mental repertoire of horror stories about women in mini-cabs who were murdered or raped by their drivers, he said, you're trying to get to the rail network. So if I take you to Watford, you'll have a really good choice of services.
But, I said, that's really a long way out of your way. I can get the bus, it's no problem. He smiled again and said he really wanted to take me. And I thanked him profuselyand we talked about different routes I might take.
Then when we got to Watford Station, he carefully drove round so he could deposit me just outside the entrance. I said to him, you've saved me hours of travel. I am so grateful. You really have made my day much easier. I am so pleased to have met you, and I've enjoyed talking to you so much.
For once, I overcame my reserve and I made myself ask his name.
I'm Sayeed, he said. I've enjoyed meeting you. And I said, Sayeed, I hope you manage to bring your mother in. I hope you and your family enjoy everything good in life.
He reached out his hand to shake mine. And I was too reserved to say that actually, I prefer not to have physical contact with men because I am a practising orthodox Jew. I have the same difficulty in saying that to the men in synagogue who always want to shake my hand and sometimes even give me a pat on the shoulder or a hug. Because I'm, well...reserved. So I shook his hand and said, thank you so much Sayeed. I hope you and your family have a good weekend.
But I was still... reserved, and I didn't say what I really wanted to say. Which was
Thank you, Sayeed, for making me talk to you. And thank you for showing what it means to act in the divine image in your dealings with your fellow human beings.