He said it was the best place to see the city, and even if we were staring at the back end of a dumpster I would have agreed. But as much as I had seen of Nashville, he was right. It was the best. The lights on every landmark and building shone for us, and I pointed out the Batman building, Parthenon, and smiled toward the west. “There. That’s where my person lives.” Behind us the interstate traffic hushed and hummed. Police lights flashed through the gray-black windows across the street, out of one pane and into the next-hypnotic, like the song that looped in the back of my head.
It was my favorite view of Nashville, until we crossed the street. I shut the door to his car, silently glad we didn’t take mine because it doesn’t lock and we were in a rough area of town.
“Another place I would never go alone,” I remarked, stepping into the street light of a Somalian coffee shop.
Why would I say that? I take a truly ridiculous amount of risks without batting an eye, and of all the crazy, stupid things I’ve done, this was the place I was afraid of.
I recently saw a picture of a white woman bottle feeding a lion with the caption, “White people do #$&% like this then lock their car doors when they see a black person.”
That was me. I was the bottle-feeding white woman.
The door bells rang in greeting as we entered a lively room, and they welcomed us, still smiling and chatting because it didn’t matter that we were different and we were there. From behind the counter, the barista poured two cups of tea and recounted the history of his friends’ immigration.
“This guy,” he pointed at the comedian of the group sitting beside us, “this guy saved up every penny since 2008 so he could get married. Now he’s married and he still won’t buy his own tea!”
They laughed and we laughed together because it was their story and they were making us a part of it. It was seamless and fun because they let it happen. They welcomed us in. Our new friends told us how they came here from Somalia, Egypt, and Nigeria. They shared their birthdays (all January 1 because they forgot), beef pastries, and antecdotes of girlfriends and wives back in Egypt and London.
This is what our view was missing: the people.
I say I want to know the world, but how can I mean that when I reject half of my own city? In those pieces of an hour on a starlit Sunday night, that other half gave me the most perfect moment. And standing there in the middle of chatter and laughter in Arabic, English, and Somalian, I saw it.
It was the best view of Nashville.