The Shemagh

June 29, 2018 Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , United States

Reuters photo



Sarah Ito



When I am at home in Brooklyn, New York, my usual morning routine involves strolling into the coffee bar around the corner from my apartment, ordering an XL black, no sugar, two shots of espresso. Then, well-fortified to begin my day, I cross Fourth Avenue to Washington Park, the little neighborhood playground I have come to love. I always sit on the same bench, the one underneath the sprawling oak tree with its amazing canopy of leafy shade. In fact, I sit in the same spot on this same bench, and drink the same coffee, and watch the same young parents and nannies playing with the same children, almost daily. Toddlers taking a few tentative steps, five and six year olds screaming with delight, older kids flying past on skateboards like insane whirling dervishes… Every day, weather permitting, I, and the legions of young mothers who patronize Washington Park, enjoy this comfortable routine. The moms chitchat with one another, delighting in the squeals of their little ones as they enjoy the playground equipment. I watch, my camera ready, my notebook nearby. The ruckus provides sweet background music as I gulp my coffee and toss crumbs to the friendly black squirrel that inhabits the park. The soul appreciates such simple pleasures.


The last few mornings, however, have been different. Someone new has ventured into the sanctity of my little park, my oasis of peace within a frenetic city. A new young mother, with her adorable little boy in tow, maybe four years old at best, has claimed a nearby bench as hers. She doesn’t sit with the cluster of other young women by the sandbox, or with the lone dad who carries his infant in a pouch strapped to his back. This new mother is clothed from head to toe in flowing black cloth; non-revealing, genderless, sack-like. Her eyes peek out through a narrow slit in her Burqa. Her tote bag sits forlornly beside her as she watches her little one playing with unfettered abandon on the monkey bars, horsing around with the other kids without a care in the world. He’s a cute little guy, in his green puffer jacket and red Lightning McQueen sneakers. Future Nobel Prize winner? Discovers the cure for cancer? Potential terrorist? Destroyer of lives and limbs? I look over the tree line to the distant view of the Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan and think back to when I worked at One World Trade, and I think yet again of the three friends I lost on September 11. Is the little black haired boy playing in front of me our hope for the future, or a future warrior in the endgame of good versus evil in which we are now forever engaged? His mother reaches into her plastic tote bag, and my muscles involuntarily clench. Body tense, I prepare to take cover. She withdraws a pouch of Capri Sun, and calls to him to come drink.


I get up to leave, and there is a sudden, unexpected boom of thunder crashing across an otherwise unremarkable sky. In my mind, I expect this to be followed by something deadly, unspeakable, but of course, it is only thunder. As I walk past the Burqa-clad woman, I smile at her, and she stares back at me, hard. I see fear kindling in her dark eyes, that cesspool of panic, despair, and undiluted hatred piercing through the calm of the Autumn morning. Suddenly it occurs to me…I am wearing my Army-issue shemagh, a scarf worn by military members in the Gulf to repel the sand and winds that whip up suddenly and blind so quickly. The woman stares at me briefly as if I am still wearing that uniform, carrying that weapon, presenting that threat. She looks away as I look down. She knows. She knows what I know. I walk away from the park as fast as I can, eyes downcast, as if something may be imbedded in the pavement that might trigger an explosion. I turn around, briefly, looking back over my shoulder at the Freedom Tower once again. I may work up the courage to go to the top floor one of these days, and say a prayer, and take in the view. Maybe. Maybe I will be able to see a little boy playing in a park in Brooklyn from there, and nothing else. As I exit Washington Park, I unwind the shemagh from around my neck and ball it up, tossing it into the trash can by the gate. There are no sandstorms in Brooklyn.





Sarah Ito

I am a novelist (GROWING UP GREENWICH, Outskirts Press), blogger and essayist, and occasional poet.

Editor review

1 Comment

  1. Renee' Drummond-Brown June 29, at 06:49

    An excellent write author Sarah Ito. I thoroughly enjoyed reading every line; anticipating the direction you were steering/driving the reader?


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