On Cigarette Butts, Donald Trump and Sadiq Khan

The night encounters I’ve had whilst walking the streets of London are so different to those I’ve had during the day. 
At night, the city is a calm, simmering mass of lights; not her normal, uptight self that heaves and sighs in exasperation as Londoners and tourists alike rush through the maze of streets. There’s still a tangible buzz in the air even at night; this is a city that never sleeps after all. Maybe that’s why people start to open up and blossom when talking to random, curious strangers like myself. 
I’ve been told it’s a big faux-pas to be walking in one direction, and suddenly turn 180 degrees and walk completely the opposite way. It reflects poorly on your IQ apparently. I tend to do it quite a bit when I’m using my Google maps to navigate around any concrete jungle. I wonder what that says about my intelligence! 
This particular evening, a lady I walked past was taking photographs of discarded cigarette butts on the pavement. Her partner was teasing her, probably saying something about why she was taking so many photographs of the grey, concrete pavement. Like a typical Londoner, I passed by, rocketing off to whatever destination I was headed to. 
At first I walked past, half-smiling to myself at the novelty of what she was doing. I mean who takes photographs of cigarette butts? My curiosity eventually got the better of me, so I turned right around and approached her. 
“Excuse me? Could I ask why you’re taking photographs of cigarette butts?” I never thought I’d ever ask that question, but ask it I did. 
“Oh it’s for art. My daughter is an artist. I’m not really one but there’s something about these cigarette butts that speaks to me. Here have a look.” 
She gestured to her phone and proceeded to show me a series of photographs which to my eye, looked exactly the same. Cigarette butt in pavement. Cigarette butt on pavement. Cigarette butt beside pavement. And so on. 
So I smiled at her and said: “What you perceive as art, I might see as something completely meaningless.”
Then she showed me a photograph of two cigarette butts that looked like they were having a lovers spat. And for a moment, I saw meaning there. Who would have thought you could find meaning in discarded items of trash? There’s beauty in ugliness, or beauty in mundane things after all. 
The woman and her partner eventually introduced themselves as Terry and Gary. Like most pedestrians you meet in London, they were tourists visiting from New York. Don’t ask how but Gary and I eventually got talking about the maniacal joke that is Donald Trump. 
I asked him what he thought about the democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders who recently lost the nomination to Clinton. 
“Clinton? Oh everybody hates her in America. Bernie Sanders was a good guy but the thing about him was that he promised too much. He’s like the Donald Trump of the left. He wouldn’t have been able to deliver on his promises. He was way too idealistic. 
When Obama became President, he didn’t say from the outset, “I’m going to legalise gay marriage.” He just did it. Had he said that from the beginning, he might not have got the support of the senate.”
We spoke about Sadiq Khan too, the first Pakistani and Muslim mayor of London. I may have glowered with pride since I carry the now prestige (albeit very, very common) surname Khan. 
“Are you related?” he asked. 
“No. Khan is quite a common name in the south Asian community. There’s like an army of us out there!”
When we eventually got to say our goodbyes (his wife Terry at this point had ventured further up the street to photograph more unsuspecting cigarette butts), he said earnestly: “Do come to New York!” Keep in mind, we stood on the streets of London for a good twenty minutes, as passers by hurtled around us like cars on a motorway to avoid colliding into us. 
I replied half jokingly “I plan on it, but that’s if Donald Trump isn’t president by then!” 
His face became serious all of a sudden, and with a slightly audible tremble in his voice, he said:
“Muslims have been in America since the very beginning. They’re part of its fabric. You must think most Americans are crazy voting for someone like Trump, but we’re not. As long as there are Americans like me keeping Trump out, you have nothing to worry about. It makes me so emotional just thinking about it.”
So the next time you see Donald Trump harping away, his blonde toupee barely remaining on top of that vacuous, hate-filled head of his, just remember: there are people like Terry and Gary who don’t give a crap that “my name is Khan” as the title of the Shahrukh Khan film goes, and would happily open their doors to a turban wearing, Cheshire-cat grinning Muslim woman like you and I. 
If a conversation on appreciating the art of discarded cigarette butts can lead to such profound declarations of solidarity, there is some hope after all. Don’t you forget that!


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