There’s a wonderful little market not too far from where we live. Along with some every day staples, they carry a wide variety of really eclectic foods from all over the world. The small shop is as much a feast for the eyes as the belly, with a dizzying array of goodies from everywhere imaginable.
Until last year, I’d been in less than a handful of times in twelve years — to grab a soda, maybe, or to treat Katie to a box of her favorite British cookies, impossible to find anywhere else.
And then one day about a year ago, Katie and I️ ducked in for a candy bar … and everything changed.
The owner asked if we were local. I️ said that we were. “I️ thought I️ remembered you,” he said, “but I️ don’t see you in here much.”
I️ told him that we don’t come in a lot. He asked where we tend to shop. I️ told him. And then he told me how hard it is to run a small business in a place like Boston. “Because,” he said, “people like you go to Wegman’s or Whole Foods because it’s easier. You come here once in a while and then I️ don’t see you again for years,” he added. I️ couldn’t deny the truth in his words.
He told me that there had been four stores like his when he opened 16 years ago. His, he said, is the only one left. “But I️ don’t know for how much longer,” he said, “if people don’t come.”
I️ promised him that I️ would be back and he smiled and waved as I️ left.
Later that week, I️ showed up in search of that night’s dinner. “All right, Sir,” I️ said, “Let’s talk dinner. What have ya got for me?”
He didn’t answer right away. He stared at me for just long enough that I️ wondered if he’d forgotten that we’d spoken just a couple of days before. And then he walked out from behind the counter, stood right next to me and said, “You came back.”
“Of course I️ did,” I️ said. “I️ told you I️ would.”
“Everyone says they will,” he said, “but they never do.”
He shook his head slowly before saying again, “You came back.”
By the time I️ left, my bag full with the fixings of that evening’s dinner – fresh ravioli, a half-baked baguette, and a fabulous bottle of Syrah, I️ asked if it would be okay to hug him. I️ had come in for dinner, and I’d left with a friend.
Over time, we fell into a routine. Brooke requested Mo’s ravioli at least once a week. Luau discovered that he carries his favorite beer. And Katie, of course, was thrilled to support the international candy trade.
Everyone in the family knows that if we’re going to Mo’s, we’ll need time to chat and room to try whatever it is that he is offering up. Mo is big on ‘samples.’ If he has nothing already open, he’ll tear into a bag or a box or a bottle. You’ll never leave without “just a little taste” of something.
One day not long ago, Brooke and I️ were headed to Mo’s to buy her ravioli when my dad called. When he asked her where we were going she said, “To see my mom’s friend, Mo.”
A few weeks ago, there was an incident in Mo’s store. A customer had become belligerent and ultimately, someone had called the police. When it made the news that they had yelled racial epithets and told Mo to “Go back to his country,” there was a collective gasp from around our town.
What followed was outrage, and a fabulous outpouring of love and support. I️ called Mo the day that I️ saw the story. He was touched, but more than anything, he sounded a little bewildered by the reaction. “Jessie,” he said, “this isn’t new. This has been happening nearly every day for sixteen years.”
The only reason that anyone even knew this particular story, he said, was because the police had been involved. “Every day, Jessie,” he said again. “Every day.”
He told me that he’d been warned against opening his store here. That he was told that he shouldn’t go where “they didn’t want him.” That no one would want to do business with someone “from a terrorist country.”
He told me about how he couldn’t turn back. About how he’d mortgaged his home to buy the business and how his family’s welfare depended on him making it work. He told me that he’d changed the store – that he’d designed it around hard to find items and about the folks who come in to this day and insist on telling him that they are only buying from him because he’s the only one who sells what they need.
He told me about the name-calling and the quotidian racism that to him, has become part of doing business.
Some regulars of Mo’s have organized what they’re calling a love mob – a rally of sorts to show support for him. It’s beautiful and lovely and, if I’m being painfully honest, makes me really nervous.
You see, we self-proclaimed progressives have this thing that we do. We clutch our pearls in outrage when we are confronted with the fact that hate dwells among us, even though those on its receiving end have been telling us until they’re blue in the face that this is their every day reality. But it’s new to us. Again and again, somehow, it keeps being new to us. And so we look, each time, for a way to express our shock. We tend toward loud, showy displays of solidarity. And they’re good and important and meaningful. They draw the attention and energy that is so desperately needed to combat bigotry and prejudice. They attract news cameras and create fodder for stories that shine a light, at least for a moment, on that which lies just beneath our shiny – if painfully thin – veneer of inclusion.
But then what? What happens the next day, the next week, the next year? What happens to Mo once all of us are done making ourselves feel better about this one thing that we now know happened? The regulars who so lovingly organized the event will still be there, and that’s wonderful, but what about the rest of us?
I️ went to see Mo today. I️ bought breakfast and coffee and stocked up on ravioli for Brooke. He made me taste ice creams at 10:30 in the morning. (I️ hated the rose and the parsley but fell so hard for the saffron pistachio that I brought a half-pint home.) And, as always, we talked as he packed up my purchases.
He told me about someone who came to see him recently, to offer their support after they’d heard what had happened. They’d told him how much they’d always liked him and what an awful shame it was that he’d had to deal with that kind of hate.
He said that he’d asked them where they’d been. It had been ten years since they’d been into the store, he said. “Ten years,” he repeated more slowly.
He deeply appreciated their coming to see him and was truly grateful that they had made the effort, but asked, “If they really wanted to support me and the store, where have they been?”
It’s not always easy to go to Mo’s. The parking isn’t great and he doesn’t have everything that I️ need, so I️ can’t get everything done at once. More often than I’d like to admit, I️ drive by once and if I️ don’t find a spot immediately, I️ give up. I️ go somewhere bigger, somewhere closer, somewhere just a tiny bit cheaper. Somewhere .. easier.
But I’m working hard to change that. Because it matters.
The rally will undoubtedly be great. I’m hoping that we can get there on the day it happens to help show Mo how much we love him. He deserves nothing less. But I’m also going to do my damnedest to remember that he and so many good folks like him also need us to do a whole lot more.
And it’s not exactly a hardship. I mean, the saffron ice cream is pretty fantastic.
Note: This story is shared with Mo’s generous permission, for which I am grateful.