Certain people just make your day better. You may barely know them, but the light and positive vibe they carry is contagious and sticks with you long after they are out of sight.
Abdou Hamami is one of those people. When I grab my newspapers, Snickers bar or water on the run from him at his bustling newsstand at Lexington and 86th, our interchange is nothing out of the ordinary; he just smiles and asks me how my day is going, and I’m on my way. But I always felt there was something special about this guy.
And so last week when I opened the New York Post and saw the headline about a “good samaritan news seller who goes beyond the call,” I instinctively knew they were talking about Abdou.
Juliann Giese, a pretty young radiology student who just arrived in town to start a residency at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, had the typical New York newbie experience of running onto the wrong bus, then scrambling out when she realized her mistake to grab a cab so she wouldn’t be late for her first day at work.
When Juliann jumped out to hop on the uptown subway, she realized as the cab sped off that she left her new iPhone in the back seat. “I was already in a panic, and this made it worse,” admits Giese. “I didn’t know where to turn.” There in front of her was Abdou, busy selling his wares during the rush hour crush.
When she spotted the stranger, Juliann picked up the same positive energy I got from him, and in a crowd of hundreds milling by, decided Abdou was the person to turn to in her moment of despair.
Juliann made the right choice. “She was upset and I tried to calm her down,” says Abdou. “I told her I have a phone if she wanted to try hers and see if someone answers.” But when no one did, Juliann headed for the hospital.
But did the busy Abdou just write her off, figuring he’d done his part? No way. He kept calling and finally a cab driver answered. And the cabbie had the phone!
“I asked him to drop it off at my newsstand, but he demanded $20 dollars to do so,” recounts Abdou. “I wasn’t thrilled, but told him do it anyway and I’d give him the money.”
Was Abdou’s work done? Not quite. He then called Juliann’s mother in Florida to tell her that the iPhone had been returned. When Juliann returned to the newsstand, Abdou handed her the phone and she went happily on her way.
But I had to know: When Juliann came back to pick up her iPhone, did she at least offer to pay him back the twenty bucks? Abdou replied “She did, but I refused.” When I asked him why, he pointed upward. “He will pay me back in another way,” Abdou smiled gently.
I happen to be a confirmed agnostic. But if I meet more people like Abdou, I may have to reconsider.