I was walking in our downtown area on one beautiful, Florida autumn afternoon. My phone has one of those annoying fitness apps that nags at me for being too sedentary, so mostly my intentions were to get as many footsteps in as possible toward achieving my daily quota.
As I approached an art gallery, I noticed lots of people standing around, outside the entrance. Drawing closer, I noticed there were also tables and small booths, displaying artisans' wares. Apparently, I'd stumbled upon a small art show! The genre was African, which particularly piqued my interest. Jewelry, textiles, ceramics, etc were all beautifully exhibited, and the artists were quite welcoming. Being an artist myself, art shows are for me a form of escape. It's as if I momentarily leave my body, as all the world's cares melt away, and I enter a type of esthetic Nirvana where only lovely people and beautiful things exist. As time would shortly tell, this show didn't disappoint.
I stopped and looked around, enjoying the perfect weather, the artsy atmosphere, and the friendly conversation with the creators of some very interesting pieces. Then, I heard a voice. "Excuse me, sir," it said, "could you come here a minute?" I turned to see a lovely woman seated only a few yards away from me, with a bright smile. She was near the gallery entrance, and appeared to be focusing her gaze on me. "Certainly," I answered. I excused myself to the artists with whom I had been speaking and I took the few steps toward her. "Sir, I'm listening to you," the woman said, "and you have a lovely voice and a wonderful smile." I'm sure I was blushing as I humbly thanked her. She continued, "I was just wondering if I could speak with you for a moment?" "Certainly," I responded again. She extended her hand to shake mine and asked my name, introducing herself simply as, "Khalilah". She said she wanted me to fully enjoy the art show, and told me to make sure I also go inside to look around there too, assuring me there was lots more to see. "And then," she added, "be sure to stop by my table before you leave. There's something I'd really like to show you." "Ok," I agreed, "I'll do that."
The intriguing woman by the door was right. There was indeed more beautiful artwork inside. I was impressed with the range of the individual artists and some of the materials they'd used to ply their creations. After a leisurely stroll through the gallery, taking in the tribal, African vibe of the work, I exited once again to the area of the outdoor vendors. Once I was satisfied that I'd seen everything on display, indoors and out, my out-of-body experience concluded, and I went over to say goodbye to the nice lady who had been so accommodating.
"Thank you for coming back", she said, putting away the plate of food she'd started eating. "No problem," I said, "but I see I'm interrupting your lunch, so I'll just say thanks so much for being so pleasant, Khalilah. Goodbye, and the best of luck to you with the rest of the show." "No, no," she interrupted! "I have to show you something first, remember?" She said, "You see, my last name is Ali." She slid a photograph from a large manilla envelope. "This is me, sitting with my former husband. We were on our first date." I looked at the photo to see the unmistakable image of boxing legend Muhammed Ali!
"Surprise" would be an understatement for my reaction. Muhammad Ali was a legend in his own time, and is still an inspiration to millions of people around the world, including myself. I never really saw pictures of his wives, though. That's the reason I didn't recognize Khalilah Ali. She told me she normally sold the pictures autographed for collectors, but on this day she was collecting money for a charity, and a donation would get me a signed copy. As you can see here, I quickly donated. Khalilah Ali was kind enough to chat with me briefly. Afterwards, I went on my way. When I came home and told my wife, showing her the photograph, she was excited for me. I was a bit surprised to find that she knew more about Khalilah's story than I did!
I really wish I'd asked to take a picture with dear Ms. Khalilah, and I wish I could remember the name of the charity she was collecting for so I could share it with you, but frankly, I was so totally awestruck by having met her, I completely forgot everything at that point. I did however meet the day's quota of footsteps! Anyway, we have this cherished, autographed photo, and I have a fond memory of that perfect afternoon, when I had my slight brush with The Greatest.
Steven C. Nalls is a veteran Mental Health Technician for the state of Illinois. He currently works as an artist, freelance writer, and public speaker.