Within the matrix of security footage in my apartment building in south Williamsburg, one camera has captured something that my doorman insists I watch. “It happened five minutes ago,” he says, scrolling through the footage to 2:57 p.m. “This is the craziest thing I have ever seen.” The camera feed shows the back entrance of my building, where tenants lock up their bikes. A white van is parked there.
On cue, a Hasidic woman hustles into the lot, alone. She takes cover behind the van. With premeditated efficiency, she undoes the scarf wrapped around her head, revealing the perfectly coifed, ubiquitous shoulder-length wig that renders all Hasidic women anonymous to a layperson like me. Next, off comes her equally anonymous ensemble, the long-sleeved black cardigan and the ankle-length black skirt.
She rolls all of her black garments into a little black ball, paying surreptitious glances about her surroundings. Underneath her modest black outfit, she’s been wearing a long-sleeved blouse and a pale pink skirt ending just at her knees.
She smooths back the hairs of her wig, securing it into a low ponytail, trades out her closed-toe black shoes for white ones, then takes a moment to compose herself.
Across the street, there’s a popular, hip restaurant full of braless women with wild, windblown hair and glossy red lips. But none of them feel as electrified as this woman now, who walks out from behind the van and leaves the back lot of my building looking like a secular version of herself, something like a librarian, a wallflower, a wartime nurse from another era.
Her radical wardrobe will go unacknowledged on this day by any of us, and I imagine that’s the way she’d like it to stay.