Leila and I were floormates at our university, where all the international freshmen stayed in the same dormitory. It feels cliché to say that she always smiled but, she did! That’s actually what I remember about her the most. The quiet smile was her natural default setting. The French accent, the Arabic music blasting from her dorm… Always soft-spoken, never overwhelming. At least with me.
The academic years went by, and those “international freshman” bonds dissolved as we all started to go our own way. Never heard from or of her again after graduation. About 10 years later, I’m in ΝYC, heading into a building for an audition. I’m standing at the lobby as the elevator arrives. Elevator doors open, out comes Leila. We stare at each other, eyes wide open, shocked smiles. We start chatting away while elevators are coming and going. I’m not running late, but I’m thinking that I should get on the next elevator because I don’t want her to feel like she’s making me late… Stupid.
Instant reflex question: “So you live in New York?”
“I do now, yes,” always with a quiet smile.
Did we even hug? Or did we just keep back-stepping and smiling in disbelief at what the doors revealed when they parted? Too unexpected to remember. I get on the elevator, doors close. Surreal. Floormates again for a few seconds. Bitterish-sweet.
It’s so painfully sad that it’s come to this. Your art lives on and your spirit will shine bright and everlasting. I honestly don’t remember if I hugged you, Leila. I hope I did. Goodbye, my friend.
New York Times: Photographer Leila Alaoui Killed in Attacks