Dwayne Raymond places a memorial stone in front of the Iraqi Kabab Market at 174 College Ave. in Waterville earlier this month in honor of market owner Akram Mohammad. Mohammad died in a motorcycle accident near the market. “In my 55 years, I’ve never met such a nice person. He would touch your shoulder with a light squeeze and offer some advice, wise beyond his years,” said Raymond, a friend and business owner from across the street. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

There would be no photos on the day I met Akram Mohammad, owner of the new Iraqi Kabab Market on College Avenue in Waterville.

Akram Mohammad, right, is shown with his two children. Mohammad, an Iraqi immigrant, died early this month when his motorcycle collided with a passenger van on College Avenue in Waterville. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Johnson

I’d have to wait a few months to photograph Mohammad and his family as they cooked Middle Eastern food, helped customers and ran their business.

I had come into the deli on Aug. 31 with a handful of questions and the intention of taking a few photos to publicize a new business. “It’s a good news story,” I explained. “It’s like getting a free ad for your business that runs on a section front in the newspaper.”

Mohammad, a 30-year-old Iraqi immigrant and father of two young children, ran the market with his wife. It was their third day of business and he was resistant to my offer. They’d need more time to get established before agreeing to photos and fielding questions. He said he first wanted to meet people in person at the market. That’s where he could shine.

The market had long hours, opening at 11 a.m. and closing at 11 p.m. Several cars were parked in front by a red lighted sign that scrolled the letters O-P-E-N.

First time customers waited for orders of hot food while a woman walked through aisles of goods near the kitchen. Mohammad greeted each person who entered the market. The business was clean and decorated with Middle Eastern paintings and artwork.

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A tantalizing aroma hung in the air as Mohammad’s wife prepared dishes for customers. Their son Mahdi, 6, slathered his hands with sanitizer while meandering past a case filled with fresh salads, desserts and sides.

Mohammad, known as AJ to his friends, prompted the dark-haired lad to shake my hand. It was a humorous and heartwarming moment. Like father, like son. I wondered how many times the boy had seen his Dad extend this greeting to customers. With a friendly handshake and a soft smile, the man’s warmth and kindness extended to those who entered the store. It was part of the experience.

I’ll never get used to taking no for an answer, but I knew Mohammad would not be moved. I’d be back when the time was right. Then he smiled and we shook on it.

The following day I was back on College Avenue, less than half a mile from the market. A man had been killed a crash between his motorcycle and a van.

The road was closed and traffic diverted as police investigated. Parking at the perimeter of the scene, I walked in with a single camera and the longest lens I had available. That way I could photograph from a distance while being unobtrusive.

A photo showing the roadway, police at work and some element of the crash might help readers understand what happened. Photos take us to the scene while words can only describe it.

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Adding to the stress of the situation were two people who stopped me before I could raise the camera. One person wanted to make small talk while the other voiced their concerns over what my photos might show. “I hope you don’t show anything too graphic,” she said while standing with other people who gathered to watch the aftermath of the wreck.

Another person yelled profanities at me from the parking lot of apartment house near where the motorcycle lay broken in two pieces. I retreated to my car as the man became more agitated. I’d seen more than enough. It was horrible and time for me to go.

I’ve grown thick skin over 35 years of newspaper photojournalism. I’ve met people on their worst days — after they’ve lost everything, when their home is in ashes or floating downstream in a flood, or when the body of their loved one is broken at the side of the road. All that’s left to do is cry. In those moments my work can either hurt or heal. It becomes part of the problem or part of the solution. My heart remains soft.

AJ Mohammad was only a short distance from his market when his motorcycle collided with the passenger van. I’d just met him the day before so my memories were fresh.

Dwayne Raymond holds a memorial stone in honor of Akram Mohammad, who was known as AJ to his friends. Raymond placed the stone Sept. 2 in front of Iraqi Kabab Market on College Avenue in Waterville. Mohammad, who died Sept. 1 in a motorcycle wreck, had just opened the market the week before with his wife. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

He wouldn’t let me pay for the hot chicken shawarma wrap that his wife had prepared for me. It was cooked fresh and felt warm as he handed to me. The cold can of Mountain Dew I pulled from the cooler was also complimentary. I reached for my Visa card but he wouldn’t take it. Next time I’d pay, but until then I’d put my card back in my pocket and be thankful.

Mohammad’s death leaves a hole in the hearts of his family and those that knew him much better than me. In the wake of the crash the community reflected on Mohammad and remembered him as a hard worker who was doing great things at the Iraqi Kabab Market. The business was coming to life. People were stopping in, trying the food and telling their friends.

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I was looking forward to returning to the market for photographs. The date was in my notes and relayed to my editor. Mohammad would be ready for me. I’d be inside during a busy time and need about 20 minutes to get all the material I’d need.

There’d be photos showing a bustling business filled with customers. The kitchen would be the model of efficiency with orders coming in and hot food going out. I’d hope for a photo of a shopper amid Middle Eastern grocery items.

Mohammad would greet customers at the door. He’d shake their hands and offer a kind word with a smile. I’d be ready with the camera to honor his joyful spirit while being grateful for the opportunity to have met him, if only for a moment.

Rich Abrahamson is a photojournalist with the Morning Sentinel.

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