At Showalter Fountain junior Richard Solomon leaned his bike against the concrete lip around the fountain pool. He set down a box of small candles and pulled out his lighter.
The light rain and blowing wind made it difficult for the wick to catch flame. By the time he had it lit, around a dozen more solemn and silent people were standing by.
In the end, about 100 former and current students gathered Saturday evening in memorial for Djiby Sissoko, a Wright Quad c-store cashier who recently died of cancer.
“Djiby was a well-loved, kind and compassionate RPS employee,” Solomon, who organized the vigil, said. “For many of us who went to the Wright c-store, we saw him as a guardian angel or a black Santa Claus. He was a part of this community.”
Candles lit candles, and, in some cases, cigarettes, until one could feel the warmth of the fire while standing in the midst of the crowd. For a while it was silent except for the drizzle of the rain on open umbrellas.
Solomon said he organized the vigil for Djiby but also to honor other employees in thankless jobs like cashiers and bus drivers. He said the student relationships with these people often feels transactional.
Students who frequent the Wright c-store would recognize Djiby’s thick Mali accent. They may know he could speak French and his favorite Premier League soccer team was Arsenal. It was often the case that the line on Djiby’s register stretched much further than the one on the other.
Many students say he remembered their names after meeting once. They said he was selfless, and most knew relatively little about him.
Many didn’t know his age, when exactly he died or much else about his life. Staff in Wright Quad said he kept his personal life to himself.
That’s something senior Rob Sherrell said was great about Djiby — his selflessness.
“He wouldn’t talk about his day,” Sherrell said. “He would only talk about yours. I think that was his point.”
Sherrell met Djiby on his first trip to the c-store his freshman year.
“We just hit it off,” he said.
Sherrell said sometimes he would come into the c-store not to buy anything but to talk with Djiby.
“He had this infectious personality that, whenever he talked to you, you couldn’t help but be happy,” he said.
When Sherrell received the news that Djiby had died, he cried. Then he decided to make a virtual memorial on Twitter. It features a picture of a chair Djiby was famous for sitting in and had 132 likes and 38 other tweets about it at the time of publication.
He said that is when he felt the magnitude of Djiby’s effect on people.
Some of the response tweets include:
Crazy to think Djiby has passed. He was literally one of the best parts of IU. Always able to give you day joy. True embodiment of a Hoosier
QUAD @ IU
Djiby made hundreds of students just a little bit happier each day. All that happiness adds up.
I’m gonna miss talking to him in french and hearing about his day :/
sad PTA mom
Sherrell said he wanted there to be a collection of the way people spoke of Djiby.
When Sherrell first came up with the idea to create a comedy major, Djiby was one of the first people he told.
“Well go do it, man,” Sherrell said Djiby said at the time. “Follow your dreams.”
Sherrell’s voice paused for a few moments.
“Damn,” he said. “This man was amazing. I really can’t believe he’s gone. He gave me courage in a place I didn’t think I would have it.”
At the fountain, Solomon stood above the crowd and passed out the rest of the candles.
After a few minutes, he approached the front of the vigil. He spoke in a soft voice over the crowd.
“We’re here to remember the life and work of Djiby,” Solomon said. “If you have a story or something you’d like to share; I invite you to come share.”
It was about a minute before they started approaching the front.
“The last time he gave me a hug...” one person began to say, but her voice started to fail her. “I didn’t think it would be the last time.”
Her speech was one of dozens, as others came up to share their memories about the c-store cashier.
“He personally went out of his way to make everyone here feel at home,” someone said. “He was more than a cashier. He was a family member to all of us.”
“My heart is most sad for the people who didn’t get to meet him,” another said.
“I honestly do not think I would have graduated if I couldn’t have gone in to see Djiby three times a week,” another person said.
“I’m going to remember Djiby until the day I die,” someone else said when they spoke to the crowd.
“My only regret is that I didn’t stand there just a little bit longer and hold the line just a little bit more,” someone else said.
Some people in the crowd were crying. Two women with no umbrella stood with their arms around each other, one wiping tears from the eyes of the other.
Whenever someone would quote Djiby in their speech, mimicking his thick accent, the crowd would laugh.
Solomon approached the front again.
“He showed me what it means to be a generous person,” he said.
He said he would stay until the last person left, but if people wanted to leave, they could do so quietly. The crowd quickly dispersed until it was only Solomon, a small circle of people and some television cameras.
Pretty soon the cameras left, and the small group counted to three and blew out their candles.
Solomon carried his bike down the steps from the fountain, wiped off the seat and stood for 15 seconds. He was completely still. The rain, which had slowed during the vigil, began to pick back up. He pulled up his hood and rode away.
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