“Are you African?” The security guard asked as I waited for my cousin and her husband at the hardware
I hesitated for a moment not quite sure what to say. My eyes searched her face for a clue to what prompted the question that hung heavily in the air, separating us. We are both black, and therefore African, but I couldn’t tell what that meant to her. Nothing about her round, pleasant face gave her away.
The moment and the tension lingered.
I smiled. Yes, I’m African.
She twisted her mouth describing a semi-circle, an expression I couldn’t read. It was as if she were struggling to make sense of me, of what I had just said. I waited as she digested that nugget of information.
You live here now? she asked eventually.
I leaned closer to see if her eyes would reveal something, anything. They were soft, almost smiling. Sensing she wouldn’t give me more, I asked why she thought I was African.
Your wrap, she said as if I should have known.
I laughed. I’d forgotten what I was wearing, a gift from my African family.
We’re all African, I said, whether we’re born here or there.
The Wrong Side of the Road
My cousin had left already when I decided to go into town. As I arrived at the end of the street to wait for a taxi, I noticed a young girl, maybe 18 or 19, standing a few yards away.
She looked around and I stopped instinctively, as if I had disturbed her territory. We locked eyes but she turned away before I could nod my acknowledgement.
I surveyed her furtively from the corner of my eye: shorts, strappy sandals, blouse, and dead straight hair that she stroked frequently, as if it were the smoothest silk.
Suddenly, my auntie jeans, sensible shoes and hair caught up in a ponytail make me feel frumpy and unfashionable. I tried to recall the girl I was at that age but my mind couldn’t seem to find her.
A car approaches. The driver slows down long enough for the driver to survey the young miss then speed up as he reaches me and refocuses his eyes on the road.
One day she’ll understand, I say to myself. All that fades in time.
Another car rolls by and snaps me back. I’m standing on the wrong side of the road. I cross sheepishly to the other side to wait for the taxi. It’s cooler here, I say to myself, as if in response to the question I imagined she’d ask, that is, if she’d even noticed.