Welcome to America

“”Welcome home! You look happy to be back.” The White Immigration officer said to me, beaming.

“I am. I’ve been gone for a while!” And I really was at that moment. The new “scan your passport and adjust your weave for a picture” system was impressive to me. No more long lines. I was digging it and proud of this minor accomplishment. I took my passport from him and walked over to the baggage claim to grab my bags. I was glad to be back. Don’t get me wrong, I was a bit sad that last day before I left because I knew I wouldn’t be 3 minutes from the beach anymore and probably wouldn’t get to the sea for a few months. I was also sad to be leaving people behind. But on the whole, I was ready to stop bumming around and begin my new school year. I was trying to catch a 7:52pm Metro North train and I knew I’d have to hustle. When the luggage took 45 minutes to come out, I knew I’d lost this one. I calmed down and waited in line for a Yellow Cab and got ready for the long trek. My Wednesday had bled into Thursday morning because I had barely slept after an amazing Calypso competition. I wouldn’t get home until almost 1 am Friday. I prepared myself mentally for it.

What I didn’t prepare for was a cool 70 degree weather. I had practically toasted everyday in Anguilla and slept every night with the fan on high. So with my scarf and sweater, when I found myself chilly, I wasn’t happy. Ridiculous! But I’d been cooped up for so long in the boat and then the plane so I opted to sit in the open air next to the tracks at 125th in Harlem. I’d had very little contact with White people overall on the island and so I had to mentally ready myself for this as well. My first encounter came when I got on the elevator to go up to the tracks. I had two pieces of luggage so I was a bit slow maneuvering them. A White man swept past me and pressed the button. I waited to see if he would wait for me. I was pleasantly surprised when he held the door for me. I thanked him and asked after his health and day. He was worn out and happy to be going home. When we reached the track level he held the door open for me and I got out with the stubborn luggage. I swear the wheels have a mind of their own, 360 degree be darned.

I made my way down the platform looking for an empty seat, preferably one on the end so I could keep an eye on my bags. I had to adjust quickly to being in a big city. I was no longer on the island where we left our keys in the ignition. I arranged my bags next to a bench and as I was doing so, the White man who was seated in the end seat asked if I’d like to sit. I said yes if he didn’t mind. There was a seat next to the one on the end so I assumed he’d just trade me seats so I could be next to my bags. But he stood up said you are welcome to my profuse thank yous and left. Maybe he hated being squashed in between people?

I sat reading my Nook. I was a whole 40 minutes early. I kept looking at the marquee to check on the tracks. I couldn’t tell which train it was because everything that came was named for a city not on my ticket. So finally I figured I’d ask. and guess what? Yep! The guy next to me was a middle-aged White man. He was so polite and helpful. He showed me an app that his kids had loaded on his phone and together we were able to figure out which train I was to be on. The same one he was on. We talked for a good while about his own trip to St. Maarten. Once the train arrived, he asked if I needed help with the second suitcase. I declined his help but he stood aside and waited for me to get on and secure the luggage in the corner. There was not a seat near the luggage so I chose to stand near them. He sat down but kept gesturing that he give up his seat. He finally stood up and said, “Please go sit. I’ll watch your luggage.” So I did. I kept an eye on him though. Anyway, a seat opened up closer to my luggage right when it was time for his stop.

So I was treated kindly by four White men within 2 hours of being in the U.S. They redeemed my faith in the race.

Fast forward to 18 hours. The downside of being Black in the boonies is never knowing when it’s safe to pull up to a gas station, go to a diner, or ask for directions. I happen to like Denny’s (don’t judge me). It’s where I did some of my best writing. I love any place with booths generally but I love that I can eat pancakes whenever. So I went to see my MFA cohort colleague, Sariyah Idan perform. She lives in LA and there probably won’t be another chance to see her so close by. She was playing in Northampton. I left Sariyah and headed home because it was late and technically I had yet to sleep in 48 hours. Halfway down the street, I decided I needed food since my fridge was empty and my village shut down at 9. It was almost midnight. So I pulled off the freeway when I saw the Denny’s sign and found my way there all the while hoping it was full of people of all races. I was blessed or so I thought. As I waited to be seated, every single server working the floor was some shade of brown and the room had a mixed crowd. Looking good! The door opened and in walked an old White man. He stood next to me, forgetting about personal space. When the server looked up to ask how many I said 1 and 1 indicating that we weren’t together. I eyed the empty bar stools and headed for them. The White man said: “The bar!” He followed on my heels and took the seat right next to mine even though there were 4 open seats. I debated seriously asking to be re-seated but darn my polite self, I didn’t want to be rude. I rolled my eyes at the server and prayed my food would come quick so I could head out of there. When the server came to take our orders, he said triumphantly: “And they said I was a snob!” The server caught my eye and grinned. The White man turned to me and said: “You are Black, right? Now, how I know that?” He cackled showing the inside of his whole mouth. Missing teeth. Yellowed teeth with black bottoms. Ridged teeth. At first I decided to ignore him, then a few minutes into his talking, I figured I’d engage him. After all, he wasn’t spewing hateful speech. He asked a simple, albeit ignorant question. So I did. I learned he was 72. Had been divorced 30 years but was still taking care of his ex-wife. Had 2 children and 2 grandchildren. Had actually worked laying the phone lines for my current workplace. Talk about small world. Anyway, by the end of my meal, he was chatting away. He had asked me if I was teaching. (Plus point for him not asking if I was the housekeeper at the college). He told me to be careful and be good when I took leave of him. Be safe. Just as a parent would do, I guess.

Anyway, I have to say that what started out precariously was polite after all when I gave it a chance. I don’t know what to make of it entirely, just that I’m back in the U.S. and I’m Black again. I’m back to waving wildly at the random Black folk I see in the grocery store.

#blackintheberkshires

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