I’m not a racist but I went for the panic button when I saw the black man. Just instinct. It’s not my fault and if you want to blame something then blame TV. TV has conditioned me this way so at 7pm last night when the black man came in my first instinct was to push the button. Actually my first thought was, what is this, a dream or something? Then I went for the button. I didn’t push it though, not immediately, because I’m not a racist but understand, a black man has never been in our shop in all the time I’ve been there, let alone at 7pm on a Thursday night! The man nodded at me and I smiled back, remembering what we’re taught in the Spar. If you get robbed it’s coming out of your wages. You learn that Day One.
The man was looking for something. Scoping the shop out? Possibly. He was possibly just looking for something to buy – a bottle of Oasis or perhaps a packet of razors for his lovely bald head. Fucking hell, black people are cool as well as intimidating. Maybe that’s why they are cool? Like Donald Trump? I wish I could rock a bald head. And they can wear anything and look cool as fuck. Anyway there was no way of knowing how the situation with the black man in our shop was going to play out without letting it play out. It was in the God’s hands.
He was wearing a padded body warmer and really long shorts and he looked down the first aisle which leads to the bread. This guy didn’t want bread, though. No fucking bread for this guy. When I wear shorts with pockets I end up looking like a scout leader, this guy didn’t look like a scout leader. He looked down the next aisle. Paula was at the end second aisle. The guy headed down that aisle. Oh Jesus Christ.
“Paula!” I shouted rather weakly. She looked up just in time and I saw her dart to the side. I looked around for a weapon but there was nothing, absolutely nothing. Would he mistake a pricing gun for a tazer? Unlikely. I heard her, Paula, shout and I pressed the button and time stood still. I couldn’t see either of them. Enrique came out and looked at me. I pointed down the middle aisle. There were muffled sounds coming from the proximity of the hot food counter. Enrique couldn’t see down that aisle from his door and so I pointed twice more and then tilted my head that way.
Enrique did his ‘Que?’ face and so I pointed down the middle aisle three times really violently, my face twisted with silent emotion. Enrique took two slow steps but looking at me. I tilted my head again. He took another step but he didn’t like this. He was expecting something to jump out on him wearing a mask. I went over to him.
“There’s a man down there,” I whispered looking down the aisle. I could hear Paula pleading with the man but couldn’t get a visual. “And he’s black.”
“Down der?” Asked Enrique looking down the aisle I’d just looked down.
“Yes, down there, he’s got Paula,” I said. Enrique anointed himself with the sign of the cross. “Come on,” I whispered but I meant ‘you go on.’ Enrique headed tentatively down the aisle. It was the confectionery aisle so there were no tins to grab. Enrique walked slowly down the aisle and I was hunched over behind him. Hiding behind a human shield really if I’m honest. I grabbed onto the back of his jacket and he didn’t seem to mind. I was holding him so that he couldn’t turn and peg it back passed me. I was behind and I was fucking staying behind. We were halfway down the aisle, both hunched over and tiptoeing when Paula appeared.
“What are you perverts doing?” She asked. The man appeared next to her. He looked at us and then to Paula. Enrique and I were stood like melting statues. “Nobheads,” said Paula. Enrique looked back at me. What are you looking at me for? I thought, can’t you make a decision? I didn’t know what to do and so I stood up straight.
“Hello!” I said. Paula narrowed her eyes at me and shook her head.
“This is Wellington,” Paula announced. “Wellington, these are the people I work with,” she gestured towards us the way you might gesture towards a broken plate.
“That’s Wellington?” I said. I hadn’t seen THAT coming.
Paula’s been going on about Wellington all week. She met him at a rave or church or something, last weekend. She loves him or something. She’s been talking about him a lot.
“Hi!” Said Wellington, raising a palm.
“Hello!” I said exactly the same way I’d said it initially. Enrique had gone right down and was pretending to tie his shoelace. Enrique’s shoes don’t have shoelaces, they’re slip-ons. I watched him tie his invisible shoelaces. Paula and Wellington were also watching.
“There!” Said Enrique when he’d finished and then he stood up and straightened his jacket down with three sweeps of his hands. “Good day!” He said and then turned and walked back towards the counter. He paused at the end, and went over to the front window. I know he was just checking if his RapeMobile was still there, ensuring it hadn’t been stolen on this night of near anarchy. He eats his lunch in it. I’m giving him another driving lesson tomorrow. Enrique then returned intently to his office.
I turned back to Paula and Wellington. They were expecting me to speak.
“I’ve heard a lot about you!” I told Wellington brightly.
“All good I hope!” He said and then I laughed wildly. Oh man, he was well spoken and everything, like a children’s TV black man. He was so awesome. Honestly I couldn’t remember anything Paula had told me about Wellington. I remembered his name, of course, because it’s fucked and I’d said, ‘be careful he doesn’t give you the boot,’ a number of times but I remember vividly Paula not telling me Wellington was black. I remember the exact moment she completely failed to mention it.
When I finished laughing Wellington was kissing Paula – just a peck, nothing gross, he was a class act – and then he was going. We both watched him go. How come black people just have muscles? How’s that fair? Wellington was fucking brilliant. I wanted him to be my best friend. And then he was gone.
I rotated to Paula.
“Why? I mean, Jesus! Why didn’t you say he was black?” I asked her.
“No, you totally didn’t. I would have remembered that.”
“Well, what difference does it make?”
“It doesn’t make a difference,” I told her. I keep forgetting how stupid Paula is. “But I mean, if you were going out with a fucking giant you’d mention it wouldn’t you?” Paula considered this. “I mean, you go out with a giant then when you’re talking about him you’re going to fucking mention he’s as big as a cinema? Surely to fuck? It’s going to be one of the first things you say!”
“I thought I did say. It’s no big deal though.”
“No, of course it’s not Paula. Fucking hell I’m not a racist but if you were going out with a guy with three heads it’d come up in conversation, surely?”
“I suppose. It just didn’t seem…” Paula’s sentence just petered out.
“He seems lovely though,” I told her. “There’s nothing wrong in what you’re doing.”
“What do you mean?” She asked naively.
“Don’t be ashamed of him.”
“Shush Paula,” I told her and then I stared out of the window.