At Target in 2017: A Short Story.

I pluck the last travel size coconut Vaseline from the shelf and hurry to join the line of people itching to pay for their things and go home to their families. It’s very busy in Target for a Sunday. I think to myself and then start to wonder if I thought this same exact thing last Sunday. The lady checking out at the register grabs her bags, her tight ponytail swaying with her steps. The line shifts. I shift with it.

I look around at the lines formed at the three out of five registers open, subconsciously noting that all the cashiers are black and the customers white, except for me and an older couple that I passed on my way to the lines. I had tried to catch the old woman’s eye so that I could smile at her, but she didn’t look. Neither did her husband. Something deep inside of me had thought “I remember back in the day when black folks always made sure to speak”, which had caused me to giggle to myself because I am only twenty-two. The line shifts more.

The man in front of me puts his money on the counter instead of in the cashiers’ outstretched hands. I avert my eyes to avoid getting annoyed. I don’t feel like being annoyed right now. It’s my turn to have my things scanned and slid into the bags. As I walk up the cashier looks up at me. Her name tag reads something very similar to the spelling of my name. Her glossy lips are forced into a smile that one would consider “pleasant” —the type of smile you master after years of working customer service in neighborhoods where people call corporate in their cars in the parking lot.

“Hey, how are you?” I greet naturally, in that way that you are supposed to greet. “Your hair cut like a man?” She asks me forcefully. You’re supposed to say “Fine. How you?” I think to myself. I blink. Then quickly regaining my composure, look back at the woman with no response, just a smile. A smile showing my straight white teeth —teeth that often got me questions like, “Have you ever had braces?”. I never had braces. The woman waits for a moment to see if I’ll respond. I don’t. She continues to scan my items.

She is expecting me to feel ashamed, offended and embarrassed by her question. But what she doesn’t know is that I’d already dealt with aunties who bluntly asked me if I was a “dike” across the dinner table on Thanksgiving. She also doesn’t know that after one course in psychology, I know that she – like my aunties—associates manhood with bosses, preachers, and “man of the houses”. Which means that she –like my aunties— associates manhood with strength, boldness and authority. All the things that women weren’t supposed to be and because I “have the nerve to have my hair cut like a man”, they could tell I was. I watch her ring up the last of my things, her body language suggesting that she has so much more to say –so much more admiration disguised as insults to hurl at me. But she won’t because she is at work. She tells me the price and I slide my card. As she hands me my receipt, I hold her gaze forcing her to look at my face, my never-been-asked-if-I’m-mixed-with-anything-other-than-black-and-black face. I see in her eyes that she thinks I’m beautiful. She’ll tell her boyfriend about my hair cut when she gets off. “Don’t you ever cut your hair off.” He’ll respond.

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