West Coast Boys
You start your day off with a smoke at the bus stop. Your eyes are dark with bags collecting under them from all of the sleepless nights. Your mind has been active thinking about the things that you've seen over the years. The things that you've heard.
The second part of your day is sitting in the back of the bus, watching Baltimore pass by your eyes. It's not like the buses are segregated, but your Nana says that its for your own safety if you want to avoid trouble. There's a cafe a little ways downtown that you've been working at for over a year, probably two years now. Your family has no money to send you to college, but you take all the pay you can get. Sooner or later you'll get there, even it it's Howard University, just around the corner. Your Ma wants you to travel up North where its safer, but no one in the family has the money for those places.
Your daddy off and left you all five years ago with a little lady from Alabama. You swear to God sometimes, even when you shouldn't, that it was that Southern Belle twang that had him jumping out of his skin for another piece of skin. Then you wonder how a man like him with little success and name to himself can draw in a white woman and run off all the way to California. He told you that he was going out to go buy some cigarettes. Cigs in Cali must be better than the ones in B-More.
When the bus stops off for the third time, you know you're getting close to the neighborhood the white boys live. They board the bus in a group, getting comfortable in the front of the bus, saying their good mornings to the driver. You keep your eyes low, but you know they're staring at you. Some of them. One of them.
Out of the five, there's this one that you can't help but to peek up at. He's blonde with green eyes and you don't know his name. Your eyes lower back down when one of them, probably Italian, glances back at you with a raised eyebrow, then back at his friend and slaps his shoulder. He mentions something about his friend staring at a coon making a sort of a growl form at the back of your throat.
You hate that word, but they've called you it for awhile. Not just them, but people. Your high school became integrated in your junior year and you had to deal with all of them for sometime. Some of them, you befriended. Had classes with. Study with. But they couldn't let you over their houses. You couldn't sit with them at lunch. So you stuck with your clique where its safe. Where the unhooded lynch-mob would let you pass.
Your third and so-on actions for the day are at the cafe. You change clothes in the back and head out with a pen and notepad, ready to take orders. Then you see it-- him. The blonde with the pretty green eyes. Sitting next to the windows. They needed to be cleaned, you quickly note, but then you go back to the young man sitting there, waiting for someone to take his order. You wonder if he's waiting for someone, which is strange because the cafe is predominately negro. Someone like him shouldn't come to places like this, you think, but he seemed so relaxed there.
You suck in a breath, ready you notepad, and shuffle over to him. He looks up at you when you clear your throat, and suddenly his eyes seem even brighter with golden specks in the pupils. You're shocked at how intricate a person's eyes could be: all of the wonders in each nook and cranny of that puzzle called the windows to the soul. You can feel your face heat up and you quickly look back down at your notepad, readying your pen.
"What can I getchu?" You ask, darting out your tongue to wet our lips.
"Strange accent," he comments aloud, and you eyes shift back up to raise an eyebrow at him, trying to hide your offense. He smiles and quickly shakes his head. "Not a bad thing of course. I've just never heard one like it."
"Guess you've haven't been in Baltimore that long."
"No," he answers, "comin' from California."
"Oh." You try to keep your baggage against California to yourself. "Come a long way then."
"Got that right," he laughs a little. You can't help but to smile at the way it sounds. He holds out his hand to you, which catches you off guard. "Name's Konrad Schneider."
Hesitantly, you shake his hand, eyes shifting back and forth in the room to see if anyone was looking at them. There were a couple eyes on you, a few tense faces, but nothing to keep you from recoiling from him and fleeing back into the kitchens.
"German?" You ask. He sends you a lopsided grin that nearly has you melting.
"Got me." Then, "what's your name?"
A white boy never asked you what your name is. And no boy made you smile so hard as you head back into the kitchen to get his coffee once the conversation took a recess.
Sometimes, nowadays, you're afraid that he'll want to leave you and your daughter and stop by the corner store for some cigarettes only to find a woman from Alabama and high tail it back to California where the sun would shine extra bright. But he never does. He helps you out through school. He helps bring the bills in to pay for school and housing up North. Your family is reluctant whenever you bring him back down to Baltimore to visit or the occasional funeral. But he stays.
You've stopped smoking to start your mornings. It's easier to sleep at night.