There are always sirens blaring in Roswell. Fire trucks, police cars, security teams – whatever. So when I heard the tornado sirens I took note, but barely paid attention. My mind was fixed on something else. One of the managers had offered me extra hours at work, and you know how “we” are when it comes to extra hours. I put on a pair of Spanx, slapped on some lip gloss and hopped into my car.
The drive to work was rather tedious, what with that awful siren resounding in the background and the rain impeding my progress. Atlanta drivers lose all sense of control and confidence at the presence of the first drop. I turned on Pandora to make my ride more enjoyable.
Oh snap! Jaheim was on. I hadn’t heard him in ages. I made sure my windows were rolled all the way up, increased the volume, and screeched along with the R&B crooner.
Gotta find my way back…way back!!!
The sky was getting steadily darker now, even though it was only 6:26 pm. Very odd indeed. I pulled into the parking lot at work and waited for the song to end.
Drowning in the sea of my angiush…funny, how hope floats nuh nuh nuh but I cain’t cope!
Ah. Why was my manager at the door watching me like this? I still had 4 more minutes before I had to clock in. Why is she staring desperately at me? Mtsewww! I decided to let the song finish, casually grabbed my coat and strolled into the building on time.
“Oh gosh, Malaka,” she said worriedly, her brow furrowed. “I thought you were a customer desperate for shoes.”
I laughed heartily and nonchalantly put my things away.
“Nope, it’s just me!”
“Why didn’t you get out of the car? Weren’t you scared?”
“Sacred of what?”
“The tornado warning! The hail! Didn’t you hear the sirens?”
“Well, I did hear something banging on the roof of the house earlier…” I replied thinking back to 20 minutes before.
Oh crap. Once again, my life was in potential peril and I hadn’t even known it. At that point, Will, the assistant manager walked behind me and locked all the store doors.
“We have to get all of the customers into the break room right now,” he growled. “Come on, come on! Quickly!”
Will is a Nigerian. When Nigerians panic, I panic. I made for the break room as quickly as I could; customers be damned. I had to be at work. No one told them to come shop for shoes during a tornado! Like Lot’s wife, I had to take one last look back at the world outside. It had gone completely dark now and was eerily silent…
The break room in our building is fortified with several feet of cement and steel. There are no windows, and hardly any ventilation. When I got there, several customers had already been corralled in. There was an Indian couple with a 3 month old baby, an elderly European couple, a scrawny blond woman with a miserable face, a young couple covered in piercings and tattoos who looked to be just out of their teens, and a female manager from the Hallmark store next door. Altogether that put 14 people in the 6 x12 foot room, when you included the staff. Oh wait. 3 more people had come in. There was a Hispanic couple that Will had to almost push into the room just moments later.
“But my dog is in the car,” the man was saying in broken English.
“If your windows are up in the car, the dog will be fine,” Will insisted.
I knew what he was thinking. There was no way he was going back out to the store to open the door for a dog. How?
I wondered how long this fiasco was going to last. I was already feeling heady from the mix of human smells in the tiny room. With so many different races and nationalities, I felt like I was in the middle of a war tribunal at the Hague. The combination of the curry stench from the Indian couple – the mayonnaise odor from the tattooed pair – the faint scent of cheese from the Europeans – and Will’s breath (he was always fasting and smelled like bananas) threatened to overpower me. But I am a hybrid Ghanaian woman. I would not give in to fainting.
The elderly European man busied himself by pulling out his iPhone and giving us up-to-the-second updates. Some county I had never heard of had been hit. I called my husband to make sure he and the kids were ok. I could hear a pan sizzling in the background.
“Oh we’re fine babe,” he murmured. “I just turned on the TV. Our county isn’t under a threat.”
Then what the heck was I doing locked up in this fonky room with all these people?
“You making dinner?”
“Can you bring me some later? You know…if there’s no storm, of course.”
We hung up and I looked around the room once more. How much longer were we going to be in here? The silver-maned European man was still prattling on about expectations. Suddenly, I became very vexed. What made him think he was qualified to “lead” this group? Isn’t it the same in every action film? The White man swoops in the save the troop? Oh no. Not on my watch. This was Blacktanic, and I would play the action hero! I could see it now…
“My dog! My dog! I need someone to carry my dog por favor!” Gustavo was wailing. He was elderly and frail, and had lost the strength of his manhood at the door because his wife had forced him to carry her knock-off Luis Vuitton purse and tablet.
As a Black action heroine, I sprung into action. I dug around in my purse until I found what I was looking for. I handed him a half-eaten sandwich.
“You see this?” I panted. “As long as you hold this sandwich in front of your dog, he will follow you.”
I patted him on the back and hoisted Gretchen onto my back. Her husband had asked me to help keep her moving.
“No time!” I shouted. “I’ll just lift her myself. You just keep close by!”
I ignored the niggling feeling about servitude and skin color and chose to focus on the fact that I was helping another woman.
At that moment, a beam fell in front of us, shutting off all the lights in the corridor. My compatriots screamed in panic. I urged them to stay calm.
“We can’t use up all the air in the room! Take small sips!”
“But my baby doesn’t know how,” sniffed Ranjeetha as she cradled her infant.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said benevolently. “Her lungs are so tiny that she breathes in sips.”
“I’m so glad you’re here to help us all, Malaka,” said Erin the assistant store manager.
Yes, yes! Cried the rest of the group. They chant my name over and over again. Malaka! Malaka! Malaka!
It was Niqqi, one of my co-workers. She’d broken into my fantasy and was holding the break room door wide open.
“Come on. It’s time to get back to work. Tornado watch is over girl!”
A flood of fresh air took over the room. I breathed in deeply and cleared my thoughts. I had survived! Now it was time to engage in my actual super power and go sell some shoes…