Nobody knows what it’s like to work in retail. You think you have an idea, but until you’ve experienced the genuine horrors of working with the public, you really have no idea. Being a retail worker is a multifaceted job. You have be a janitor, cocktail waitress, psychologist and peace advocate while occasionally throwing in some cashiering duties. On the best of days, one can carry out these tedious tasks without incident. On the worst, one might be (sexually) propositioned while on the job.
Last night was one of my worst days.
I work at BS&W (a cute moniker I’ve coined for the shoe store I work at) and generally come in during the night shift. This is when the most dubious characters are out shopping – or stealing. Because they know that they harbor intentions that are not pure, these characters are usually uncommonly sensitive about workers sharing their space in the store. This is why I try to give them as much space as possible…so that they don’t feel like I know they’re about to steal. My company doesn’t like its guests to feel uncomfortable under any circumstances. This is why I smiled at the portly dark-skinned gentleman who walked in close to closing time and moved myself to the next aisle where we could regard each other at a safe distance.
I noted that he did a double-take when he saw me. I did as well. He was a little taller than me (which is not tall at all) and was wearing billowy black pants with pleats, a white button down shirt and a black vest. His attire did not flatter his body, which comprised of three spheres, stacked one on top of the other…like a snow man. Or a “coal man” in this case. Crispy the Coal Man. He was bald and had a gap in his two front teeth. His skin was dark and smooth, and judging from his dated clothing and manner of walk, I deduced that he was a Johnny Just Come from Nigeria or some other part of West Africa. He motioned for me to come to him. He was a customer. I walked right over.
“Yes, sir?” I asked politely.
“Yes…can you tell me where your sale items are?” he inquired.
I smiled brightly. I was going to give excellent customer service and be back on my way to picking up trash left by patrons who’d previously been in the store.
“Yes. They’re right there behind you in those racks, according to size.”
“I knew that,” he admitted. “I just needed a reason to call you over here to tell you how beautiful you were.”
I snickered, and feigned being taken aback by the “compliment.” I’ve been dealing with this sort of man since I was 13 years old.
“Well thank you, that’s very nice of you to say.”
“So your name is Malaka?” he asked, looking at my name tag.
I nodded in the affirmative.
“It means ‘angel’,” he informed me. “And you are indeed very angelic.”
Oh Gawd, these deft raps.
“You know that’s Arabic, right?” he asked.
“Yes, I do.”
“I speak Arabic,” he said smoothly.
That’s when I laughed. I informed him that the fact that he knew the meaning of my name in Arabic did not mean he “spoke” Arabic. He then began to mutter a stream of words. I made out “salaam” and “ahum du li l’ahi.”
“That’s a prayer,” I said matter-of-factly.
“Yes…that’s the f’athiha,” he confirmed. He seemed shocked that I would know that. “Are you Muslim?”
“No,” I replied curtly.
I was in no mood to share how I had escaped a childhood of oppressive Islamic rule. I also refrained from pointing out the fact that he had memorized a Koranic verse meant that he “spoke Arabic.” That’s like me repeating “Namaste” and claiming fluent Hindi. Idiot.
He continued to make small talk and compliment my figure until I laughed uproariously and placed my hands on my hips. He immediately took note of my wedding ring, the golden brilliance of which stood out against the dark blue dress I was wearing.
“You’re married?” he asked, alarmed and disappointed.
“Yes, I am.”
He spun around and made his way towards the back of the store. I went back to my duties.
It should have of ended there.
10 minutes later he approached me again as he was about to leave the store.
“Well, I didn’t see anything back there that I liked,” he sighed. “You must have sold everything before I came into the store.”
“Yes,” I replied impishly. “I knew you were coming and sold all the size 10 ½ shoes.”
“I don’t wear a 10 ½ .”
We played Guess My Shoe Size a little longer until I gave up.
“The point is, I was making a joke. I sold your shoes.”
His eyes roamed over my body like a cat eyeing a hapless bird in a bath.
“You look like you’re about an 8,” he said, smacking his black lips.
“No. I’m a size 10.”
“Well your boots make your feet look small,” he said in explanation. “And your thighs are large. They make your feet look smaller. You’re very well proportioned.”
“How many kids do you have?” he asked.
What? Where did that come from? I told him I had four.
“And how old are? Where are you from?”
“I’m 35 and I’m from Ghana.”
“So I look like one of your people, huh?” he cackled.
No, “my people” are much better looking than you, sir.
“Yeah…kind of,” I conceded.
He then informed me that he was 40 years old, and that he had a 5 year old daughter. He unearthed a dated cell phone from his pocket and showed me a picture of his baby. She was beautiful. I told him so.
“She look like me, don’t she?” he laughed wickedly.
“Actually, she does.”
“Her momma can’t stand that.”
Oh here we go. He was one of THOSE guys. It was then that I realized what I disliked about him so much: he was tired and played. Everything about him was played; his raps, his clothes, his phone, his jokes…just played!
His voice had a thin, annoying quality to it. He had begun to drone on about how he was going to take this picture and make a blanket out of it. His baby momma would hate that, he asserted.
“But my girl is gonna get her for me,” he chortled. “Every night, she’s gonna ask her mom for the ‘me and daddy’ blanket. Just watch!”
“Not if her mom folds it up and puts it in the closet,” I countered.
He carried on as if he hadn’t heard me. He commenced to brag about how he was the first one to take his 5 year old to get a mani-pedi and that every time after that, his baby momma would have to remember that HE had done it first. He also took her to the aquarium for her birthday.
“Okay…”I interrupted. “But who was the first person to teach her to read?”
He was stumped.
“Why are you stuttering?” I asked wickedly. Who gives a crap if your child has pink nails? Does she know her numbers, dude??
“Make no mistake,” he said with a huff. “Daddy is VERY involved. I pay that daycare every month. In fact, they be calling me looking for that money.”
This guy is an idiot and thinks I am too. He just told me that she graduated Pre-K. Georgia Pre-K is free…
It was at this point that he informed me that he would like to have more children, and soon.
“As you can see, me and God have some good product.”
I smiled conciliatorily.
“I’m looking for a good, fertile woman. You know, with a good milking station and other apparatus I can work with…much like yourself.”
He made gestures with his hands.
“You know…Double D’s.”
Actually, I wear a G cup, you nit wit.
I laughed out loud, letting my voice carry over the entire store. That’s when he told me about the type of woman he was looking to ‘trap’ and ‘breed’ with.
“You know, my baby momma only had a 3% chance of getting pregnant,” he said with bravado. “That means my stuff is potent.”
“I would think that the success of that pregnancy had more to do with her body than yours,” I countered.
He ignored me.
“Yeah…well, when I have this next baby, it’s gonna be even more chocolate. Although her mom might be white, but it won’t be light skinned. I want chocolate babies.”
Now he was just rambling. I had begun to sweat because I was thinking about my dinner. He mistook this for something else.
“Are you getting hot? I have that affect, you know.”
“Yes. Your enigmatic essence is overwhelming me.”
He was being laughed at and didn’t even have the intelligence to realize it.
“Anyway,” he continued, “I’m looking for a nice 24 – 27 year old woman. You can take a woman like that and blow her mind.”
“How do you mean?”
That’s when he stopped talking to me and lost himself in a monolog, recited in the third person:
So what did you do with your boyfriend this weekend?
‘Oh, we went to a Chinese restaurant and then a movie.’
Oh really baby? Why don’t I take you to Chops, and then we can go check out Alvin Ailey…expand your ho-rizons.
(Yes, he actually said HO-rizons.)
“Alvin Ailey?” I asked incredulously.
He looked at me strangely.
“Yeah, the dance company.”
I know Alvin Ailey. Our Girl Scout troop goes to see the show every year. How was this supposed to impress a grown woman? He continued with his tale of proposed seduction.
“You take a 20 something who’s used to hanging out at the Underground and say to her, ‘Hey baby, why don’t you get yourself a passport? Let me take you on a cruise?’”
“Are you serious?” I interrupted.
He clapped his hands like it was a sure banker.
“Are you telling me that’s not going to blow her mind?”
“I guess it would – if she’s never left SWATs…”
“And then when she gets pregnant, and asks you what she’s supposed to do, I just look at her and say ‘Hey baby…I got this big ol’ house. I got a fridge with plenty of food; and I got this 60 inch in the corner. It got cable too. I can even get someone in here to help you clean up…or show you how to clean if you don’t know how to!’”
Really niggro? You’re 40! You’re SUPPOSED to have a house with some cable in it!
At that moment I felt the spirit of my saintly, chain smoking grandmother descend from the heavens and hover above us. She had a Virginia Slims dangling from her rouged lips.
“Malaka,” she whispered, “this nigga ain’t shiieet.”
I ignored her and spoke to my tormentor. He was dangling his car key in his hand to simulate how he’d welcome this phantom lady into his imagined grandiose mansion. He drove a Chevy. A CHEVY.
“You know, you have just confirmed my assertion that 40+ year old men are looking for 20-something year old girls because they are easily manipulated and impressed,” I mused aloud. “But you need to find the right one. My dad was a pilot. I’ve been all over the world and I’ve been flying since I was on breast milk.”
This seemed to perplex him. Still, he had to soldier on and prove that the paltry trinkets that he was offering were indeed valuable. I confirmed that they would be much appreciated – to someone who’s never seen or had much. In conclusion, he said this:
“My first task is to make sure she’s the right stock,” he said slyly. “I went to Georgia Tech. When I’ve had her over enough times, I’ll get a DNA sample from her. I know how to do that.”
“I think it’s time for you to go,” I said with a chuckle. But oh, was I serious.
“Nice talking to you, Malaka,” he said, extending his hand for a shake. “My name is Isreal, by the way.”
“Pleasure to meet you too, Israel.”
Good Lord, I lie as easily as I breathe.
The point of this whole tale? If you are – or know someone who is – a woman between the ages of 24 and 29, watch out for men like this. They are COMING for you. Travel. Expand your own horizons. Read books. Don’t let some douche bag with the promise of cable TV and an old Chevy ruin your life!
But it doesn’t end there, believe it or not. Part deux coming up….