The Nigger's Handsbyvelvetpie©
***AUTHOR'S NOTE: My lovely white husband used to be a cook at a nationally-known franchise here in Florida and he came home early from work one day, telling me that he had quit. When I asked why, he told me that an elderly woman had come in and asked if there were any 'niggers' in the kitchen and that she wouldn't eat if anyone Black cooked the food. The manager told my husband, the only white cook, to cook this woman's food, instead of telling the woman that she should leave. My husband quit, rather than become a cog in this restaurant's machine of discrimination. I hope these words make you think. Velvet.***
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She was going to be trouble.
Breakfast manager Ham Trilborne knew that the old wiry woman was going to be trouble. She checked the seat before she sat down, examined the menu before accepting it from Judy, the waitress and held it by the corners, as if it was oozing with disease. She looked it over for a few minutes, then set it aside, using several napkins to scour her fingertips clean. Ham watched as Judy approached the table again, pulling out her order pad and asking for the woman's order. Then Judy's face went completely white.
Ham tugged his vest over his stomach and sauntered over, displaying his best managerial smile. "Good morning, ma'am." The corners of his mouth threatened to droop when he saw the look on Judy's face. "Is there a problem?"
"I just asked a question and she won't answer me."
"Then why don't you ask me, ma'am. Maybe Judy doesn't know the answer."
"I want to know if there are any niggers working in the kitchen."
Ham Trilborne was speechless. "We don't use that word in our establishment, ma'am."
"You didn't use it; I did. Now, are there any niggers working in the kitchen?"
"Uh, y-yes." He stammered. "We have several people of color that work in our establishment."
"Well, keep them away from me." She spat. "And make sure no nigger's hands touch my food."
Ham suddenly felt the way Judy did. The blood drained from his face and he felt nauseous. "Ma'am, we have never discriminated at this establishment, nor do we intend to start now."
"Then I suggest you get back there and start cooking. I'd like two eggs over easy, four slices of bacon, hash browns and wheat toast with jelly." She snapped. "And coffee with cream."
"You are aware that the coffee comes black, right?"
She smiled sweetly. "That's why I ordered the cream."
Ham gave her a nod and escorted Judy away. "You're not really going to do it, are you?"
"Cook her food!"
"Yes." Ham stepped into the kitchen and smiled at Amos, his head cook and the best friend he'd ever had. "But Amos will season it."
Judy started to protest but she saw something in Ham's eyes that made her stop. Amos and his crew stepped back and watched as the manager cooked the woman's breakfast. Finally, the meal was complete and Ham placed it on a tray, decorating the eggs with a fragrant sprig of parsley. He looked over to Amos who removed a silver canister from the top shelf and carefully unscrewed the lid.
"Everyone step back."
Ham pulled Judy back from the tray and the group watched as the old man sprinkled the white crystals over the eggs and hash browns. He replaced the lid and placed it back amongst the other spices.
"All right, Judy. Please serve the meal."
Feeling angry that she even had to be polite, she put a big smile on her face and went out to the table. "Here's your food, ma'am."
"Did any nigger's hands touch it?"
"No, ma'am. No person of color touched your food."
"Good." Judy set the plates down in front of the woman and walked back to where Ham stood and the group watched the woman eat every bit of the breakfast that Ham had prepared. She paid the bill and left a small tip.
"Somebody want to tell me what's going on?"
Amos put his arm around Judy and walked her to the front door, where they watched the old woman get into a Grand Marquis, back out and slowly drive away.
"I took a trip to South Africa about ten years ago ... "
Grace Burdon belched as she pulled away from the restaurant. She would never go back there again. She couldn't eat somewhere that a nigger cooked food. She drew a deep breath, swallowing against nausea that threatened to bubble up at the mere thought of nigger hands touching her food. "Come on, old girl. Pull yourself together." Ten minutes later, she was pulling into the parking lot of Starla's Salon, happy to see her friend and hairstylist, Starla Rogers.
"Hi, Grace!" Starla's cheery smile warmed Grace's heart and she accepted the woman friendly hug.
"You changed your hair."
The redhead grinned. "Dennis was the one who suggested it. He said it fit my personality better."
"I didn't say personality, Starla. I said temper."
Grace and Starla laughed and the redhead led the older woman back to an open shampoo station. They talked as she washed and conditioned the woman's hair and Grace relaxed, feeling at home in Starla's hands. Correction: Starla's white hands.
"It was after Nelson Mandela had been released and you could really see things changing for the Blacks there. There were some areas that remained predominantly white and our taxi driver wouldn't even drive us near them, just to see what they were like. He just laughed and said for us not to worry, that we could come back in a few days and things would be different. We didn't know what he was talking about but sure enough, three days later, the area was open to Blacks. White people even welcomed us with open arms."
"I don't understand, Amos. What does that have to do with that bitch this morning?"
"Now watch your language, young lady."
"Our taxi driver, Donald was his name just smiled and laughed. The Magic Dust has done its job again."
"Okay, Mrs. Burdon. Time to get your cut."
Grace arose and kept talking, sitting in the chair that Starla steered her toward and made herself comfortable. Starla swung the chair around, facing the mirror.
"So how much do you want cut off this time?" Grace froze. It was Starla's voice but it wasn't Starla. This woman's skin was dark brown, the lips fuller and the hair still red. "Mrs. Burdon, did you hear me?" It was impossible. Starla had turned into a nigger! "Mrs. Burdon?"
"Get your dirty hands off me!"
Black Starla stared at her, shocked by the woman's sudden outburst. "Dirty hands? Mrs. Burdon, I just washed your hair. My hands are clean."
"No, they aren't. You're a nigger." The woman hissed. "Nigger hands are never clean."
Grace looked up at Dennis and was shocked to see that he, too, was Black. In fact, everyone in the salon was Black. "Oh, my God! I'm surrounded by niggers!"
Starla glanced at Dennis who shrugged. "Uh, are you all right, Mrs. Burdon?"
"Of course I'm not all right! I'm surrounded by niggers!" She shrieked, clutching her purse to her. "You want to rob me, don't you?"
"Mrs. Burdon, why don't you sit down and let me call your husband?"
"You niggers are all alike! You just want to rob us white people!" Grace backed away from Starla and dashed out of the salon, plastic bib still in place. She ignored the shouts of the others and dropped her keys twice before managing to get the door open and burn rubber as she left hurriedly.
"The taxi driver told us that some Blacks digging for diamonds had found a cache of Magic Dust. No one was sure what it was so they did some experiments. They found out that the dust changed what everyone who ingested it saw, depending on what was in their hearts. Some people saw that everyone was white, some saw that everyone was Black. It touched everyone's heart if they were willing or it sent them crazy."
"Did you take it?"
"And what did you see?"
She was sure that she was losing her mind. Every where she looked, every person was Black. People walking dogs, jogging, driving cars ... everyone was Black. She flew through town, heading to her home. Ralph would help her. Ralph would know what to do. They were everywhere. At the gas station, in the buses ... she wanted to scream at the thought of an entire nation of Black people. They would be fixing her food, they would be handling her money at the bank, they'd be operating on her ...
She leaned over in the passenger seat and vomited, coughing out chunks of runny eggs and fragments of bacon. Oh, God! All niggers! She regurgitated twice more before she reached her driveway and opened the car door, weak from being ill and confused and afraid. She yanked the plastic bib off and staggered to the front door of the house.
"Grace! Gracie!" She turned to Edna Holberg, who had been her next door neighbor for the last thirteen years. Edna was Black. Grace felt too sick to scream. She merely turned back around, inserted a key in the lock and stepped into her air-conditioned home, dropping her purse on the end table and heading for the den, where her dear Ralph would be watching Bloomberg and checking stock prices.
"Ralph, I don't know what's wrong with me. I keep seeing ... " Ralph Burdon looked up from the television, his face contorted with concern. His Black face.
"What's wrong, Gracie?" He stood up, immediately coming to her and holding out his hands. "Are you sick?"
Grace Burdon stared at the man she'd been married to for fifty-two years and tears filled her eyes. She remembered the skinny fifteen-year old that had asked her to a school dance, the young man that had gone to war, the father that had put three children through college and the soft-hearted older man who rescued animals. This man held her heart in his hands. And he was a nigger.
"No, no. I'm fine." She said shakily. "Finish your notes."
"They can wait. Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yes." She watched him sit back down and he patted the arm of the chair, holding his arm out. It was his signal for her to come and keep him company while he made his financial notes. She had always adored sitting with him, his arm curled around her ass and slyly rubbing a firm globe. Heart in her throat, she slowly walked over the chair and sat on the edge. His dark-skinned arm wrapped around her, his wide fingers splaying over her hip.
Grace fought the revulsion that burned in her throat by remembering that this was her husband. His skin might be brown instead of white, but he was still her Ralph. She turned her head and stared at him. The crow's feet were still there. His salt-and-pepper hair was the same, except a bit rougher. His nose was a tiny bit wider and his lips were broader but he was still her Ralph. She reached out and touched his cheek. The skin was warm and soft. Not dirty, not sticky. He glanced over at her and flashed a smile, his teeth brilliant against his new skin. His arm tightened around her and she laid her head against his and just cried.
"What did I see? Nothing."
"I've never judged a person by their skin color. I judge people by the words in their mouths and the evidence of what's in their hearts. It's how we should all judge people."
"I agree, Amos. I agree."
Ham Trilborne saw the old wiry woman come into the restaurant and immediately went to seat her in Judy's section. Grace Burdon waved him off, moving past him with speed he would not have expected her to have and made a beeline for the kitchen. Ham dashed to stop her but a departing family cut off his route and he was forced to play manager for a few of the longest seconds in his life.
When he entered the kitchen, he expected to find anything but what he found. Grace Burdon's hand was in Amos', a smile on her face. "Thank you." She said to the head chef and turned to leave the area. "Do we have to wait for you or can someone else seat us?"
"Judy's out front, ma'am. She can take care of you."
"Excellent. We'd like to sit in her section any way."
When she'd left, Ham turned to Amos, his mouth hanging open. "What the hell just happened?"
"She came to thank me for the meal that I'd be preparing for her and let me know that she'd brought her husband to eat also."
As if on some unspoken cue, all eyes swung up to the unassuming silver canister.
"Well," Ham clapped Amos on the back with a smile. "You'd better get busy."
Amos only smiled.