“he was black, like me.”
“what else do you remember? how many of them were there?”
“two. i remember one more than the other. he was closer to me coming in and going out. he was average height. i’m taller than both of them. he had on a baseball cap. black pants and a white tee shirt, slightly over sized. his eyes were red. like someone just pulled him out of sleep.”
“anything else? this will help us find them.”
“this isn’t easy. they could be my brothers.”
“but they’re not your brothers. they were here to rob the place.”
i write black love. i defend black people. i’m aware of systemic racism. i have hope for this people because i am one of these people. how do you love a people and report the same people and not feel like a traitor? i can’t blame a system when people make their own choices. isn’t there always an option?
tears come to my eyes when i see that they went through everything in the office. they came in as if they were only going to use the restroom. they passed the restroom and went to the office. all the drawers are left open. every bag is open. including mine. my heart stops beating.
i knew it. i didn’t want to know it but i knew it. they looked off. their energy felt strange. when they walked in, he stared me down. i returned his stare. i was taught, “they stare at you, stare at them back.” if for nothing else, more details to give the cops. but i’m not apart of the group that trusts the cops either.
i feel exposed. my books, journals and notes are more valuable to me than the wallet with my credit cards, the cellular phone and other random pricey things in my backpack. everything is laid bare and open. every part of me was in that backpack and these strangers, these men saw me without my permission.
my coworkers private things are out right in front of my eyes. their bags are open. so sacred, i touch nothing. how does black lives matter when this happens? i want to write black love stories. we’re not all criminals! we’re not all suspects! but what if some of us are? what if some of us actually do rob people for a living? how do i look in the mirror when i’m giving a description of men that could be my brothers? in all this turmoil and chaos, so many of us are being killed for just being black alone, why are others testing the waters? i want to scream at them, “do better than this?! they will kill you! don’t give them a reason to shoot you, fools?”
i shake in an overabundance of adrenaline for the remainder of my shift.“what if they return with more people and weapons?” will they become a hashtag or will they return tomorrow to finish what they started today? either way, i’m scared for them and scared of them. i’ve never been fearful of people that look like me. but i can’t shake this. i saw his red eyes. there was no light in them. he was focused. i felt his energy. i didn’t go to the back. i felt that they were back in the office. i felt that they were armed. i decided that whatever was in my bag wasn’t worth risking walking into a robbery in progress. i stood slicing lemons thinking about the long line i would have to stand in to get another ID and how inconvenient it would be to go inside the bank to get another card mailed to me.
two black men walk out of the bar 17 minutes after they’ve entered it. and i’ve never felt so powerless before as an adult, as i did seeing them come out and knowing there was absolutely nothing i could say or do in that moment. nothing in that bag was worth my life. even my innermost thoughts scribbled on scraps of paper on my way to work, wasn’t enough to die over. i let it go. i watched them leave. today, i questioned black lives matter and i hated myself for it. in a self preservation moment, “my life matters”, slipped past my lips. and i pushed the tears back into my eyes because maybe i’ve been wrong. and that hurts more than what i walked into the office seeing.
“what else do you remember about them?”
“the toilet didn’t flush. they went to the bathroom and there was never a toilet flushing.”
“you can hear the toilets all the way out here?”
“when there are no customers and we’re not talking, yes. the urinals are louder than the toilets. the toilets didn’t flush and they both came out with paper towels and wet hands. it stood out to me because men never come out drying their hands with paper towels. they dry their hands on their pants. women come out with paper towels.”
“do you know what kind of hats they were wearing?”
“i saw one hat.”
“do you remember what was on that hat?”
“no. just that it was black. i was looking in his eyes not at his hat.”
“would you remember if you saw him again?”
“yeah. i’d remember. i wouldn’t want to.”
“i’m sorry. we want to make sure this doesn’t happen again. not here. they may be the ones that’s been robbing other stores in the neighborhood. if you can identify them, we’d need you to do that. can you identify them if you saw them again?”
“i could identify just the one guy. the other one mostly looked down or ahead.”
“would you identify them if you saw them?”
“i wouldn’t want to but i could.”