I don’t like his teeth, yellowed like the worn beige fabric on Ryan’s living room couch.
“What’re the specials, darling?”
Don’t call me darling. Ryan once called me Mama while biting my nipples. I didn’t like that—the nipple biting, that he was thinking about his mama while fucking me.
“The Greek chicken’s pretty good?”
“How good could it be. This a soul food restaurant.”
Because the wait staff is black? But I hold my tongue, turn away and pretend to scratch at piece of lent caught in my eyelash so he doesn’t see me roll my eyes. Ryan treated me like forbidden fruit. He could explore all his sexual fantasies with me; everything he saw a big-butt vixen do in a rap music video he commanded from me. I was his BET After Dark.
“Well, we’re American. We serve your typical American cuisine.”
He stares at me, and in case he sensed the sarcasm in my voice, I force a smile.
“Greek ain’t ‘merican.”
I drum the end of my pen on my notepad. “Mac and cheese then?”
“Naw, I want the chicken. But gimme the mac ‘n cheese as the side.”
I write it down and head for the kitchen to give the cook the ticket. I feel his eyes on my ass—he wants to touch it, feel how soft it is between his rugged fingers. Ryan could never keep his hands to himself either, especially in public, always slapping me on the behind whenever I walked by. I’d asked him to stop, but he’d only say, “I can’t grab what’s mine?”
No, because it is the twenty-first century, and I am no longer property. But even while free, we can still become slaves in the mind.
“Uh, darling, you forgot my drink.”
I put on my “Yes, suh” grin, the one I practiced with Ryan, perfected every visit with his family, while his mother picked in my hair, wondering how it “curled like that,” and his father prodded me with invasive questions—“Why not a black guy?” “Do you plan to get married?” “Have kids?” “How did you sink your teeth into my son?”
But I was the one bitten. And wasn’t marriage like ownership already? And kids, kids—I was pregnant once.
“What can I get you?”
“Sweet tea, sweetheart. Make sure you put the tea in the sugar, hon. Thank you, gorgeous.”
Enough with the pet names. I hate names. Even my name tag is blacked out. What would they call me then, when all they have is their own prejudices, how they perceive me, stereotypes and all?
“Shaniqua, Jamisha, Bonequisha.” Ryan recited the ghetto fabulous names for our unborn baby with a smirk on his face, as if preparing for a standup comedy gig.
“I am, we have to give it a black name.”
“I don’t even have a ‘black’ name.”
“That’s why I thought you were white.”
I hide in the kitchen for thirty minutes while the food cooks. There’s no one else in my section, and the two other waitresses on the floor can check on my customer if he needs a refill.
I need to stay off my feet for a while, take pressure off my swollen ankles. The baby could come any minute. Not Shaniqua or Jamisha or Bonequisha, but Michael, after his father, who is black, and not Ryan. Ryan left when it finally registered that his black baby wasn’t the punchline to an ill-conceived joke, that I wasn’t just his wet dream anymore, but flesh and bone.
I was supposed to be five months then. He never asked why I was not yet showing. He packed his things, a couple t-shirts and boxer shorts—no more than an armload to carry to the car, for he never officially moved in, too real, I suppose—and left in the middle of the night, knocking my pain prescription off the kitchen table during his escape.
“Table 52’s ready,” the cook says.
I rock to my feet and take the hot plate.
“When’re you due?”
“S’posed to’ve been last week.”
“This one’s stubborn.”
The man is watching me as I exit the kitchen. His tea is nearly gone. I slide the plate down the table and ask for his glass.
“I was starting to think you went into labor back there.”
“No, not yet,” I say, grateful he saved the “darling” this time. I pour the tea behind the lunch counter. It’s more ice and water. I think to give him a couple sugar packets, but Michael’s mom died of diabetes—the doctor says I have gestational too. No more fries or pasta or sugary sweet drinks, at least until I deliver. I do him a courtesy and plant the watered down tea next to his plate.
“Thank ya, ma’am.”
“You’re welcome.” The smile on my face genuine now. I used to hate being called ma’am, but with the new title, it’s the first time I feel like a woman. Not Ryan’s black girlfriend, or Michael’s baby mama, or another statistic the government can use to condemn Planned Parenthood, but a woman, future mother, vessel to bring a new life into this world.
I rub my stomach for good luck.
It is Short Story A Day May! Today’s prompt, “Getting Emotional,” comes from Angela Ackerman. The irony about this prompt is that although I have a plethora of emotionally traumatized characters, I had difficulty coming up with a story. After much brainstorming, I’m satisfied with the story that finally came out of my foggy brain.