Sunday, 15 February 2009

Shop Girl Valentine

I make the mistake of telling the date I think Valentine’s Day is stupid.
“You didn’t!” my friend cries, when I tell her. “What were you thinking?”
“I don’t know! I got nervous!”
“Now he’s not going to do anything!”
She’s expecting her boyfriend to propose to her on Valentine's.
They’ve already organised their wedding and honeymoon, now he just needs to get down on one knee.
It’s all backwards in their tradition; her words not mine.
“But it’s so commercial, isn’t it?" I sigh. "It is though, isn’t it?”
Apart from a plasma lamp and a picture frame with hearts on it, I can’t say we’ve really profited from the event.
My friend thinks I’ve blown it.
“I don’t know how you’re going to backtrack now,” she says.
I have to hang up because I’ve got customers. They are two huge Nigerian blokes, so tall they are in danger of being knocked out by the chandeliers.
One of them is holding an electric hair clippers with mismatched cable perilously taped together.
It looks about as safe as rain in a light shop.
They want an adaptor for its two-pin plug. I suggest changing the plug altogether and ask if I should do it for them.
I get my wire strippers and screwdriver.
They watch me closely. They weren’t expecting I could use a tool because I’m wearing lipstick.
One of them sits on the stool opposite me and leans over the counter. He has watery eyes and badly pockmarked skin.
“You are not British. Where are you from?”
“I am, sort of. Spanish-English.”
“Spanish...” he pauses. “Hola.”
“Como esta?”
“Would you marry a black man?”
The question just pops out of nowhere and I’m so surprised I can’t answer.
What black man is he talking about?
Where from?
Can’t he be more specific?
Is he talking about himself?
I think of my date. Why would I marry a random black man when I already have a date?
The tension is palpable. And it grows with every second I delay in answering.
“Well I have a boyfriend so...”
“I’m not asking you if you have a boyfriend,” he interrupts, staring at me. “I’m asking if you would marry a black man.”
“That’s a stupid question.”
His friend, who has been standing by his side looking uncomfortable, agrees.
“Yeah, it’s a stupid question.”
“Look,” I say, “I would marry someone who has a good heart and is well-suited to me, colour doesn’t come into it."
There is silence.
My interrogator nods. “Good answer.”
The atmosphere relaxes. The interrogator’s friend tries to engage me in conversation.
“So how many Valentine’s days have you celebrated with your boyfriend?”
“None... it’s the first one.”
He laughs, as if to say that it doesn’t really count then.
But I learned a while ago that the customer isn’t always right.
It does count.
On Saturday, my date opens the door, grinning.
“Wait here,” he says. “You can’t go into the kitchen yet.”
I smell a surprise.
It smells delicious.
“Okay,” he calls. “You can come in now!”
I'm glad he didn’t take me seriously.

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