November 18, 2017
Yesterday, we walked into a wine store in Grand Central Market to pick up a bottle for our friend’s birthday party.
I passed the bottle to the cashier at the register — a woman with lightly browned skin and long, black hair tied back into a clean, low ponytail. She wore a camel-colored cable knit sweater over a white collared shirt, and red lipstick — she struck me as a mature, yet youthful woman.
I don’t usually remember people to this detail. But something she wore had caught my eye: a necklace that wasn’t a simple stone, heart, star, or symbol that I recognized.
I wasn’t sure if I should say anything. Who talks to anyone else in New York? But I wanted to say something — I was curious, and the only thing stopping me was fear of awkwardness.
“I like your necklace,” I said. “What is it?”
She looked up, surprised. Then she smiled wide, with sweetness and shyness.
“It’s my country,” she replied.
I looked at it again, and blanked. On the inside, a part of me panicked. This is going to get awkward, I thought. What if she gets offended?
I laughed, embarrassed, and said, “I’m an ignorant American, so…”
Then I turned to my boyfriend, whose family is from Bangladesh, and I whispered, also embarrassed, “Do you know?”
Yes, my boyfriend knows geography better than me. But I also asked because he is brown, and she looked like she could be from Southeast Asia. Was she going to take offense if I conflated her culture with his?
My boyfriend shrugged.
I turned to her again, and asked, “So where do you come from?”
“Venezuela,” she said, with love and pride. Her smile, and the way she spoke of her home country, melted away my fears. I smiled, too.
Then, she smiled at me and asked, “Where are you from?”
America. Why are you even asking? Can’t you tell I’m from here?
In a different context, with a different person, in a different time — I might have been wounded by a question like that.
Instead, I smiled with love and pride, and said,
We parted ways.