"Exhibiting You" - Story


By: Dana Smith
Submitted: 12/31/2008

The year is 2008, the place is a gourmet coffee house in northern Ohio, the snow is falling outside and the doors are inviting with decorative holiday accents. The streets are filled with traffic and the parking lot is full. A black man (Frederick) dressed in blue jeans, a black turtle neck sweater, a long black trench coat and wearing a black fedora hat, enters the coffee shop. After choosing his table carefully, he places his briefcase down and proceeds to the cashier to order a cup of gourmet coffee.

Meanwhile, a black woman (Sonia) wearing a purple long sleeve blouse with black dress pants and holding her matching purse is outside cursing at a middle-aged man for taking her parking spot. The argument can be heard inside of the coffee shop and the murmuring amongst the patrons suddenly ceases. Frederick shakes his head and continues to place his order. Sonia and the man begin yelling louder, she takes her purse and begins to repeatedly hit his car with her purse until he agrees to move it. The red corvette begins to back up as Sonia returns to her car to pull into the now available space. After the commotion settles the patrons of the coffee shop return to their conversations and Sonia enters the room.

Cashier: Good morning, how may I help you?

Sonia: You can start by having more fucking parking spaces in your parking lot, if that is what you want to call it. It is more like a drive way than a parking lot.

Cashier: I'm sorry ma'am, but I have no control over the parking space, would you like me to get the manager for you?

Sonia: Does your manager own this building?

Cashier: No.

Sonia: Does your manager own the parking lot?

Cashier: No.

Sonia: Well then if your manager does not own the building or the parking lot then that means that your manager will be as useful to me as you are. Therefore what makes you think that I want to speak to your manager?

Cashier: I'm sorry; I was just trying to help.

Sonia: Well so far you have been no help to me, so you can make yourself useful by making me a large cup of coffee. Make sure that there are two creams and three packets of sugar. I will bring it back if you put any more or less in it. It better be hot too, I am going to be here a while and I want the heat to last until I am ready for a refill. Now how much is it?

(Frederick steps next to Sonia)

Frederick: Excuse me; I would like to purchase the coffee for the lady.

Cashier: Sir, that is very kind of you, it will be $3.47.

Sonia: I am very capable of paying for my own cup of coffee.

Frederick: I can see that you are capable, but I also see that you need to have something to smile about today. Whether I like it or not you are now a permanent part of my life, and I would not be able to continue my day knowing that I had a chance to give you a reason to say that your day was not all bad.

(Sonia gave him a look of confusion and anger. Her voice softened.)

Sonia: I will allow you to pay for my coffee, but I want to know why I am a permanent part of your life and why you think that buying me a cup of coffee is going to keep my day from being bad?

Frederick: It seems as if all the tables are taken. Would you like to join me?

Sonia: Considering the fact that it is cold as hell outside and I fought hard to get that parking space, I suppose I could bear your company for a time until I can get my own table. But I don't want to hear anymore shit about you making my day better.

Frederick: I am happy to have the company.

("Large Mocha Caramel Latte," a woman behind the counter calls out, followed by a call for a large coffee.)

Frederick sets the two coffees down on the table and pulls the chair out for Sonia. Sonia slowly begins to settle into a comfortable feeling toward her new acquaintance, but keeps her guard up. Frederick is intrigued by this strong, independent woman but anxious to understand her ability to create the scenes that she does as a black woman in a white world.

Sonia: Well, are you going to ask my name?

Frederick: Why would I want to know your name? You have already told me that you are going to change tables as soon as there is one free, so why waste my time getting to know the details of your life.

Sonia: Then what was the point of buying my drink and inviting me to sit with you? Don't you feel odd talking to a complete stranger?

Frederick: First, just because I know your name does not mean that you are automatically not a stranger. We could sit here for three hours and talk about our lives and feelings on different topics but we will still be strangers. I bet you will not share with me what you received for your sixteenth birthday or even how old you were when you had your first kiss. Therefore you are going to still be the stranger that I shared a table with.

Sonia: Well then what was all the bullshit about me being a permanent part of your life now?

Frederick: From the moment that my ears heard your voice, quite loudly may I add, and my eyes saw your very angry face, you were engraved into my mind. I may never see you again, then again I may, I don't know. But what I do know is that there will be times that I will flash back to this day and recall the woman that lost her mind over a parking space and then entered the building as if she was royalty. You see, you are permanently sketched into my memories and because of that you are forever a part of my life. Like it or not.

(Sonia became intrigued as she studied the face of the beautiful black man sitting in front of her)

Sonia: Well, you're welcome.

Frederick: Excuse me?

Sonia: You're welcome for granting you the pleasure of having me etched into your mind, your memories and if you give me some time, your soul.

Frederick: Ah, but you will be at a new table by then and I will be walking out the door, carrying my briefcase and facing the terrible holiday traffic. You will be contemplating if you are going to run after me to thank me for the coffee and by the time you finally free yourself from your pride you will run to the door and find that I am already gone.

Sonia: What is your name?

Frederick: What will you do with my name?

Sonia: I will use it to curse you when you leave.

Frederick: My name is Frederick, Frederick Douglass.

(Sonia slowly places her coffee down on the table and stares at the man sitting across from her with a look of astonishment. She can't believe this is the Frederick Douglass, the famous writer who wrote last year's article of the year for Black Times magazine. (She composed herself and smiled a sweet smile)

Sonia: Well I'll be damned, Mr. Frederick Douglass, it is a pleasure to meet you.
Congratulations on the award last year. I was intrigued by your article; it was powerful and intelligently written, although I do believe you were slightly harsh on Sonia Sanchez. I understand that you and she have different views on African Americans in America. I do know that she has spent the majority of her life striving for black equality. For you to have accused her of stirring hatred and confusion within the black community is unfair.

Frederick: First, I must say that I am impressed that you know who I am; I would not have figured you for the scholastic type. (Sonia's face grew stern, her eyes widened and her body stiffened as Frederick continued.) I can appreciate your concern for Ms. Sanchez but her work has caused the face of a black man or woman to be seen as criminal rather than equal. If she has spent her life fighting for equality, as you say she has, then she would make a better attempt at portraying the African American to be a bit more loyal, maybe law abiding or even compassionate. I will use her poem "Eyewitness" as an example for you. A black woman is raped. She writes of her skin being scraped off with a knife. She had a moment when she was writing this poem to stop and think about whether or not she would continue with her next sentence. She did not choose to stop, no, she continued with the line. Do you know what the line said?

Sonia: Do tell.

Frederick: She continued with "as if he was trying to remove the color from me." Why would she write that? In that one poem she portrays a black woman being raped by a black man, a black man trying to scrape the color from a black body. In the end the woman goes on with her life as if what happened to her was normal and that her life was not valuable enough to report the crime to the police. How do you see her fighting for equality when she is writing poems like that? There is no part of the poem that shows what is good about being black.

Sonia: I can tell that you are out of touch with reality. What the hell do you know about Sonia Sanchez or anyone else for that matter? You sit here with your fancy clothes and high and mighty attitude judging anyone that becomes "sketched" in your mind. You may win awards for the articles that you write but if you stepped one foot in Harlem and looked at the faces of the black men and women that work three jobs just to feed their family and have the shadow of their color keeping them from ever rising above the shit that they were born into then maybe you would not be so fucking cocky. Oh yes, I know a lot about you Freddy, you may have lived a hard life but you are as selfish as they come. You would step on your own kind to make sure you get your own. You look me in the eyes as if you have the keys to happiness but the truth is that you are lonely and pathetic.

(Frederick sits back in his seat, watching the woman before him transform into the woman that was in the parking lot.)

Frederick: You act as though I am attacking you personally. I am only making an observation on Sanchez's work. Obviously you are a fan of her work. I don't know what that says about you.

Sonia: Excuse me? What the hell do you mean by that?

Frederick: Look, the bottom line is that Sanchez has a disgusting fetish for writing filth. I am unsure how or why one drop of her ink has ever been published, but it has and we all have to face that fact. If I had anything to say about it she would not hold the title of author, poet, or anything that would give her credit for striving for equality.

(Sonia took a sip of her now lukewarm coffee. She sat for a moment to gather her emotions so that she could respond with intelligence rather than anger.)

Sonia: I must say that you have had your fair share of opportunities to bring equality into our country but you have failed miserably. You have stepped on the fingers and toes of other black men and women. You wrote in your own book that you disagree with the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad saved many lives. Harriet Tubman risked her own life sixteen times to help other slaves escape to freedom. Instead of commending her or anyone else that used this means of escape you openly bash it, and for what reason? I don't know, but what I do know is that you cannot throw your accusations around without stopping to ask yourself what you have done to help the black community. You talk about loyalty and how Sanchez portrays black men as unloyal, but did you or did you not have an affair on your black wife? You walk around with your head held up because you think you are fucking better than everyone else, why is that? Is it because you are fucking a white woman? Newsflash, just because you fuck a white person and have a white daddy does not mean you are white!

Frederick: I must say that you are surprising me more by the second. I was unaware that a rude bitch like yourself would be interested enough to know so much about me and my writing.

Sonia: Oh I have read your work - a lot of it is a load of shit, but I read it. I know that Sanchez has hard edge to her writing but it is real. She writes about the part of life no one wants to talk about. She stands up and yells to the world that this shit exists and people have to open their eyes and see it. They have to feel the pain of the black woman having her skin peeled off;feel the pain of the seven year old being torn into by her mother's dealer; feel the pain of a wife being unwanted, untouched and unappreciated by her cheating husband because she is used flesh and her piece of shit husband wants fresh meat; feel the pain of racial and sexual injustice in this land of the free. Who else is going to be the voice of the unheard black woman or even man, you? No not you, you are too busy fucking your white woman and being fucked by the white man so that you can have your fancy clothes and unjustified fame. I will give you a bit of advice, since it seems you have no problems giving your two cents worth about Sonia Sanchez for the world to read; before you judge a person's motive or mode for fighting inequality you need to ask yourself, what are you actually fighting for. If it really is inequality then why are you fighting against people that are on your side when they just have a different approach?

Frederick: You make a strong argument, but I still feel that Sanchez is hurting her cause by making the black community look like a criminal breeding ground. I cannot sit back and allow another black person to plant seeds of hate in the minds of the white people about one of our own. It is just not right.

Sonia: The two of you have different audiences. Sonia is writing to the black community which means that she is getting into the hearts and minds of black people. She is writing to them so that they can see how wrong rape is, how painful drugs are to a family, how having an affair can transform people into beings that they never imagined themselves or their spouses to be. She writes to an audience that needs to see the consequences of their actions. You on the other hand write to the white people. You have molded and transformed yourself to write for them, you give them what they want to hear, you are their bitch. They tell you to bend over and you happily take it.

(Sonia stands up from the table and gathers her belongings, laughing at the thought of Frederick Douglass buying her coffee and of the words that he said to her when they first met.)

Frederick: Are you leaving already? I apologize if I upset you.

Sonia: You have a lot more to apologize for but maybe over another cup of coffee on another day.

(Sonia walked toward the door and took one last look at the man sitting at the table then pushed the door open and walked out into the cold toward her car. Frederick thought to himself what a wonderful and strange woman she was. He laughed to himself because she never did thank him for the cup of coffee. With that thought he had an intense feeling in the pit of his stomach that he needed to know her name. He grabbed his coat and hat, ran to the door, pushed it open, and slipped through the snow and ice into the parking lot. He reached the parking lot just in time to watch her car pull away and drive off into the traffic. He stood in the snow, staring at the car in the distance with the license plate that read Sanchez.)


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