This happened last night. It’s a story only because I lead a quiet life; there’s no special payoff at the end.
I was sitting in Cafe Nuit and a large man came in followed by two others. The three of them were square, solid and big: you noticed their neck size, the table got crowded fast when they sat down, that kind of thing.
I was sitting over by the window, doing a Star Trek post. My table was the third of three small tables lined up to the window. The men took the first two tables but left me the chair at table two where I had stowed my windbreaker and bag. That sort of thing is standard in cafes: you split up areas.
The men were dressed in jeans and open neck shirts with collars, polo shirts maybe. Not the same make of shirt, but the same type. My guess is they were security for one of the clubs. They had neatly cut hair and kept it short — that’s my impression from side glances, since you don’t look people over directly at a cafe.
They talked in French and I did my post. But I felt someone looking at me. This happens in cafes: you see someone and for whatever reason you look, but not when they know. If the other person looks up, the first person glances away and they both reset and go about their business.
In this case I looked up. The man sitting across the table from me, diagonally across, was giving me a hard once-over from the corner of his eye: his face to his buddies, one eye turned my way. The surprise was that he looked so mad, like somehow I really got under his skin. Which is not an expression you find a lot at cafes. People don’t go there looking for fights.
When I looked at him, he almost fell into the normal routine of look away and reset. His eye flickered back to his buddies. But I kept looking at him, because I was surprised, and his eye held. He had tiny features hanging off a mountain slope of a profile, little baby lips.
I went back to my laptop. I felt pretty sure no one was going to hit me at Cafe Nuit, so at least I could stay where I was.
A minute later my friend Elezar saw me thru the window, waved hello and then rolled in thru the cafe’s door. Elezar is immense: “A gentle giant,” as our mutual friend Henri likes to call him. He’s from Ghana and very black, with what I take to be tribal scars here and there on his face. Elezar used to work in a warehouse, but that was 20 years ago and then he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Since then he’s been on medication and has padded about from church to cafe to cafe to his room in the subsidized housing. People like him: he’s not especially cheerful, but he’s got a kind heart.
Elezar always gives me a big hello, so he called my name from the doorway and reached out over the men for a handshake. I saw them take him in. He was black and he was their size, maybe a bit larger, and they took special notice of that. Such was my read, anyway.
I got up from my table and walked a few feet from the group so Elezar and I could talk without crowding them. He gave me a second, proper handshake, because for him the moment has weight.
In the next minute or so the men finished their food — pizza slices, that kind of thing — and got up and left. Elezar and I sat down at my old table and we talked a while before I went back to my Star Trek post.
So that’s the story. As I said, it’s remarkable only because not much goes on in my life. I don’t think the truculent guy would have hit me. At worst he might have muttered something and I would have taken it.
But it’s interesting how the story plays out. It’s such an ’80s teen-movie scenario. What do you do if a big white guy is making trouble? You get a big black guy and he’s the hero’s best friend! He just has to show himself and the white guys are scared! From that point of view, the incident played out very neatly.
The catch is that, in my life’s version of the episode, all the elements are de-weighted. The guy was not going to hit me; Elezar is not my best friend, he’s a character I bump into. And I didn’t get any girl, I just wrote my Star Trek post. So I lived a movie moment, but it had shrunk by the time it got to me.
Names were changed in this post.