“Why you wearing an ankle bracelet?” I hear a woman say sitting behind me sitting on the train.
“The city say I was running and illegal business, you know how it goes,” a young man replied.
“No I don’t know how that is actually,” says the woman. “What kind of illegal business?”
“I was running a liquor house,” he replies. “They caught me. We had a shooting otherwise they wouldn’t a.”
I turn around to listen.
“What’s a liquor house?” asked the woman.
“You been to a bar? I know how you white people like your bars,” replies the young black man.
“Yeah, sure,” she replies.
“Well someone moves outta someplace, and no one moves in, I open myself a liquor house. I got my own bar then.”
“Where do you get the liquor?”
“I buy the liquor. I keep it in a hooch house. That way anybody know where the liquor house is don’t know where the liquor is kept. Can’t steal it when I ain’t there.”
“I get it. Who knew,” she said.
“Oh I got all kinds of things I start. Juke joints for one. Dance halls another.”
“What is the difference?”
“A juke joint is a liquor house, but with space for dancing. A dance hall no liquor, just dancing”
“Again, No idea.”
“Stop eyeballing my head white mother fucker,” says a different voice. After a moment the voice repeats the phrase.
I realize after a minute that the voice is talking to me. It is young black man sitting in the seat behind me as I listen to the story facing away from me.
I don’t say anything, but turn around after a moment. It is Sunday at 11:45 a.m. I don’t want a problem.
“That nice man white man was listening to my story,” said the liquor house owner.
“I don’t want him eyeballing my head,” said the agitated man. “I got nothing with you.”
“Oh you got something with me now. You interrupt me telling that nice white man a story.”
“He don’t need to be eyeballing my head,” says the agitated man again.
“Oh he does it he wants to get the full effect of my story. When I tell the story you need the full effect. That’s looking at me.”
“I got nothing with you.”
“Oh you got something with me. Your going to get off this train, then I am going to get off this train. Then you got something with me.”
Things fall silent for a bit.
Two stops later the agitated man gets off quickly and the liquor house owner follows.
“I take care of this nice white man,” says the liquor house owner. “A nice white man should be able to listen to a black man tell a story.”
“Oh this isn’t necessary,” I say. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Oh it fucking matters,” he says exiting the train. “He going to know it fucking matters.”
The doors closed and the train pulled away.
Gene G. McLaughlin 2016