July 6th, an excerpt
This is a literary excerpt by Joshua Myers, a novelist and writer based out of South Carolina whose work explores both the beauty and complexity of navigating life from the black and gay perspective.
“Hear me out!” Alan shouted over the jeers from his barbershop crew. “All I’m saying is that Obama coulda done more!”
“What more could he have done?” Rabbit retorted. Without a customer, Rabbit was sitting in his own barber’s chair, shoveling a slice of cake in his large mouth.
Menelik sat in Catch This Fade, listening to another lively debate as he waited for RaSean to get his locs touched up. Since Menelik’s last visit to the shop, Alan had brought in a chess set (“Only black pieces allowed because we are black kings and queens.”), most of a deck of cards, dominoes. He’d installed a television and had acquired a fourth chair belonging to a hairstylist named Tasha.
Tasha was short and round with an infectious laugh, and always had a quick comeback. She could apply a lace-front wig just as well as she could do a drop fade, and was now working on RaSean’s locs.
“Well,” Alan was saying as Rabbit waved him off. “For one, he coulda stuck up more for black people!”
“In what way, Alan?” Tasha challenged. “He could only do so much!”
“‘He could only do so much?!’ Obama killed bin Laden, passed gay marriage, and rolled out Obamacare. He did all that but he can’t help out black folks tryna get decent housing?!”
“What was he supposed to do?” said Rabbit, spewing crumbs all over the floor. “Take his black self and go up to all those white folk in Congress and ask them to be nicer to black people? He was the president, not the king.”
“But, still, he fought hard for the things he knew he could pass, and completely gave up on the things that would take a little more elbow grease.” Alan wasn’t even cutting his client’s hair anymore at this point, gesturing emphatically with the comb and clippers as he spoke.
“Oh, please!” said Mat. “It’s not like you coulda done more if you were president.”
“Shut up, White Boy!” Alan pointed at Mat with the comb. “You don’t get to speak on this.”
“Why? Because I’m white?”
“Yes, exactly.” Alan smirked.
Mat turned to the rest of the shop. “Y’all can’t tell me this ain’t racism! And just to be clear, I voted for Obama. Both times! At least I didn’t vote for Forty-Five, unlike Rabbit over there.”
“Don’t judge me, White Boy,” Rabbit snapped. “I only voted for him because I didn’t trust Hillary, and Bernie was doing the most. Plus, Forty-Five said the blacks would do very bigly if he was president. I ain’t know he was this crazy.”
Everyone in the small barbershop rolled their eyes and groaned at Rabbit’s excuses.
“What?” Rabbit began digging into a second slice of cake. “I gotta vote Democrat just ‘cause I’m black?”
“No, dummy,” Alan said, throwing a wadded up neck strip at Rabbit. “You gotta vote smarter because you’re black.”
“You still haven’t told us what Obama could have done differently, Alan,” Tasha said as she dug her hands through RaSean’s hair. “And how.”
Menelik was listening closely while also texting Christian, trying to conceal his growing smile. The last thing he needed was any of the guys in the shop asking who he was texting that could make him smile so hard.
Chris: Hey! Sorry I haven’t been around much. But you know my birthday is coming up!
Menelik: Duh! My birthday is two days after yours remember?
Chris: Oh yeah. Sure
Menelik: We could celebrate together! Just like old times! 🙂
Chris: Yeah maybe
Menelik: Any ideas?
Menelik’s heart rate increased again. My first birthday with my first boyfriend!
Chris: I’ll figure it out. Leave it to me, love! 😉
Menelik stifled a gasp. “Love?” He just said he loved me! And he’s planning a surprise for my birthday. I, Menelik Bellamy, have a boyfriend who loves me!
Menelik: Love you too Chris 🙂
Menelik, happy and boosted in confidence, turned his full attention back to the barbershop debate.
Alan grunted as he resumed cutting his client’s hair. “Obamacare coulda been better, the Voting Rights Act shoulda been protected, he coulda been harder on police brutality, he hardly addressed racism till he came down here singing ‘Amazing Grace’ and cryin’ for the cameras, he deported too many people, weed shoulda been legalized and decriminalized—”
“You are jawing on and on about things you think should have been done,” Tasha interrupted. “But you not sayin’ nothin’ about what he could have done.”
“Alan,” Mat said. “Are you mad that black people didn’t do better than white people under a black president or something?”
“I sure am,” Alan said matter-of-factly, receiving an eye roll from Mat.
“He was a black president. Be happy for that,” said Menelik. Everyone in Catch This Fade fixed their gaze on Menelik. “That’s what we wanted, that’s what our ancestors died for, and that’s what we finally got. Don’t complain about what you want, then when you get it, start complaining about what it’s not. The president cannot do whatever they want. There are still checks and balances they have to follow. Except Obama had to do all of that as the first black president in this racist country.”
“That’s my little brother!” RaSean boomed proudly.
Menelik could feel his cheeks getting warm with satisfaction. He hadn’t heard RaSean, or anyone, cheer him on like that since he was on the track team.
“Exactly like Menelik said,” Mat seconded. “Don’t take offense to what I’ma say, but — ”
“Then don’t say nothin’ offensive,” Rabbit warned with a mouthful.
“I feel like,” Mat continued, taking time to think of each word that left his mouth. “A lot of black people were expecting Obama to come into the White House and paint it black. He did what he could with what he had, which wasn’t much. What he did do, for sure, was break down the door for a future president that won’t be a straight white man.”
“Well-put, White Boy,” Tasha said as she rubbed oil into RaSean’s scalp. “All done, RaSean.”
RaSean handed Tasha some cash. “Thanks, T. You ready, Menelik?”
“Yeah.” Menelik stood up.
RaSean dapped Alan up and nodded to the rest of the crew. “Peace everybody.”
“Rabbit!” Alan fussed. “You’re getting crumbs all over the place, man. Yo, RaSean, would you mind sweeping that up real quick, bruh? I gotta finish up this man’s head.”
“Yeah, no prob. Hold on, Menelik.” RaSean grabbed a broom and dustpan as Menelik took his seat again.
“My bad, Alan.” Rabbit popped the rest of the cake into his mouth. “I can’t help it. I gots the diabetes and my doctor said I gotta eat every time my sugar get low.”
“No,” Mat corrected, “your doctor said you have to start eating a low sugar diet.”
“That’s what I said, White Boy.” Rabbit pulled a can of soda out of his pocket and began to drink.
“I’ll tell y’all this,” Tasha said with a big smile. “There ain’t never gonna be a First Couple like Barack and Michelle!”
“You right,” Rabbit said with a laugh. “I don’t think Barack dress or sing all that nice as people say he do, but they will always be my president and First Lady! Michelle is sexy!”
“She aight.” Alan shrugged.
“Don’t talk about my play auntie like that!” Tasha laughed. “Y’all know she got family in Georgetown. My cousin said we related to Michelle somewhere down the line.”
“Y’all know what?” Rabbit’s voice lowered. “Barack is a good lookin’ cat. No homo.”
“Oh, Lawd!” came the reply from the barbershop crew.
“OK, all done.” RaSean returned the broom and dustpan to the corner. “Later, Alan. Come on, Menelik.”
“See ya, RaSean,” Alan called as RaSean exited the shop. “Next time, Menelik!”
Menelik stopped short of the doorway, disbelief and joy gluing his feet to the floor. In all of the years Menelik had known Alan, the barber never once called him by his actual name. Menelik looked over his shoulder. Alan simply nodded in Menelik’s direction before jumping back into shop conversation.
“C’mon, Menelik!” RaSean shouted from outside.
Menelik quickly exited the shop, determined to not let anyone see him cheesing so hard, his head held high and chest puffed out.
“Here.” RaSean handed Menelik a cord as he got in the car and fastened his seat belt. “Play some music. But none of those anime theme songs you be listenin’ to.”
“Okay.” Menelik pulled out his phone and unlocked it, his last text conversation still front and center. Menelik smiled as he reread the exchange, reliving the joy he felt as he texted back and forth. He reached the end of the conversation and any newfound happiness or confidence he felt was yanked out of Menelik’s body, leaving him as empty as Morgan Park beach after high tide. He checked one more time to make sure he read it correctly, staring blankly at the phone screen until tears pooled in his eyes and the words blurred and became illegible.
Chris never said he loved me back. 🍒