The bell rang. As I came downstairs to answer the door last Monday evening, I could see an African-American man on my porch. He looked at me through the glass security door, his eyes saucered in surprise, and said, “But … there’s a black man!”
My turn, now, to feel a little derailed. Was he talking about himself, noting his reflection in the glass? Announcing his presence, in case I hadn’t noticed the color of his skin?
“Um … hello?” I said, from behind the still-locked door. He was pointing, this man, toward the living room, a spot over my left shoulder.
“I saw the painting, and I figured you’d be black.” He cupped one hand to his forehead. “This is not how I usually start. I have this whole thing I say. Oh, man…” and his voice trailed off, a tendril of embarrassment.
I looked. Ah, the painting: a large acrylic of a dark-skinned man — I’ve always imagined him to be Haitian or Jamaican — knees apart, palms calloused, eyes closed in percussive bliss, drumming on a set of bongos that seem to glow internally, the painting’s sole source of light.