Yesterday I stopped by a friend’s apartment building and chatted briefly with the woman working security at the front desk. On my way out, the same woman stopped me and said, “You’re not from around here are you?”
Indeed I’m not. The American accent is a dead giveaway, right? But the woman said she hadn’t even noticed my accent, it was my face.
“What about my face?”
“It’s foreign. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just not from here.”
At that point, I think I said “Thank you?” and shuffled away, even though that’s not what I meant to say at all. I’m not sure what sentiment I wanted to express—it wasn’t anger, but it wasn’t thanks either. Perhaps confusion. In a place with so many races and combinations of races, it’s funny that a particular face could look foreign.
The brief encounter reminded me of an earlier conversation I had with the Andy, the man who works the front desk at my own apartment building. Andy is an Afrikaner who has worked in the same building for over 40 years. He’s a jolly-looking fellow who greets me every morning and wishes me, “Good day, lovey!”
We spoke just after I moved in and he told me about his job, his commute, his breakfast and his kids. He’s quite chatty. In the course of our first conversation, he mentioned that he had two kids in the States and two in UK. I asked him if he missed having his kids nearby and he said he did, but he didn’t blame them for leaving.
“Oh, they all left when the government changed hands in ’94.”
That would be the end of apartheid.
“After that, there were just no jobs for people like us.”
It took me a minute to realize what he meant by “like us,” but then I noticed he was subtly stroking his cheek, as if to indicate white skin.
I’m still deciding what to make of the moment.