Shades of Atlanta

Posted by on Mar 7, 2006 in Spirit | 0 comments

Marie moves silently, invisibly through the dim room, her face a mask until the tall black woman hisses her name in a stage whisper. Only minute facial twitches and body language betrays her alarm as she rushes to comply with the orders. Across the elegant restaurant, a soldier in camouflage is oddly exposed, hovering inches over his plate, both elbows on the table edge, shoveling food into his mouth with a big fist closed over his fork. His eyes dart about as if he were in a foxhole, but he does not seem to recognize his surroundings. Marie painstakingly arranges and rearranges napkins, glasses, and flatware about the newly cleaned table like someone accustomed to being disciplined for micro millimeters of divergence. The two men at my right talk leverage, sales territory, contracts, in the coded language of their high dollar world. Marie is only a shadow person to them, all her struggles and trials incomprehensible in their universe.

The tall black woman stops by my table smiling, “Do you need cream for your coffee?” she asks. Her tone tells me that if I say yes, Marie will be yelled at again. No thank you I say, since Marie had rushed to my side the minute I sat down, filling my cup and offering the cream pot, and I had sent the cream away. The soldier does not see the drama either. He is looking for guns, tanks, danger from the skies, terrorists. Marie is tiny, brown, and harmless. He is easily fooled by the black woman’s serpent smile, and the businessmen’s suits blend into the rich décor of the hotel, just as his desert uniform would into dry, barren wasteland. I feel smug that I see them all, and they dismiss my plump middle-aged surface. Of all the people in the room, my facade is the most concealing, and I watch them like an old gambler. I believe that I may be further along in my journey, and I know the price of my enlightenment.

I think of Marie’s life, so far from her native country, and how she must divide her modest resources among necessities and family. I think of her traveling in the dark to this job each day and what she must think of the extravagance and excess she sees when she comes up from the underground station. I wonder if any of the suits will awaken someday from their dreams of wealth and see the backs they have stepped on in their climb? Will the soldier ever realize that he fights so the suits can drive their Humvees and Porsches, and eat in overpriced hotel restaurants? I wonder if Marie will ever say a word in her own defense?

Yes, I know they aren’t questions if you already know the answer.

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