Friday, February 27, 2009

Time To Play


This morning, while at the check out stand at a local grocery store, I had an interesting interaction with a checker called Michael. He's Nigerian-American and was commenting on Michelle Obama's beautiful face gracing the cover of one of the pseudo news magazines always surrounding the check stand. "I didn't really know much about her till recently," he said in accented English. Then he added, "It's like this writer in my literature class says, 'the world is a stage and we are the players.'"
"Yes, that's Shakespeare," I replied, never having heard The Bard referred to as "this writer."
"When it's your time, you'd better play," Michael said, confident that he was enlightening me and anyone else in earshot.
"Yes it's her time and she's knows how to play," I remarked. Michael was all smiles now and there was a glint of authenticity in his obligatory "have a great day"
I'm reminded of another conversation I had with a Nigerian some years ago. As a graduate student, I qualified for legal aid in Berkeley and went to see a lawyer about the possibility of doing my own divorce. I'd made a mistake that was compounded by the pressure of the draft and the Vietnam war. Now, suddenly free of that burden, finally pursuing my teaching credential at the University, I wanted the complete feeling of a new beginning. Legal Aid turned out to be just the thing for me. Still I was nervous. It's difficult to talk about a relationship best forgotten when you still have strong feelings for the other person. I knew we'd still be lifelong friends, but I wasn't thinking about any of that when I entered the small crowded building deep in Berkeley's industrial section. Settling down in an uncomfortable waiting room chair, I shuffled some papers and felt the presence of a well-dressed gentleman enter the room.
"So...oo, what happen witcha baby?" boomed a tall Nigerian law student whose grin radiated off his starched white shirt.
He just asked me what happen wit mah baby, I thought. Immediately I relaxed. I supposed we filled out all the forms and he collected the $39.95 that this exercise in do it yourself people's law required. I remember all the paperwork came and went at all the right times. I remember the day the divorce was final, and that, yes it did make a difference, a big difference. But most of all I remember that question about "my baby."
When it's your time, you'd better play.

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