Two Black Men Walk Into An American Bar
The first, Uche, asks for a drink. He meets the other, Ambe, waiting at the bar.
“A margarita, please.”
“Are you sure? We have beer”, the barman says.
“No, thanks. The Marguerita,” he puts his wallet on the table to pull out his card.
“Can you afford it?” the barman asks, innocently, Uche thinks.
“Yes, sure. I always save for my Thursday drink.”
“Wow, that’s impressive. You know what…this one is on us,” the barman puts a glass in front of Uche.
“Why, thank you!” Uche pulls the glass to his fore. Visibly giddy at this free drink. “I was right to have come to his bar,” he sips.
From the corner of this eye, he catches Ambe smiling silently, his glass half empty.
“Nice bar huh?” Uche attempts, leaning closer.
“Yeah, right,” Ambe sips away, keeping his gaze on both the barman and Uche.
“Is this your first time here?”
“Yes. I had heard of the bar from the other side of the city, but I never really thought much about it. One day, I was able to save enough for many drinks, so I decided, why not, you know?”
“I see,” Ambe sips quietly. His hoodie is off, showing a thick layer of unkempt hair. It’s clean, so, Uche suspects he’s growing a fro or something.”
“My name is Uche. What about you? And how long have you been here?”
“I’m Ambe,” he grabs the outstretched hand, leaving his glass for the first time since Uche spoke to him. He has a lazy eye, Uche notices. He seemed to be keeping the barman in check and attending to his new speech partner.
“Doesn’t it bother you that he asked if you could afford the drink?”, both eyes on Ambe now.
“Of course not. He’s a barman, that’s his job. He just has to make sure that I can afford it. I would probably do the same.”
“If anything, I’d be a proud boss if I had an employee like him.”
A ruckus interrupts from the side. Both men turn to see the barman talking with another group of customers. He wasn’t asking any questions. They seemed a little different, maybe it was the light on the skin, but their noses seemed to point a bit more upwards.
“Okay, how about the fact that he asked if you wanted a beer even though you originally asked for a Marguerita?”
“Well, I suppose he just wanted to make sure. I heard the bar had a great beer.”
“You heard, huh?”
Both men sip. Uche tries to recall where he had heard the beer recommendation. Ambe cups his glass in both hands. It seems, from Uche’s vantage point, that he’s trying to break it.
“You didn’t answer my questions, though. I would not like to be impolite, so I thought I’d just ask again in case you may have missed it the first time.”
“You really have no idea, do you?”
Little needles prickled Uche’s armpit, and the loud bar hid his slight squeak.
“No idea about what?”
Ambe empties his glass. Wipes his hands on his clean jeans and swivels to face Uche — both eyes clawing out.
“I was born here. When I started drinking, that man you see there,” he pointed with a fist, “He was the owner.”
An older gentleman was sitting by himself at the edge of the bar. People would every so often pass by as though to make sure he’d seen them. He kept to himself mostly.
“He was surprised I drank Margaritas. He was surprised I could afford it.”
Ambe sets his glass.
“For the first 18 years, he stayed surprised. He was also surprised I got a job. He was surprised I had a phone. When I got my car. When I started wearing shirts and trousers, not this,” he pointed to his baggy jeans and rough hair, “he started smiling more and telling me things like ‘you’re now a part of this bar! That’s good. Keep it up, and one day, I will get you a free drink’.
He’s been surprised since I was born. Even though I was born here.”
“But that doesn’t mean anything,” Uche spits. Was it the Marguerita?
“Look around you, Uche — who else here looks like us?”
It was a large bar — many colors and multiple tables behind them. The laughter erupted from every end, a typical Thursday night. Shirts and trousers filled the room, every size, and style: clean-shaven, no wallets on the table. The barman kept swinging drinks of all types and sizes in the direction of whoever hollered.
Uche notices, for the first time, that the barman wasn’t taking money from anyone else. He also notices that there are empty seats around him and Ambe, two at least on each side.
There are no other empty seats in the room. People standing, though.
“This bar my father helped build. He died sawing the wood to make these chairs. My grandmother gave the recipe for the drinks — the ‘beer.’ My great-grandfather owned this land and sold it to that man’s grandfather in other to buy his children food when the stores wouldn't let us in.
I have lived in this bar. I know all these people, and they all know me. But they’ve never treated me like I belong here. They’ve always tried to tell me what I really wanted, and they’re still surprised I can pay for my drink.”
“Oh, sorry.” The lady bumps into Ambe’s back. Was she surprised I was sitting here?
Ambe seems to have wanted the news to settle in. Uche has no questions. He feels like throwing up his free drink.
“Brother from the other side of town, this bar doesn’t care that you just came in today. They’ll treat you like they’ve been treating me for my whole life.
The people like me, the ones who live this, have little patience for people like you. I have to admit it isn’t fair. When you know what I know and live what I live, patience isn’t something you buy into anymore.
So, as I leave you to finish your drink and settle in with the reality of this bar, I have only one piece of advice for you.”
“Educate yourself. Sometimes beer isn’t just beer. A bar can be more than just a bar too.’’