- The Molestation of Skinny Boys
Even dressed in his favorite pair of once-starched khakis and batik polo shirt—the one with dancing stick figures on the breast pocket—it still only took two stutter steps on the charred runway of Dakar's international airport before Jean-Boy vowed never to leave New York again. Senegal smelled like pungent soil and burning plastic. He could barely swallow the air was so hot, and his watch, a gift for his twenty-eighth birthday, was burning an arc in his wrist. As he looked down at his tapettes he realized the plastic soles were melting on the infernal tarmac, a transformation from fashionable hiking sandals to gooey puddles of rubber fondue. As Maman always said, ce monde, c'est délicat. This world is tricky.
By the time he made it inside the airport, there was a never-ending line of exhausted passengers in blue jeans and bou-bous coiling single file like a giant intestine. Jean-Boy stood there, batting at imaginary mosquitoes as passengers crawled forward on invisible walkers, scraping the thin layers of the ground from the bottoms of their feet. There was no air-conditioning or ventilation inside. The air was trapped. Jean-Boy felt like one of those giant bugs you see inside vacuum-sealed jars, preserved in mysterious fluid and relegated to the shelves of Natural Science. It was like he'd become a specimen: why, for example, was he the only black guy sweating in the entire airport?
When his turn came he felt delirious from the trapped air and the drumbeat of pounding rubber stamps. He handed his passport to the customs officer who smashed ARRIVÉE on entry 22, handing it back without a word, his clean polished fingers triggering the air for the next passenger, his head cocked to the side like a gangster rap artist. Jean-Boy walked to the baggage claim and for one hour and twenty-one minutes, according to his new watch, he waited for absolutely nothing. This was his first lesson with African Time. He had finally made it to Senegal despite every protest coined by the family mint after returning to his father's roots, and already he was having thoughts of Coney Island in the summertime, thoughts of wandering through the fun house cracking jokes with his buddies as they walked down the boardwalk with a bag of sugar peanuts in his hand as girls in short shorts and roller skates buzzed by and giggled because their thighs were trained to be supple and majestic, because they knew he was watching them, admiring the developed muscle tone in the ambiguous thigh region made for crushing skinny boys who should know better than to stare like that.
Jean-Boy is inside a taxi with his two medium-sized suitcases. He's amazed he didn't have to bribe anyone but sad he lost two hours to cultural relativism.
Jean-Boy stares out the window. He can hear his papa's voice echoing in his head as the taxi leaves the outskirts of Dakar. You're not going to like it, Jean-Boy, he insisted, it's hot and poor and everyone will ask you for a cadeau. But he'd just shrugged his shoulders. He didn't know what else to do. It was Maman who suggested he meet the other side of the family. It's important mon petit, she'd told him, this is your family whether you like it or not. You don't choose them. You choose your friends.
As his eyes skim the gray chalky waves in the distance, he wonders why the Atlantic Ocean looks so out of place here. Why, instead of comforting him, does he feel passive despair as his heavy eyes focus on the flotsam bobbing in the polluted water? He knows the Atlantic isn't clean but seeing it dirty and mistreated is another thing altogether. Expectations: c'est délicat.
Jean-Boy opens the door and throws his suitcases on his double bed. He places his room key on the nightstand, sits down on the bed and flips the TV...