By: Archana Sridhar
Honorary White Person
We were out on the basketball court at Allen F. Keeth Elementary School in Winter Springs, Florida. I must have been around nine years old, all skin and bones and braids. But timing in Florida is always a little suspicious. That day, I know I felt the blue skies, white clouds, blazing sun, and melting concrete deep in my feet and in my soul. Same as the day the Challenger exploded. Same as the day they gave us paper with a hole punched in it to watch the solar eclipse. Same as the day I lectured my teacher about kundalini yoga while the other kids climbed on the geodome.
On the court that specific day, I was probably puzzling over why Jo would turn Laurie down in Little Women. I could have been adding numbers in my head to calm my nerves. I was likely feeling queasy after the greasy cafeteria pizza squares.
I was no good at basketball, but everyone told my parents they should make me play because of my height. The ball popped at me and I jumped out of the way.
That’s when it happened.
There was only one girl bigger than me in the third grade. Ellen. She was imposing, with straight brown hair in a bowl haircut. She punched on the playground and wore stained sweatsuits. I stayed out of her way most of the time. But here she was, glowering at me from across the court.
The whistle blew and Coach Carter lumbered over, hugely pregnant in her nylon gym shorts and baseball cap. She took Ellen aside and class was over.
We filed back into the school building. No one looked at me. Mrs. Hall dimmed the lights and put on a filmstrip, a time for most kids to put down their heads and nap. The A/C caused the sweat from gym class to stick to my skin and then evaporate into the chill.
“Archana? Come on over here.” I was being called into the supply closet, where kids went when they were in trouble. I looked around and up at Mrs. Hall, a tall, solid woman in a prairie dress. We squeezed between the file cabinet and the shelves of paper towels, glue, paint, and dress-up clothes.
After a long lead-up, Mrs. Hall said, “I will talk to Ellen and I will call your parents tonight.”
Holding my shoulders uncomfortably, Mrs. Hall looked me in the eyes, “Just remember, you are not what she said you are.”
That was the first time I was called the N-word.
Bloor and Spadina
His pudgy little hand snuck its way into mine. “You know what’s next, right? Longboard. That’s how it goes: scooter, bike, longboard, then skateboard.”
“What comes after that? Driving a car?” I laughed.
I heard a light chuckle of disbelief from down below as we crossed the street on the way to school.
An old man was stooped over in front of us, rubbing a fine white powder together on his palms, then wiping every surface of his body and clothes with the dust, carefully applying the chalk like a protective barrier from the elements, from us.
His dark skin and hair turned grey under the white dust, aging him by a hundred years into a photo of a lost tribesman, like on the cover of those National Geographic magazines from childhood garage sales. He looked me straight in the eyes, emotionless as he continued rubbing and wiping, rubbing and wiping.
We’d noticed him a few days before, accumulating a garden of plastic bags on the giant black domino benches where he sat from time to time. Someone must have given him a few stand-up reusable bags from the Metro grocery store, the bright colours contrasting with the carefully balled up clear and white plastic bags inside them.
At dusk the night before, I had looked north along Spadina to watch the sunset. Staring down from the balcony at twilight, he seemed like a faraway statue surrounded by hungry birds. The garden had spread like a noxious plant taking over a riverbed, now radiating out from his feet a good six feet in all directions.
The drama drew in the neighborhood. All the parents at the schoolyard clucked with concern:
Who is he?
Where did he come from?
What does he want?
I thought, I don’t know, what do any of us want?
On my way home from school drop-off, the old man gently stood, turned away from me, and ambled towards the trees across the small parkette at the corner. He struggled to unzip his pants and then took a long piss on the stone bench where I had sat to eat ice cream on a summer afternoon just a few weeks before.
Others bustled by, avoiding eye contact with him or with me or with each other. We all pretended like the corner was still ours.
Archana Sridhar is a poet and university administrator living in Toronto. A graduate of Bard College, Harvard Law School and a former Fulbright Scholar, Archana focuses on themes of race, meditation, motherhood, and trauma in her poetry. Her work has been featured in the Brown Orient Literary Journal, The /tƐmz/ Review, and Neon Mariposa.