I work at a store. Many, many people come through my checkout each day, though the dominant group is Southern, middle-class, middle-age white women. So when someone different comes through my line, I often take interest.
Two nights ago a black man with an accent came through my line. The accent was strong and from Anglophone Africa (and I’ve met a few people from Ghana in my town), so I asked “Do you mind if I ask where you’re from?”
“Over there in neighborhood X,” he said, referring to a place right down the road.
“But before that, South Africa.”
“A beautiful country. Where are you from in South Africa?”
Pauses for a second, thinking I’m probably just asking to be polite and won’t know wherever he names. “Have you heard of a place called Soweto?”
“Yeah, I’ve been there.” His eyes light up with amusement.
“Oh really? Where you living there?”
As I hand him his change, “No, I was just working as a volunteer for a few weeks.”
“Great, where at in Soweto?”
As I hand him his receipt, “Well, mostly outside of Soweto, but I was at Baragwanath Hospital several times.”
“I lived right by the power station near there, do you know it?”
And then he was gone. If I hadn’t had another customer in line I probably would’ve asked what brought him to America, and especially to Searcy. There just aren’t many (black) South Africans in my town (I know a few white ones) and I’m always curious to hear the path that brought people from so far away. I enjoyed the brief little connection of shared knowledge of a place, even in Small Town, USA. Maybe he’ll come back through.