Dark Hunger

(Part 1 from 2)

Amy had a bad taste in her mouth. It wasn’t from the mediocre spinach and artichoke dip getting cold in front of her as she picked at it. It certainly wasn’t from the third glass of Pinot Grigiot that she was nursing either. No, the wine was Amy’s attempt to wash away the unpleasantness that lingered in her mouth left by one of her arrogant coworkers. 

“Would you like another glass, Miss?” The bartender brought her back to reality as Amy was mumbling under her breath, going over the day’s events in her mind, trying to rehash what she should have done better, and saying the things she wished she had said to make her position perfectly clear. 

“No thank you, I think I might have had one too many as it is.” She reached for her purse to pay the tab and collect her senses. She glanced at her watched and then around the bar and noticed that the late hour had left her the last person there. Tuesday nights weren’t particularly busy at Avanti’s, it had more of a noonday crowd as it was located in the heart of downtown and most people headed to the chain restaurants of the suburbs on weeknights to stay close to home. At 9:00, it was relatively deserted except for the few random busboys that shuffled around, filling up salt and pepper shakers and a few waitresses that were counting tips and talked about the best and worst customers of the night. She fumbled with her wallet, not really wanting to go home and unsure of what to do, where to go. She sat there, dazed and confused. 

“Here, this one’s on the house. Looks like you could use it.” The bartender poured another glass of wine to her relief and went about his duties of breaking the bar down. Amy picked up her cell phone and called her husband to tell him that she was fine; she just needed some time to herself. He questioned her, asking if everything was okay, if there was something she wanted to talk about, and she kept repeating that she would be fine, she just had a bad day at work and it was something that she was going to have to work out on her own. She said the obligatory, “I love you’s” and “see you later’s” and hung up the cell phone before he asked too many more questions. This wasn’t something her husband could help her with; it was outside of his realm of expertise. 

“In my years of experience, I’ve found that your local bartender/therapist is the best person to talk to when your husband won’t understand. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but I’m here for you if you want an objective ear.” The bartender didn’t stop wiping down the bar, but made it clear that the troubled lady at the bar could unburden her heavy load if she so chose. 

Amy stumbled, “You wouldn’t understa . . .,” her voice trailed off as she looked at the bartender. For the first time in three hours, she realized that the bartender was a black man. She hadn’t even paid attention to him before, or perhaps she did but it didn’t register in her consciousness. She felt funny, faced with her particular dilemma, and not even sure how to express it, especially to the man that might be able to lend some insight into her situation but the words wouldn’t come out. Amy wanted to ask for his help but she felt paralyzed. 

The bartender noticed her discomfort and backed off. “Take your time, finish your wine, I’m scheduled to be here until midnight whether there are customers here or not. We probably won’t get another person in here for the rest of the evening.” Amy looked at him hard, studying him for the first time. He was more than twenty years younger than she, easily in his late 20s or early 30s and she noticed that he was very good looking. His eyes sparkled with warmth and charm and his dark skin of his forearms looked like velvet in comparison to the stark white shirt he wore. The muscle definition in his chest was apparent even through the material. He looked to be about 5’10” from her vantage point but even that was a good 10 inches taller than her 5’0” petite frame. For a very brief second, her mind flashed to all those interracial porno movies her husband had “hidden” in the family room, and how many times she sneaked a peek at them on Saturday mornings when he was out playing golf. She had always wanted to ask her husband why his collection of erotic material always consisted of black men with white women but she was afraid to confront him with the fact that she knew about his secret stash so she kept her mouth shut. 

“I’m not racist,” she blurted out, regretting that she hadn’t tried to start the conversation in some other way as she heard the words come out of her mouth. 

The bartender smiled, as if amused, and went back to his duties of counting liquor bottles without acknowledging her comment.

Amy felt flush, she picked up the glass of wine and held it to her lips and took a big slug. She had a slight buzz but she wanted more. She wanted to get this off her chest and it was now or never. She set the glass down and stared at it as she began telling her tale. She had been raised in a very typical Southern home without much intimate contact with anyone of color except those people she encountered at a distance in her daily transgressions. She told of how her mother always told her to treat people equally and always quoted Martin Luther King’s words to her about judging people by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. Her father wasn’t so visionary. He didn’t like anyone that didn’t look or think like him and he didn’t hide that fact. Fortunately for her, she didn’t have to deal with him that much because he was always at work so his influence on her perspective was minimal. When she went away to college, she was exposed to more people of color but she never really befriended any Black people or got to know them on a very intimate basis. By the time she was married and in the work force, she realized that Black people had the lowest paying jobs and it registered somewhere in the back of her mind that that was probably unfair, but she never questioned it, that’s just the way things were and she couldn’t do anything to change it. 

She downed the last little bit of wine and continued with her story. The hospital had just hired a new head cardiologist, a woman in fact. She was known to be the best in the business and was sure to bring a lot of positive publicity to the hospital, and good PR meant more money. More money meant better care for the patients, so Amy was excited to welcome her to the staff. All Amy had wanted to do with her life was be an RN and she prided herself with that fact that she had the best reputation for her bedside manner of any nurse in the hospital. During her first encounter with the new doctor, Amy was caught off-guard. Amy had been emptying a bed ban for one of the elderly African American patients on CICU when the doctor walked in and said, “Why are you cleaning the bedpan for a Black, get one of the orderlies to do it. Whites shouldn’t be cleaning up after a Black. Why do you think their skin is that color? So you can’t see the . . . .” Her sentence fell off to laughter, apparently thinking her joke would be funny to all. 

Amy was sick. “A Black.” The words rang in Amy’s ears. They sounded so empty, so dehumanizing when she heard the words fall from the doctors lips. Why couldn’t she have said a black patient or an African American? She was outraged that the doctor would say something so cruel, so blatantly racist, in front of a patient and she was appalled that the doctor hadn’t had any sensitivity training to know that those sorts of comments were inappropriate. Amy was speechless and she looked in the eyes of the patient and saw the hurt and pain that the words had caused. The doctor apparently didn’t notice the discomfort of either one of them and she checked the charts and went about her business. Amy continued on with her duties, taking extra care to provide comfort to the patient and even to sing to her to distract her from the pain, both physical and emotional.

“What do I do? If I report her, I might lose my job and if they find out that she is racist and she’s fired, then the money that she might bring to the hospital will go with her. Maybe it was a joke. Doctors just aren’t supposed to say that sort of thing. What if she treats African American patients differently than white patients?” By the time Amy had finished spilling her guts; she was breathless and in tears and rambling on in disconnected sentences. 

The bartender had made his way to the other side of the bar and sat himself next to her. He listened intently to the story and made copious notes on a napkin. He placed his hand on Amy’s shoulder and promised her that everything would be okay. Amy looked at him with a puzzled look on her face. 

“Let me introduce myself. My name is Akil Galanta, I’m in medical school, and I just work here at nights because it’s so slow it’s like getting paid to study. I’m going to take care of this so that this woman is dealt with in the most appropriate way. Let me do some research, contact the other hospitals that she used to work for, speak with some of the other black nurses and doctors she’s worked with to find out the real deal and I’ll make sure that your name isn’t involved in this at all. I’m going to contact the appropriate governing bodies of the hospital and you won’t have to worry about this anymore.

Amy felt relief for the first time in hours. She took a deep breath and felt the weight of his hand on her shoulder. She was electrified by his touch and the strength with which he seemed to know exactly what to do. Instinctually, she wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him, grateful that she felt like she had told the right person to handle the situation. Her joy, her relief, came out in her enthusiastic hug. He hugged her back it was more than apparent that there was some sort of chemistry going on more than just two people sharing a common agenda. 

Akil let the wait staff out and locked the door behind them. He turned down the lights in the bar and returned to Amy. He turned her barstool towards him and, without notice, he kissed her. Amy didn’t fight it for a second; she let herself go in his kiss, seduced by the feel of his full dark lips against hers, his soft tongue dancing against hers. She closed her eyes tightly and blamed it on the wine and her highly emotional state. She was allowed to have a minute of bad judgment in the arms of her sexy hero. 

Akil broke off the kiss and apologized. “I know you’re married but I was so moved by the sincerity of your feelings and your desire to do the right thing. Often times, white people let this sort of racism go, ignore it, or agree. The fact that you were moved so strongly but her outrageous behavior means you are willing to dismantle your perception of white superiority. That’s sexy. At least to me it is.”

Amy only heard every other word; she was so turned on that she couldn’t grasp all of what Akil was saying. She was caught up in the fact that her son was older than Akil and that her husband was probably waiting for her to walk through the door any second, maybe even watching his porn collection in her absence. She was distracted with this lack of morality she felt and how much she wanted him to take things further. She couldn’t get over the fact that this very sexy young Black man found her attractive. Sure, she knew she was attractive for her age and that she kept herself in good shape, but she never expected that she would be the object of desire from a gorgeous black man, let alone one young enough to be her son. 

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