Colored Tips

“We are expecting a massive influx of guests at breakfast tomorrow,” Todd announced emerging from a narrow doorway labeled, “STAFF ONLY.” In front of him, an assortment of vessels lined the perimeter of a large round silver table: Two flasks were brimming with hot black coffee. Another held hot water. Next to them, a pitcher sat ready to dispense iced coffee while another waited with iced water. Keeping the liquid-holders company were multifarious sachets of tea, a small jug of half & half, drinking straws and a pack of napkins. From the center of the massive table, a towering green, red, and white artificial flower in a rustic vase overlooked its neighbors.

Image courtesy of Food & Wine Magazine

“What’s the occasion?” asked Greg pausing from wiping one of the smaller tables that filled the rest of the hall.

“It’s some university admissions event,” Tush offered as he switched off the forty-two-inch TV set, mounted on one of the walls. Opposite this wall, a small section was cut off the main hall forming a corridor-like area where guests self-served a variety of foods before heading to sit at the tables. Concealed steaming hot water kept cooked food warm. Sausages, scrambled eggs, bacon, and macaroni and cheese were regular dishes. Next to these, muffins, doughnuts, and loaves of bread lay in wait to gratify the appetites of pastry lovers. On the opposite side, waffle batter, oatmeal, and various condiments claimed territory. Three waffle makers, a toaster, a fridge full of perishable foods, as well as plates and cutlery ensured guests’ convenience. In contrast to everything else, the number and type of fruits was thin on the ground.

The egg station, where guests could order their eggs fried over easy, medium or hard, was at the end of this corridor-like section.

From the top center of the wall directly opposite the narrow “STAFF ONLY” doorway, a huge analogue clock stared down. The hour hand and the minute hand made a perfect right angle. 9:30 am. The longer of the two hands would barely have moved before Tush’s worldview would be shattered. He who preferred seeing the glass as half full, obdurately fixing his eyes on the filled section even when the empty part of the container called him by name, was about to question this long-held stance. On multiple occasions, a fleeting thought that he was burying his head in the sand crossed his mind. But he quickly admonished himself.

Today was a new day.

Tush and Greg converged next to their boss, Todd, who was helping himself to a cup of coffee.

“That’s right,” Todd confirmed Tush’s answer. “The two of you will work together at the egg station,” he continued as he stirred cream and sugar into his coffee.

 “Great!” Exclaimed Greg, “I know I am assured of tips if I work with Tush! Somehow, he gets so much!” An exuberant grin spread across his face.

 “Of course, he gets so much!” said Todd with a smirk. “He needs the money!”

Greg’s smile faded as his eyes fell to his shoes, his mouth parting a little.

His chest tightening, Tush’s mind raced. Todd’s and Greg’s voices faded as he harked back to previous comparable encounters.

Outside a church in Michigan, a female worshipper politely pointed out that Tush was the blemish in the white congregation.

At lunch at a common room in a housing coop, the janitor, overhearing a conversation between Tush and his housemates, sought to adroitly educate Tush’s white mates about the barbarism of Tush’s black background.

Over a phone call, a friend recounted how on numerous occasions she had been spoken down to at cafes and other places…

“That is so freaking bigoted!” Tush wanted to scream.

For a brief moment, he thought he felt his face become a shade darker.

What says, ‘I need money’ on me? He mused as his eyes searched Greg’s features. At an inch or two taller than his workmate and more or less a similar thin but fit body build, the only difference he could see between Greg and himself was a tummy that could potentially drag his co-worker out of shape soon if nothing was done. 

“So, my skin color sets me apart in this “equal opportunity employer” premises, huh?” He wanted to yell what he had always known but had never wanted to admit.

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“That is it!” he suddenly bellowed.

“What!?” said both Todd and Gregg in unison, apprehension written all over their furrowed faces.

“Excuse me, boss,” Tush said. He sounded much calmer now, but he felt as though he would explode with range. “I am just wondering what you mean when you say I need the money.” He could barely recognize his own voice. Though calm, it sounded so cold he worried his larynx might be frozen.

“What…? Oh, nno… nothing…I mean you need money. Do you need money?” Todd was turning red.

“Doesn’t everyone?” Tush fought to remain calm as bile boiled inside him.

“It’s… it’s our clientele. It’s based on our clientele. They think you need money. It’s not me.”

Tush knew his point was home. He didn’t pursue the matter any further. Turning his back on his workmate who was tightly clutching a mug of coffee and his ever-reddening boss, Tush disappeared through the “STAFF ONLY” labeled doorway. He had made a decision. Henceforth, for better or worse, he would open his eyes to both the full and the empty parts of the glass. Denying hard truths had cost him enough.

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