She wasn’t into Asians, she knew that much, and so for her the date was over before it even began. She met him through an online dating service that randomly pairs you with local singles. A few days ago she had sat in her apartment and filled out the questionnaire. She had typed out her name but then was hesitant. Shaniqua — she has spent her life trying to get over the implications of her name. She knew the sound of it conjured up images she wanted to ignore. To her, the name was government cheese and food stamps, hoochie-tight jeans and tramp-stamp cursive tattoos of the names of high school boyfriends. It was fake gold-plated bangles. Fried chicken and waffles and grits. It was racist to believe it, to even think it, but this was the reality of her life and so out of habit she erased the letters and typed out her middle name, Marie, instead.
Every woman has her list of deal breakers, mental tallies she keeps for reference. The longer she stays on the market, the more indignities she suffers through the course of dating, the shorter this list becomes. She had never considered herself a picky girl but there were certain standards she held herself to — not married, no kids, employed, liked animals. Really, she thought, these were mostly every woman’s standards.
However, as she stood across from her date and stared at him, this stranger, in his neatly pressed suit and collared shirt, hand already out to shake hers and take her coat and pull out her chair, to do all of the things she had been waiting for, she looked at him and thought — how could he possibly know, possibly ever understand who she was? It would never work; they could never be together. Yet, there she was. She had shaved her legs for this. She had perfumed herself up and down and painted her nails and put on stockings and high heels even though she hated both. She was wearing her best dress and had spent a good hour on her hair, washing it and straightening it with the flat-comb and curling it and bobby-pinning it up. Looking like this was a production not meant to be wasted. It had been a long while since she looked this good, and here she was setting up her hopes to meet the man of her life. Earlier that evening, she had told herself she’d give it a chance, whoever it was as long as he didn’t stand her up, but he was here and he was holding out his hand and it was only now as she looked at him that she realized what her deal breaker was, and this guy was it.
It didn’t take him long to realize she was disappointed. “Why are you here?” he asked once they had sat down.
“What do you mean?”
“It doesn’t seem like you want to be here. I was just wondering what you were expecting, and what you wanted.”
“Not sure,” she said.
“Sure enough to know you don’t want a chink,” he smiled.
“I’m sorry?” she said, taken aback. She waited for him to offer an apology or an explanation for saying such a slur. She felt offended on his behalf, and yet he just sat there smiling.
“A chink,” he said again. “Someone like me.”
That he could make a joke like that, that he was comfortable in his own skin to do it, she was so used to avoiding mentioning race in her own regard that she wasn’t sure how to respond to someone so blatantly honest about their own.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,” he said. “It’s just that I’ve been on a lot of these dates and they always go the same way. I’ll tell you what, why don’t you just be you and I’ll just me and we’ll go from there. We don’t have to fall in love. We don’t have to sleep together. We don’t even have to see each other after this, but since we’re both here we might as well have a good time. Is that alright?”
“Yes,” she said, settling in her seat. Over the course of their date she got to know him and he got to know her. He made her laugh, and she found herself suddenly becoming giddy and flush-faced with desire. The longer she sat with him, the more she imagined what was possible. Maybe she would go home with him, she thought as he reached over to touch her hand. For once in her life she would let herself go, and maybe she would be loud and lusty during sex, allowing herself be dirty, vulgar even, and she wouldn’t worry so much about her hair kinking up from the sweat, and she wouldn’t mind him touching it after, the soft thick mess of it in between his fingers. She would be different from every girl he has ever known and that would be okay. She would let him see her body, the parts of herself she was always ashamed of — the dark areolas of her breasts, the curves of her hips and thick thighs, and the ashiness of her legs and arms, the skin so dry no matter how often she lotioned, and he wouldn’t mind any of it. He would hold her and appreciate her the way she has always wanted a man to. She would let him see these imperfect parts of her, and later, both of them still dreamy and listless from the aftermath of sex, she would let him call her Shaniqua if he wanted, or Shani, the nickname her mother had given her as a child. Shani, Shani, Shani, he would whisper, like a newly formed prayer between them.