I’m lucky if I go a week without being asked this question. Every encounter, depending on how exhausted I am, is an opportunity to make life considerably difficult for the person asking; to thread together a character hell-bent on denying any opportunity to satiate their curiosity.
Hugged by the questionably warm air of Town Hall station, I peered over the ledge watching families of rats on their home commute, weaving in, out and under tracks and old coffee cups. Transfixed by this cocktail of disgust and awe I didn’t see the figure approach until it’s—his— shadow replaced the glaring translucent light.
I could hear it in the way his phlegm parted, in the way his eyes scrunched, pulling is eyebrows into the mystery, how his body lacked all signs of discomfort or sense of imposition.
With a blink, the decision was made, I would become the round peg for the square hole he hoped to slot me into.
“Where are you from?” His mouth flexed and stretched to fit his Irish accent.
Told ya—Bingo! Snap! UNO!
Whatever the game was—I’d won... where did I collect my prize?
“I was born here” (lie #1)
Already thrown off course, what happens now?
A brown body... that was born here... 404 Error/ Page Not Found.
“… are you Aboriginal?”
Was this 20 questions?
He had 17 left. You could see Ethnic Guess Who ™️ whirring in his mind, tossing up what questions would give him the answers he wanted—light bulb!
“So where’s your ancestry from”
“My parents were born here” (lie #2)
“What about BEFORE that?”
“Well… The UK” (lie #3)
15 left. At this point I started questioning whether he was THE Bureau of Statistics—the census is the only thing with this much assumed right to my genealogy!
He was stumped. I didn’t think I was throwing substantial spanners into his machinery—these were largely documented realities, not mine, but nevertheless valid.
Concerned, he bored into my eyes, holding space for the revelation he was about to impart:
“Do you know about your African heritage?”
14 left. It took everything within me not to burst out laughing.
Where the fuck was my train? Delayed City Rail was enabling this behaviour.
“What do you mean African Heritage? I thought, *insert Soulja Boy meme* Me, African?!”
All these and many other responses circled my mind. I dug deep and tapped into my inner Meryl Streep/ Bono/ Book of Mormon missionary:
“Well I guess we all are, aren’t we.”
He then generously shared his Blumenbach-era observations of archetypal African phenotypes
The way their noses *abstract gesture over face*, their hair
I try and guess with Taxi drivers—it keeps my mind nimble…”
My delayed train was now 2 minutes away— it was now my chance.
“So, where are you from?”
“Oh, I’ve been here for 5 years!”
The train, finally.
Standing inside the carriage wishing the rats to crawl back up and chew his face off, I was reminded that even with three times the amount of years clocked on this country, no matter how diligently I ironed out my accent and erased my mother tongue, he would always have more right to tell me who or what I was, than I ever would.
Doors closing, please stand clear.