By Thomas Chatterton Williams
July 27, 2016
Several times a week, I do my shopping at a small supermarket. Over the four years I’ve been their customer, Kara and Franck, the affable clerks who staff the checkout, and I have developed a cordial rapport. Kara, an obviously mixed black-and-Arab man from Morocco, who works six days a week to support his three children, often asks me to confirm his fantastic theories about America. He is convinced, for one thing, that it is a place where life is easy and anything you can dream of can be had at a bargain. It torments him to know that once, on a trip back to the States, I bought an “I ♥ NYC” T-shirt for Franck’s nephew, and he has made me swear to warn him before I go back. He would like a pair of suede Clark’s boots, he tells me, and a fur-trimmed parka like the one I am wearing. He estimates that all this should cost no more than 50 euros. I assure him I will keep my eyes open, and both he and Franck repay me for this infinitesimal kindness by waiving the fee for plastic bags and charging me the room-temperature rate for the beers I remove from the cooler. “Tu es mon ami, Tom,” Franck smiles when I thank him. “This is nothing.” Franck, jet-black and with bloodshot eyes and a demeanor that vacillates between morose and ebullient, sometimes within the parameters of a single conversation, one day reveals to me that he is a refugee from war-torn Ivory Coast, one of the most dangerous countries on the planet. It is his life’s great fortune, he tells me, to be working at this discount supermarket in Paris.
Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of a memoir, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd. He lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.
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