The man in the coffee shop

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I’m in a coffee shop. There’s a man at the counter talking at the barista. Not talking to. Talking at. He’s African-American, with a backpack, green pants, a brown jacket. He’s young. Maybe 30. He just said this …

“If you are black and you are a marine, you’re a nigger. I don’t want to be a nigger anymore. I fought for my country. And I don’t have the same rights as you. You’re white. You haven’t fought anyone. You haven’t lost any of your friends. I don’t understand why I’m not American and why you are. I have fought, I have killed, I’ve lost my friends. That’s a scary thing.”

This is the second day in a row where I’ve thought I might get shot in a workplace. The man just apologized to the barista for scaring her. He continued: “A lot of people don’t realize what happens in the world. People are assholes. Americans are assholes. I hate to say it, but it’s true.”

He is talking. He seems off. I want to embrace him; to invite him to sit down for a cup of coffee. But I am, to be honest, intimidated. One eye on the counter. The barista is trying to chat with him. It’s not going well. He’s on edge. Edgy. “We’re all grunts. All of us.”