We left Vancouver well over an hour late because the plane had a slight mechanical problem which needed fixing before take off. So it was dark when we landed, Joe needed to wait for a shuttle to take him to the car, the shuttle wasn’t accessible so I had to wait in a different spot not knowing when he’d be arriving. I wasn’t in a bad mood, but I was tired. My face, at rest, looks angry. My face when I’m tired makes me look very severe. I know that. People leave me alone as a result. I’m got with that.
So, I was surprised to be spoken to.
A girl of maybe 12 or 13 was standing beside me looking at me intently. She was with her mother, who like me, was watching an unending flow of cars for one she recognized. I looked over to her, not quite hearing what she said, “Pardon me?” I asked.
“It’s not OK you know,” she said.
I didn’t know what she was talking about. “I’m sorry, what’s not OK?” She paused, took a breath and said, “The way people stare at you, it’s not OK.” I was flabbergasted. Partly because I hadn’t been noticing others noticing me, I was just looking for our car in the long line up of cars coming to the pick up area of the airport. I looked around and did notice the occasional stare or two. I didn’t know what to say to her.
“People sometimes stare and me and my mom, and it’s not OK.” She was quietly adamant. She and her mother were both people of colour and I could imagine exactly what she was talking about. I was sorry that she had had the experience of ‘othering’ that comes with being stared at.
I measured my words. My first response had been, “I’m used to it,” but that had been when she first spoke. I was not going to say to a child that hurtful behaviour becomes the norm and that one grows accustomed to it. I simply wasn’t going to say it. I couldn’t.
So, I just said, “Yes, it’s wrong. People know better.” She nodded her head, “Good, so you know,” she said.
I nodded my head and we both fell back into waiting.