You Can Call Me Lily

It was now or never. And while never seemed like the most comfortable choice, now was the only choice that could incite progress. This was the time for me to do my part to bring in a new era of respect and equality for my people. I would walk into this office, smile pleasantly, hand them my résumé with confidence and request an interview.

The receptionist looked up and gave me a puzzled look as I stepped through the door. “Are you the new cleanin’ lady? You’re supposed to enter through the side. The front door is only for…” She paused. “…clients and employees of the office.”

Lady, do I look like I’m dressed to be your cleaning lady?I breathed deeply and smiled at her. No one said this was going to be easy. As a matter of fact, just about everyone I know said that it was going to be one of the hardest things I had ever done in my life. So I couldn’t let the first encounter break me.

“Hi, ma’am. No, I’m actually not the new cleaning lady. I saw you all were hiring for office assistants and I just wanted to bring my résumé by and see if I could have an interview.”

Her face slowly contorted until it looked like she had just seen a dog take a shit all over a plate of oxtail and rice that she was about to dig into.

“You have to have a college degree to work here. Sorry.”

“Yes ma’am, well, if you take a look at my resume”—I reached out to hand the papers over to her; grimacing, the receptionist pinched them between her thumb and index finger—”you’ll see that I have two bachelor’s degrees.”

She held the papers up and scrunched her nose as she examined them. It became really quiet for maybe only a minute, but it felt like hours. Finally, she placed the résumé back down.

“Do you have proof of your so-called degrees? We don’t take no lyin’ niggas here, you know. So don’t come in here thinkin’ you’re gonna cheat yourself into a job. Damn negroes tryna get in where they don’t belong. What is this world coming to?”

Her rant was so unnecessary.

“I have letters signed from the deans of my school right here as well as my diplomas and official transcripts.” I motioned to the folder in my hand. Momma said they weren’t gonna believe a little negro girl like me had a college education without documents, so I was well-prepared.


“Could I maybe speak to someone in charge?”

Eyes rolling, the receptionist picked up the phone and began to dial a number “I’ll see what I can do.”

I walked over to the couches in the lobby and plopped down. I had a feeling this was going to take a while. As she talked on the phone, I could hear snippets of her conversation telling whoever she was on the phone with that I was a negro, something about a disgrace, spoiling everything and taking over the world.

Breathe. She can’t do anything to you.

Who am I kidding, she could’ve made up some story about me and they would’ve believed her—of course—and then I wouldn’t have had a chance to get the job, or even worse, they would’ve call the police. My heart started to beat faster. Oh, God, I hope you hear me.  I’m so nervous right now. It feels like my intestines are in the middle of an aerobic workout. It’s crazy that I’m here right now, trying to get a job here!

Okay, I really need to breathe. Breathe in deeply. Breathe out. You got this.

The sound of a phone slamming in its cradle made me jump, and as I glanced up, the receptionist turned around looked at me. She said nothing.

Is this lady for real?

“Ma’am, will someone be coming to meet with me?”

“Yes… girl,” she drawled. “Now you have to wait. You don’t get special privileges because you’re a negro. You want to be equal, you wait just like everybody else.” Her body whipped around as if she couldn’t spend another moment looking at me.

Again, she really was very unnecessary, and who did she think she was to talk to me that way?

“Thank you.”

I could wait. I was sure they were busy in meetings, and not prepared for someone like me to come walking in here asking for a job interview. A lot of people weren’t happy about the recent Civil Rights Act, but that was fine. It didn’t mean we had to back down.

An hour passed. People walked through the lobby, some of them occasionally glancing at me, most of them very visibly pretending I didn’t exist.

Two hours passed. The receptionist occasionally threw me a nasty look and gossiped with whoever came to her desk. Often, their conversation included her and the other person glancing back at me and then snickering.  I felt my temper rising slowly.

Three hours gone. I heard a low rumbling that I thought was thunder, but when my ears followed the source of the noise, I realized it was my stomach. I thought I would be long finished by this time and could eat out. I didn’t pack any lunch.

Five hours. It felt like the Sahara Desert had expanded its way into my mouth, down my throat, and through my stomach. Dry and empty.

“Ma’am,” I called out to the receptionist, “could you remind someone that I’m still here?”

“Oh, they know.” She curtly turned back to her work.

Six hours! I had to use the bathroom. “Excuse me, ma’am–”

“Look! I said wait and someone would come for you.  You can’t work here if you can’t even listen to simple instructions. I don’t get it! Why are you here? You know, you people really need to get a grip and understand your place. You all act like you’re entitled to something. We didn’t enslave you. You were born a free person in America. Slavery has been abolished since Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. Now you people are tryna live in our neighborhoods, work our jobs, go to our schools. You aren’t entitled to our stuff!”

“I just want to know where the bathroom is.”

Your bathroom is in the basement,” she said, pointing to a door at the end of the hallway.

I was about to object, but I thought better of it.

Gingerly, I made my way to the door and down the basement stairs. The fluorescent lightbulbs of the low ceiling flickered a little, but it was otherwise well lit.

The basement was pretty clean, not that it surprised me. If the cleaning ladies used this bathroom, it was sure to be the cleanest place in the building.  As I approached, I heard a large thump in the supply closet behind me and froze.

I really needed to use the bathroom, but I wasn’t trying to be murdered by some crazy person/demon/spirit or whatever was in that closet. Maybe it was just a mop or broom. I didn’t hear anything else after the thump. Well, I would just quickly go use the bathroom and head back upstairs. There was no need to open up that door anyway.

When I finished my business, I washed my face, dried it, and re-applied my lotion, in an effort to look refreshed when they finally came out to meet me. As I closed the bathroom door behind me and begin to walk past the supply closet and toward the steps, the door burst open and I was tackled to the ground by a flailing mess of hands and legs. I would have screamed, but the breath was completely knocked out of me. The most I could manage was a squeak.

Oh no. These people were going to kill me. I started praying really fast.

“OMG, I’m soooooooo sorry! This stupid machine just threw me out of it, I didn’t think someone was going to be there. Are you okay?”

My attacker had untangled her limbs and stood up straight over me with a hand outstretched. I took it, got up, and dusted myself off. I wasn’t going to die… yet. I looked up at the stranger. Her hair was an expansive mass of naps and curls. She had on a purple t-shirt with the words “Black Girl Magic” and a pair of tight-fitting jeans. She seemed to be about my age, but she looked different, weird and out of place.

“Who are you? And what were you doing in the closet?!”

“Oh, we’re getting straight to the core, huh? Well hi, my name is Kassidy, I’m from the future. The year 2019 to be exact.”

I snorted. Oh great, I ran into a crazy black girl. I wondered if this was the cleaning lady. No. No way. “From the future? You’re just tryna be funny, you could have hurt me pretty bad with your antics. Now be serious.”

“I am serious!” She opened up the closet door and pointed to some person-sized contraption inside that had numbers, like a timer, and blue and purple glowing liquid lights.

I gasped and whisper-shouted, “Is that a bomb? Are you trying to blow up this place? Are you trying to get us killed, to get our families lynched? Oh my Lord, are you insane?!”

“It is not a bomb!” she whispered-shouted back. “It’s my time machine. I’m from the future! And why are we whispering all of a sudden?”

“Because you have a bomb!”

“I don’t have a—” She paused, then resumed in her normal voice: “I don’t have a—” Pausing again, she lowered her voice back down. “—bomb. It’s a time machine!”

“Well, you and your bomb/time machine can just stay down here and not interfere with my job interview.”

“Wait. I’m gonna be here for a while, until my time machine recharges. Could you let me know where the nearest hotel is?”

“Honey, ain’t nobody gonna let you stay in their hotel.” I paused. “If you’re going to be here for only a little bit, I could use a temporary roommate. But don’t you act crazy! I’ll kick you out real quick.”

“I’m the sanest person I know. I’ll be on my best behavior.”

“For some reason, that doesn’t sound extremely comforting. But whatever. Just stay down here till my interview is over. “

“Okay, what time is the interview?”

“It was six and a half hours ago, but I’ve been waiting patiently. I did walk in and I’m probably the first black person that ever applied for an office position here. So I figure it’s worth the wait.

“Wait, you mean to tell me you’ve been waitingover six hoursto have an interview with these people? That’s crazy! Who’s in charge here?”

She marched up the stairs so fast, it was difficult to keep up.

“No, wait! Where are you going? You shouldn’t go up there!”

If they saw her, I definitely wouldn’t get a job.

By the time I caught up with her in the lobby, she was already inches away from the reception desk, getting ready to address the receptionist and her icy glare.

“Excuse me, but my friend has been waiting here for over six hours to talk to someone about an interview. What is taking so long, you mean to tell me that no one has been available all day?”

“Excuse you. We are a busy law firm, now go along, girl. Your friend missed her interview. They came to talk to her when she was in the bathroom, but apparently, she was too busy picking you up from whatever corner you live on. As I said, niggas don’t get no special treatment. She missed her chance. Now git!”

“Hold up! Who the heck are you calling a nigga?! That is racist! You can’t talk to me like that.”

“And who is stopping me?”

I knew I should do something to intervene, but a part of me was so enchanted, enthralled by this girl’s attitude. I mean, she was acting like… I don’t know. But she seemed rather surprised at the receptionist’s racism. I didn’t believe she was from the future, but she definitely wasn’t from around here. Maybe she was visiting from another country—she did talk a bit differently, and she was dressed a little strange.

By now, the receptionist and Kassidy’s argument had escalated to a shouting match. All of a sudden, the receptionist was on the phone calling for what definitely sounded like security. Oh no, we needed to go.

“Go ahead, call security, call the police, I’m gonna make sure they know how racist you are. Call your bosses too.” She was shouting and everyone was starting to come out of the office. It was becoming a big scene and other people started yelling at us to get out.

I put my head in my hands. This was not going well. I grabbed her hand and tried to pull her away from the desk. She was strong, but I was stronger.

“Let’s go!”

“But wait!”

“No! We have to go now!” I gave her one hard yank that sent us flying into someone and toppling onto the ground with them.

“Oh my! I’m so sorry!” I hopped up quickly, dusting myself off to face the poor victim and turned around to find myself staring into the cold hard blue eyes of a police officer.


Kassidy argued with the cops as they arrested us, and as we were walked up to the station from the police car, a golf ball “accidentally” hit Kassidy in the head and knocked her out. The police said they didn’t see anyone throw the ball so there was nothing they could do. They figured it just fell off the roof or somethin’. I knew it ain’t fall off no damn roof. But what could I do?

They pushed me into the cell and I almost fell as they dropped Kassidy into my arms.  I half-dragged her over to the corner, sat down and laid her on the ground with her head in my lap. I wasn’t sure how long we’d be here. But at least she was quiet for a while. If I could just get us out of here before she wakes up and starts making a fuss again, that would be great.

Who would have ever thought this day would have ended up like this? I left my house this morning, ready to take on the world, be a changemaker, fight for progress in my own way and I end up in a jail cell with a complete stranger who may or may not be crazy and who thinks she’s from the future. Scratch that. She is absolutely nuts!

She stirred slightly and released a quiet moan.

“If you’re waking up, keep your mouth shut. I’m not trying to end up in a ditch or hanging on a tree on account of your yapping.”

She looked up at me abruptly with a spark of fear in her eyes at first, and then her eyes widened in realization as she remembered what happened and where we were. She sat up and rubbed her head where the ball had hit her.

“We’re in jail!! This is crazy!”

“Quiet down! No, it’s not crazy. This is America. What’s crazy is that you thought you could go shouting at that receptionist like you’re one of them. Are you from another country? Didn’t anyone tell you about what being black in America means? I don’t know where you came from, but wherever it is, don’t think you can do the same thing here that you do there. Now really, what were you doing in that supply closet?”

“I told you, I’m from the future. I’m American. I’m not from any place other than here.”

“Then you’re a nutjob. I think I have to rescind my offer of staying in my apartment if we ever get out of here.”

“I’m not crazy! I am from the future. Look at this!” She reached in her pocket casually and then frantically. “Oh shit, where is my cell phone?”

“You’re what?”

“My cell phone!” she paused and looked at me curiously, “It’s like a telephone, but I carry it around with me, it’s small and rectangular.”

She really was talking crazy. “A small rectangular phone you carry around with you? I assume in your pocket, huh? Hmph. Now it’s conveniently lost? You’re really out there with these stories.”

“I’m not wildin! I’m serious!”

“You’re not what?”

Kassidy waved her hand dismissively, “Never mind. What year is it?  And what’s your name, anyway?”

“It’s 1965 and my name is Corah Lilyhope Jacobs. But I guess you can call me Lily.”