Mobile, Alabama—a hotel. Early evening. I register at the front desk. Tonight, I am a pilgrim, looking for a room and a hot meal.
The hotel is overrun with folks in brightly colored West African attire. I’ve never seen so many ornate outfits in all my life—and I’ve been to Branson.
“What’s going on tonight?” I ask the clerk behind the desk.
“A Nigerian wedding,” he says. “Hotel’s almost completely booked.”
He hands me my room key and says: “Enjoy your stay.” He blows a bubble with his bubblegum.
I wait for the elevator beside three elegant black women wearing gold turbans. Their evening gowns are magnificent. Their heels are six inches tall.
I compliment their turbans.
They giggle. “These are not turbans,” one woman says. “We call them ‘geles.’”
My people do not go for elaborate headwear. I was raised evangelical. Our wedding attire consists of earth-tones, penny loafers, and SEC neckties.
I ride the elevator with my new friends. They fill the elevator with laughter, exotic words, and unique perfume.
One young woman asks me, “You are a cowboy, sir? No?”
“No ma’am. Baptist.”
“But your boots. Americans who wear boots are cowboys, no?”
I glance at my ugly kicks. “No, these are just plain-old redneck shoes.”
When I reach the fifth floor, I pass more Nigerians in the hall. These are happy people with big personalities. Suddenly I feel very sorry that I did not grow up somewhere exotic.
Because the weddings of my childhood were not exotic. They were dry affairs in chapels full of people whose idea of a “good time” was watching Lawrence Welk and eating leftover pear salad. My cousin, Alberta, would sing, “Morning Has Broken,” and we would eat fried chicken in the fellowship hall. The end.
I arrive at my room, located at the end of the hall. I set my bags on the floor. I dig a key from my pocket. I swipe it. I open the door.
I’m exhausted from a full day of working and driving. I could use a cold beverage, a hot shower, and maybe some Lawrence Welk.
I collapse on the bed. But there is something wrong. Something is hanging on my bedside lampshade.
“Now just what is that?” I am thinking.
It is a brassiere. A very large brassiere.
Then, I hear a toilet flush. I see unfamiliar luggage in the corner. I hear someone blow their nose. Help me Jesus.
A woman screams. I scream.
She is elderly. She is short. She is Nigerian. And she is—I’m not making this up—wearing her underwear.
“AAAAAHHHHH!” the elderly woman hollers.
“OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD!” I shout.
She flies into her bathroom and slams the door. I bolt down the hallway.
Back at the front desk, I find the clerk. I explain what happened. “There’s been a mistake,” I point out. “You gave me the wrong room.”
“You sure about that?”
“Well, let’s see, I just walked in on a sweet old lady who was wearing nothing but her dignity. Yes. I’m sure.”
He inspects his computer screen. He taps on a keyboard. And I hear the elevator ding behind me.
I see my accuser, coming toward me. Someone please shoot me.
She is white-haired, with a determined gait. She wears an African gown. She complains to the clerk in a foreign tongue. And even though I’m no world-traveler, I know cuss words when I hear them.
I fall all over myself. I try to explain how sorry I am. I don’t know how to say “sorry” in her her native tongue, so I give her a South Alabama curtsy.
But the woman’s eyes are hard. She is not amused. I don’t know what she’s thinking, but I have a feeling she’s going to chop my head off.
She stabs a finger at me and I brace myself.
“Young man,” she says. “You should at least buy me dinner before coming into my room.”
And she laughs.
So I laugh, too. And the clerk laughs. And the manager laughs. The maintenance man laughs. Three hotel maids laugh. Hallelujah. Pass the Pepto-Bismol.
And while the clerk sorts things out in the computer, the Nigerian woman and I have a nice conversation. She forgives me. We exchange hugs, even. And in her broken accent, she insists that she is very single.
She asks what I do for a living.
“I’m a writer,” I say.
“A writer?” she says. “Well, I hope you write about when you walked in on a beautiful Nigerian woman wearing her underwear.”
Write about it?
You bet your brassiere I will write about it, ma’am.