Who Taught You?

Joel Worford

            Blind dates: perfect. Skip the courting process, get right to the action. A Romantic? Some would say the opposite. Truthfully—texting and snapchat: hate them. Courtship, not so much.

            “People don’t talk in person anymore, all they do is text and tweet and snap. Talking? A lost art.”

             Rant? Not so much. Black people don’t rant to white people. Knows that. Said it to her real cool like. Didn’t really matter to him anyways. Passing thought, just grabbed his mouth’s attention. Grabbed his mouth’s attention a few times actually. Probably why she set him up.

            Dress shirt and tight black jeans. Chain hanging down low—loops up, front pocket. Skater kids in middle school. Made all the girls swoon. Feels ridiculous. Off before she arrives.

            Hair long and relaxed. Not an Afro. No more Afro. Relaxed. Skin light. February shade. Good shape—only twenty-two. Already exercising. Jog, every day. Bone thin.

            Pregame: Miles Davis. Milestones. Thought he could elevate, transcend. Channel ancestors. Invented cool. She can’t take that. No matter what. None of them could take that.

            The last girl almost did. White skin, she had soul. Marvin Gaye, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, Viola Davis. She had soul. She almost took it. She almost took it with her. Never again.

            It’s 6:50pm. Gentlemen arrive early. Pops taught real well. Going to pull out the chair. Going to pay. Restaurant lights, dim. Soft rock—background. Fleetwood Mac. Tusk, deep cut, guitar thing. White napkins on the table, place isn’t packed. Paintings on the wall. Lots of colors on them. Pops taught him well.

            Thinks he’s ugly. Overcompensates with kindness. Kindness that’s legendary. So kind—a sort of legend. He’s so kind the white girls who dump him miss him. He’s so kind, he fucks himself. Momma taught him well. White kids back in the day. Taught him well.

            A Romantic? Certainly. Excited? An understatement.

            God exists. And so does Fate.

            It’s been a while since the last time. Seven months. Four rejections. One date. Excited? An understatement.

            The waitress is staring. She’s got that look he hates. It’s 7:05. She said she’d be here. She said 7:00? Feels like a hypocrite opening the phone. 7:00.

            She’ll be there, says roommate/matchmaker person. He believes her. He trusts her. What a good friend.

            She’s right. She’s there. He sees her.

            How could she? How dare she? What an assumption.

            How dare she? Darker than him. How dare she?

            Force a smile.

            “Hi, my name is ______”

            “Hi, I’m

            Imani? Is this some kind of joke? What an assumption.

            Forgets to pull out chair. Pops would be disappointed. Will not forget to pay check. Hard to forget that one.

            Ebonics. Cocoa Butter. Afro curls. Flat nose.

            How could she? What an assumption.

            Conversation? Hopefully.

            Marvin Gaye? “All right.” Toni Morrison? “Cool.” Kendrick Lamar? “He’s okay.”

            “So what do you like?”


            “Oh, nice.”

            Could’ve been politer. Pops would be disappointed. Taught you better, boy. How to treat women. Could’ve been politer.

            She’s shy. She’s quiet. The waitress comes, looking too happy for him. They order.

            The food is slow. She studies communications. She plays golf. Collects CDs. Favorite color: Green. Favorite day of the week: Wednesday. Golf matches on Wednesdays. Favorite movie: Shawshank.

            No questions from her. Food still not ready. No questions from her.

            She’s not attracted to him? She’s not into it?

How dare she? Skin darker, nose bigger. How dare she? Hair curlier, lips larger. How dare she?

            She’s shy. He’s tired. Stops trying. Food arrives. Eat in silence. Check please. Just one. Proud Pops. Slow service. Awkward silence. No tip. You ready? Let’s go.

            Cold outside. Skyscrapers. City lights. Full moon. Lost potential. Wave goodbye. Walk home. How dare she? Brown couch. Awkward silence. Good time? How dare you?? Can’t ask. Good time. Awkward silence. Guilt.


            Momma. Pops. Kids back in the day. Taught him well. Kids back in the day.

            Kids back in the day taught him well.

            Momma. Pops. Taught him well.

            Momma. Pops.

            Kids back in the day.

            Taught him well.

Joel Worford is an African-American writer and musician from Richmond, VA. His short fiction appears in Random Sample Review, High Shelf Press, Good Works Review, The Bookends Review, and more. Joel is the 2018 recipient of Longwood University’s Outstanding Creative Writing Student Book Award, and in 2019, received a Best of the Net nomination for his short story, “The Warning Sign.” His original music project, Whitney & The Saying Goes, released their debut album in the Spring of 2021. Joel enjoys music, literature, and tennis.

The author and the editors encourage readers to donate to NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund here.