“Nice doing business with you,” I say, taking his jersey in one hand and giving him mine with the other. The aroma of whatever laundry detergent he used mingles with the scent of my now frigid vanilla coffee.
He grins, swinging the comically large white jersey over his shoulder. My jersey fit me like a dress, and so when he asked to trade jerseys and participate in the tradition of trading with the competitors from other countries, I was more than willing to oblige.
Unsure of what to do next, I stick my hand out. We shake hands, and for the first time in the three days we had spent competing and getting to know each other, he seems taken aback. He drops my hand.
“What? Is everything alright?”
He nods. “Yes. Only…you have a strong grip, for a lady.” He wrings out his hand and laughs a little. I laugh too. Of all the new and bizarre things I’ve heard some of the foreign athletes say, this is by far the strangest.
“I’m sorry,” he says mid-laugh, Namibian accent gently coating his words. “It’s just that girls I know shake hands like this.” He takes my hand once more and shakes it – this time, with a weak effort that barely grazes my fingertips, a simpering look on his face. I laugh again.
“Do all girls in America shake hands like you?”
I shrug. His eyes narrow and he tilts his head, eyebrows knit. “I mean, I guess.” I pause. “You’re taught to have a firm, assertive handshake. For business, politics, that sort of thing.”
He raises his eyebrows. “Ay! Politics! Why would a nice girl like you want to get mixed up in a mess like that?”
I smile and look down at the concrete underneath the white soles of my Converse. It has been a long day full of questions like these. The face of the boy from earlier, the one who had said I was “good for a girl”, still burns in my brain. I breathe. My feet are sore and my bones are ancient cathedrals. Crumbling, wasting, weary. Still, I look up.
“That’s a good question,” I say at last. “Maybe I could clean things up a little.”
He nods thoughtfully, and it is here that I wonder how sad it must be, to not know girls with big dreams and firm handshakes.