I met BO today. I had been sitting listening in an audience to one of Chicago’s finest economists argue with Joe the plumber about the American economy and its fundamentals. The debate was taking place in one of the rooms of the City Hall. Sonya and I sat together somewhere near the back of the room, ready to make our escape as soon as the debate ended, before the doors became jam packed. I turned and realised that sitting to my right was BO, the Illinois senator who had been running for POTUS and who had actually won, I was shocked that anyone could concentrate on J. the plumber's intellectually shallow arguments that Prof Segae was patiently trying to dispute when the president-elect was sitting in the same room. Or maybe they just hadn’t noticed yet. Behind our row sat a couple of men in loud Hawaii Shirts- they were not your typical layabouts, but they did not strike me as people attending this event for the intellectual stimulus. Immediately I guessed, they were Barack’s security detail - so obviously did they stick out.
When the debate started to wind down, Barack left the hall and I immediately followed. There was no way on earth I was going to let him go and not have shaken his hands and told him what a profound influence he was having on my life. He was really friendly and when I told him that Sonya and I were on a working visit here (she had joined me in the entrance hall), he asked if I knew Chicago. I said no, this is my first visit here. This hall is the only place I know here. Actually, I was planning to do a bit of sightseeing after the opening address. I ignored Sonya's look of astonishment - we were both so jetlagged that we had planned to head off to bed after the opening address. She waved goodbye and headed to the close-by four seasons hotel where we were lodged.
Could you recommend any particular spots for sightseeing? I asked Barack. He looked at me and said, well the History Museum - really teaches a lot Chicago’s history. You know what, I'm headed downtown now, why don't you come along and I'll show you around. I was so awe-struck as I gladly (whaddya expect!!!) accepted the offer. We started to walk off getting into conversation about mundane things. At the next traffic light, he hurriedly turned right into the huge mass of people - I had to almost run to keep up. Why did I get the feeling he was trying to shake off his bodyguards? Well probably because that’s exactly what he was trying to do. After we had turned a few corners, the crowd thinned out, and there was no Barack bodyguard around - at least none recognisable as such to me. He had relaxed visibly and took deliberate slow steps - well as slow as you can go when you have such long legs. I still had to go at double my normal pace to keep up.
We entered the gates into the grounds of the museum, you could see the instant recognition, but people gave him his space still. Amazing. As we went from room to room, he pointed out various exhibits to me and filled me up a bit on the history of the city. After about an hour, we stopped at the cafe, to get a small snack. I was amused to see that they had apple strudel on offer; I decided to see what a Chicago strudel tasted like. B just had a soymilk coffee. It felt so unbelievable to me to be sitting here with Barack Obama, having a coffee and talking about God and the world - surely, only in America.
When we left the small snack bar, after him giving the waitress, who had looked at us with intense curiosity, an autograph in addition to a fat tip, we got on the escalator, taking us to the lower levels of the building. Gentleman that he is, he let me get on first. I was surprised that he got on directly behind me though. I leaned back into him, enjoying the feeling - trying not to think what the heck was going on. I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the eye - how many other women get a chance to lean on Barack Obama? As I savoured the safe feeling of a strong man’s chest, I was brought jarringly back to earth by a voice, standing directly beside me, asking BO about how he felt being constantly described as African-American, when in fact he was biracial.
I turned slightly, and saw her then - a pretty, obviously biracial woman with hazel eyes, and light brown spring curls held back by an Alice-band. At least she’d be pretty if she lost that maniacal racial activist fervour in her eyes. She explained she was from South Africa in this lovely lilting voice and that even during apartheid, there was a separate racial category, just for people like her. I stood there thinking, how fucked up some people are. We had gotten to the bottom of the elevator, and I stood and listened as Barack explained to her why we shouldn’t worry about the boxes people try to put us in since they were never accurate and could never really define a person, his experiences and world view with any sort of accuracy.
We said byes and were about heading into the next exhibition room, when a PA announcement about an immediate evacuation due to a bomb scare came through. Oh shit, this was going to make the news. I could already see the breaking news headlines: ‘BO out with a strange woman at the Chicago History museum during a bomb scare’. I mentally prepared myself for the barrage.
Sure enough, as we got into the entrance hall of the building, there were on the left TV cameras, on the right, yep, the evaded bodyguards, but now they had their suits on. Sitting in the middle, as though presiding over the occasion was Michelle Obama as nicely coiffured as ever, flanked by Sasha and Malia on both sides. BO refused to answer any questions and I was about to follow suit. Until that is, the dreaded question came flying through the mike, straight at me. What is your name and are you mister Obama’s lover. I stopped and ignoring the first part of the question said – don’t be ridiculous, everyone knows how deeply in love Barack and his wife are and how happy they are together. I then turned to Michelle and asked her if I was wrong - she gave me a hi5 and said of course you are right sweetie. Don’t mind the press guys always looking for a piece of a juicy story.
The press guys were disappointed especially when they were whisked many meters from the candidate and his family by the security operatives. Since the bomb scare was called off and people immediately allowed back in, I realised it probably had been a ploy to get us out of the museum. Meanwhile, little Sasha had walked up to Barack while this was going on and demanded to see her little sibling again. Barack bent towards her and showed her his flag pin. I thought that was quite odd.
I walked up to Michelle and told her how much of an admirer of hers I was. She smiled and we engaged in small talk. Then Barack said it was time to go he said a quick goodbye, nice meeting you to me. He then headed outside, presumably for the waiting armoured black SUV that I had seen through the windows as we entered the entrance hall. I turned to Michelle to say goodbye and was washed in her icy gaze. She turned to one of their staff - "find out how much and compensate her". She then walked off to join her family without saying a word to me! That hi5 had just been for show - she didn't believe there was nothing between Barack and I!!!!
Then I woke up.