Hollywood Costumes, owned by Theresa's family, stood as a landmark with full window displays of harem or sheikh costumes all year long. During Halloween season, I noticed that she missed a few days of school to help out.
On an October afternoon, while waiting for my bus to take me home, at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Western, a police car with a siren chased a car to the bus stop, and demanded that the young black couple leave the car and get down on the pavement as the car was being searched thoroughly I caught the eyes of the well dressed couple for a moment.
Confused, not sure what it was I was observing, not sure when and if the bus could stop in its usual place, not sure I should remain in that spot, I walked to the store on Hollywood Boulevard where Theresa would be working.
When I got to the store, I called home to tell my family I was going to be late because of a bus delay and police action at the bus stop.
It was my first time at the store, and it was ready for Halloween. Many costumes had been taken out of storage and displayed prominently. It was still early afternoon, the place had not yet been invaded with crowds searching for the perfect costume to wear at a Halloween Party, and Theresa was happy to see me. We had some refreshments as she explained how she had to miss school before Halloween, and walked around the place finishing up different tasks.
I told her about the incident at the bus and how I was just buying some time.
‘Don’t worry, it does not happen that often.”
“What does not happen?
“We don’t see many black people in Hollywood, that’s all”.
I had not been very observant, I realized. I had not noticed anything much. I didn't even know that these costume places would be so popular that would cause her to miss school during this season.
I asked about this Halloween celebration. It was not a holiday I was familiar with. We knew about Mardi Gras celebration sometimes in February or so ; All Saints and All Dead Days celebrated at the end of October, first day of November, but not this Halloween. She explained that for this occasion, the family had spent months preparing costumes and accessories. For this weekend alone, the store would make enough business to carry it throughout the year.
I admired the veils and jingly bracelets, the harem costumes, tops like a bikini, bottoms like loose pajamas, low on the hips, skimming down the legs to the ankles, opening to reveal the legs from the top of the hip bone. First, I tried the bracelets, then the pantaloons under my plaid skirt, finally, the top under my shirt, and over my bras.
Theresa showed me how the full costume looked. I began to slip the skirt off to see how it made a difference.
In the mirror, we looked transported, our luscious chestnut brown hair rippling over our bare shoulders, bare legs showing under transparent pantaloons, veils skimming the brows. We did not look anything like the girls we knew.
The bracelets were begging to be jingled.
Theresa turned on the music and began swaying her hips, playing with the veils, kicking the pantaloons so the leg would show for an instant. Slowly, then more animated, she seemed transported by the strange music. I felt the urge to dance too.
Soon, we had entered another world.
We ate honey -pistachios baklava, taking one bite, circling around the floor, contented and distracted, one bite, one round, until the food was gone and the music had stopped.
Two boys came in and stopped in place, with a transfixed look in their eyes, staring for a while, until Theresa’s aunt appeared from the back room and broke the spell.
I had just been in a movie, in a palace with tall arches, with forbidden windows and cool breezes, each step moving to secret places and promises of joy, like Rita Hayward dancing with her seven veils.
Then, I realized time had slipped by quickly, and I changed back into my proper self, said my goodbyes, my hair back in pony tails, my eye makeup wiped off.
“What happened?” Uncle inquired when I got home.
“The bus never came. I had an hour’s wait.A traffic problem, I guess.”