(1) Songbird

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Chapter 1: Does Minimum Wage Equal Minimum Effort?

“Where did it all go wrong?”

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t ask myself that entirely fruitless question. It wasn’t because of the 2.5 GPA in high school, nor was because of my middling social career in middle school. It certainly wasn’t the fault of my parents, who did their best with the defects given to them.

I can only blame others to a point, after which it all turns into a pile of excuses.

And what is ‘it’ anyhow? The poor state of my finances? The Tinder profile of mine that collects more dust by the hour? The shitty job I’m carrying out right now, stocking the shelves of a department store electronics department for minimum wage and no benefits?

‘It’, the shitty grades,, the shitty social circle I’m a part of, the V-Card firmly sewn into my wallet and yes, my garbage job, were all a result of a singular event.

At the tender hormone doused age of 13, I committed a crime. The only thing I remember is waking up in the back of a squad car. I know what I did, of course, because that’s on my rap sheet. “Trespassing On Government Property” it says. Can’t remember why I did it for the life of me, so the plea deal they gave me was sweet.

“Tell no one else that the house is government property and we’ll cut your sentence in half.”

It made nothing but sense to sign that NDA, if I didn’t remember what I saw then why tell people that the one decrepit house of my neighborhood is owned by the feds. 13 year old me, however, had no consideration for the future. Because the crime sounds way more severe than it actually is, I just jumped a goddamn fence.

Now I can’t get a decent job, apply for a loan or get a car from any place other than the sleazy guy with a weird twitch who runs a lemon dealership disguised as a used car lot. Little ol’ me can’t even go on Facebook without seeing the nickname ‘Kid Felon’ all over the ‘Class of 27’ group.

There’s no future for me, other than that of a similarly low-paying job with no health insurance and some more bosses that couldn’t remember my name, let alone my hobbies or personality. And I’ll never know why, other than the word I apparently scribbled on my own hand, which I saw as I was being taken away by the pigs all those years ago.

“Songbird”

Realizing the futility of this soliloquy, I go back to unpacking over-packaged and under-produced $10 phone chargers and phone mounts for cars. I’ve got three more boxes to set on shelves before the hour is over, or else the closer is gonna report me to our supervisor again, so I leave the front-end counter area of electronics to walk briskly to the back, where the rest of my freight is.

*****

This is my last chance.

They’ve lost sight of me.

I don’t want to go back

I need to get out of here

He might be able to help

*****

Hauling a large box embossed with the store’s gaudy logo on the side out of the back room towards the electronics desk, I feel a small thump on my left side. Being unable to see past this stupidly overbearing box, I set it on the ground to see a small looking girl with her shiny silver hair up in a bun. Her oddly colored heterochromatic eyes meet my plain green pupils and it instantly becomes apparent that something isn’t right with her.

At first glance it seems like her skin hasn’t seen the light of day in a very long time. Paler than pale, but not sickly. “Can you help me?” she asks me bluntly, her expressionless request sending a weird tingle down my spine.

“Sorry that I ran into you kid, how can I help you today?” I respond truthfully, before returning to the tried and true script that corporate wants us to use with guests.

“Which way is the exit?” She inquires, staring at the middle of my chest with a pair of lifeless eyes and a monotone voice only a mother could love. Little brat must be tired or something.

I respond to her request by pointing to the corner of the store where the entrance and exit both sit before telling her to have a nice day. The kid then speed walks towards the exit and hopefully out of the store.

“Kids these days....” I whisper under my breath as I pick the box of freight off the ground and carry it back to the front desk of electronics. “Oh looky here, some more batteries.” I snarkily bitch at the contents of the box. Who needs a 48 pack of AA batteries?! Maybe if these were some of those obscure batteries those old ladies keep asking for their weird 70s era thermometers, then I’d be jumping for joy!

Actually, why would I be jumping for joy? Because I’d be making my corporate overlords more money by virtue of them having a better selection? Or is it that I want to genuinely help the guests who come in here, even if some of them throw racist diatribes at the nice korean lady who works the front desk of the store? Not every guest is that way, of course, but the number of comments I’ve received from people who I just want to help out has soured me on this whole humanity thing...

“What am I doing with my life?” I ask myself, understanding how pathetic that last sentence is. Then I realize something. A deep headache burrows itself inside my frontal lobe.

As I was deep in contemplative thought, discussing with myself the finer points of batteries, a pair of black eyes were stabbing themselves into my soul. After looking up from my unremarkable freight I notice a thin preteen girl with long white hair leering at me, probably angry that I hadn’t noticed her presence. It’s that same kid who nearly got knocked on their ass courtesy of yours truly.

“Are you unhappy sir?” the girl inquires, rattling my heart.

Am I unhappy? I have a roof over my head and a sweet computer at home and… what else? What do I have really? What has all of this soul-crushing work amounted to?

I am, and will always be, a nobody. A man with a zero-lined accomplishment sheet. The kinda guy to never get a Wikipedia page, let alone any amount of notoriety that leads to any kind of success. I just work electronics at a retail shit-show.

Nobody will remember me when I’m dead.

I have to do something.

I have to be something.

Why am I shaking? What am I doing? I need to follow the script.

“Wha…. How c-ca--n I-I-I he----” why can’t I talk? Her question caught me off guard? Is that it? Or was this a long time coming?

“Can you help me sir?” the girl asks me, this time with a tinge of emotion in her voice

Shit, had I let the mask slip a little too hard there? I’ve been doing this job for three years now, I thought the time had long since past where a guest could rattle me. Quickly righting myself, I go to ask her if I could help her find anything today only to be stopped by her scaredly turning to her right with a giant gasp of air.

Peeking my head out of the front desk and around an aisle of Apple accessories, I see a large African-American gentleman with an unusually dapper tuxedo, shades, and a gun holstered to his right thigh. I’d be surprised by the gun, if the store wasn’t on the edge of town and right next to acres upon acres of farmland.

The girl, who’s expression had changed from robotic to fearful moments ago, turns to me with tears in her eyes and she claws across the front counter to grasp my hands, which are shaking from the rousing round of ‘Life Is Pointless And So Am I’ that just played out in my mind.

“Get me out of here!” she shrieks at me with the fear of a thousand horror-movie-protagonists.

Once again the girl rattles my heart with her plea, but I have to question this entire situation. I mean yeah that dude looks scary, but what if this is like some foreign dignitary’s daughter looking to cut loose and escape her posse or something stupid like that? What kind of kidnapper walks around looking like an MIB agent? Maybe that’s her parent, despite the obvious race difference, and they’re doing some kind of cosplay thing… or maybe---

BANG!

The world around me slows to a stop.

What is my purpose? To work a dead-end job for people that would dance in my blood for a nickel? Am I to languish in obscurity until the day I die sad and alone, realizing the extent of my achievements only reached as far as the edge of a shitty town in a shitty situation?

Do I want to be anything else?

Looking at the panicked girl and the smoking bullet hole in the desk in front of me, my answer is obvious.

I guess I want to be a hero.

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