III. Watch My Baby
When I received the phone call, anxiety was an understatement. I’ve been to dozens of interviews before and many conversational exchanges; somehow, I always feel anxious speaking to the person who is supposedly superior than me.
“Yes. Yes.” I bow towards the small cactus plant that desperately needs watering. I grip tightly onto the phone with both hands. “Yes. I’ll be there.” I attempt to contain the butterflies fluttering inside my stomach.
Amoli was sitting on the chair across from me, scribbling words onto her notebook. Resting an elbow against the counter, she lazily picked up a chip and threw it into her mouth.
“Thank you for the opportunity,” I said, before proceeding the conversation with a farewell. I threw the phone down once the call ended. “I got an interview.”
Amoli stops writing, twisting the chair towards me as a perfect brow arch. “I thought I told you to rest.”
“I did rest!” I exclaimed, pointing at the fluffy bunny socks on my feet. I wiggle it a few times to prove my comfort. Plus, I’ve been catching up on my Korean dramas. I don’t want to bring that up, or Amoli will tease me about my yellow fever again.
“It’s been five days.” She taps her fingers against the counter, “And you didn’t rest these five days at all. You practically cleaned the whole apartment.”
“I swear, you’re the only person who complains when someone else does your laundry.”
“Well, maybe, I want my underwear to be folded into rectangles, not squares. Squares are for losers, and I ain’t no square!” Her voice was sarcastic.
“Then, what shape are you?”
“I’m a damn star!”
“Like Patrick Star?”
“Of course.” She gave me a side, teasing glance while nudging her brows.
“Then that makes me Spongebob, eh?”
She stood up, “Life is sweet, there are snacks we can eat,” she sang, twirling around with the bowl of chips.
I stood up, doing my chicken dance towards the fridge, and took out a block of cheese. “We’ll have fun if we go out rather than just sit around doing nothing. Let’s explore, open every drawer,” I sang along with her, and melt the cheese in the microwave.
She began twirling back towards me. “Hey, you found my long lost cheese!” She points at the light up the microwave.
“That’s what friends are for! Let’s have some fun together....with-” the microwave ding and I push open the microwave, “cheese and-” She held up the bowl, extending a single leg like the Lion King, “chips!”
“You’re my best friend forever!” she screamed as we held the two bowls in the air.
There was pounding in the ceiling, “Shut up! Broadway doesn’t want you, and neither do I!” Our wonderful upstairs neighbor screamed.
“This is hot! Can I put it down!” I continued singing, ignoring the always angry scream upstairs. My hands were burning, regretting my stupidity. Quickly, I threw the bowl down and turned on the sink water. Placing my hands underneath the cold water, I sigh in relief.
Once I wiped my hands, I flopped back onto the couch, face first. Amoli pushes herself up and walks towards me, with the bowl of chips in her hands. “You sure you’re up for this?”
No one is ever up for another rejection.
Amoli sigh, an exaggeratedly long one, one who says I can’t deal with your thick head anymore.
“I’ve been thinking Li,” I said, twirling my thumbs around one another. “I...I think I’m going to go back to South America if this doesn’t work out.”
She seems momentarily stunned at my comment. Previously, she urged me to call my mom and dad to tell them about my situation. After my shameful night drunk in the streets, she finally stopped. That night, I cried in her arms, begging her not to kick me out even though she had no intentions. I didn’t want to go home and disappoint my parents.
“Viv, you can stay here as long-”
I shook my head, causing her to stop speaking. I tuck a strand of curls behind my ear. “I’ve taken enough of your kindness Li. I should know where to draw the line and understand when I’m taking advantage of a friend’s support.”
“Oh, Viv.” She huffed out a breath, before embracing me tightly, “Your parents will understand, trust me. They’re good people.”
“I know they’re good; that’s why it hurts even more to disappoint them.” I took a sniff through my somehow clogged nostrils. “They raised me to be a refined lady and look at me now, Li.”
No job. No husband. No place to call my own. I got nothing except my stupid pride, but having pride doesn’t put food on the table or help the toilet flush properly.
“You held yourself together for a whole year without your family or that asshole of an ex-husband support.”
“Only to put my weight onto my best friend.”
She pushes me back gently, then brushes off the stringing water from my cheeks. “I’m your bestie for a reason. Here through thick and thin.”
I smile, “Can you marry me?”
Amoli pressed her fingers onto her chest. “Is this a proposal I hear, Miss Blanc?”
“Depends. Are you going to say yes?”
“Under one condition.”
“And that is?”
“You get the job, and...you let me cook for a month...alone.”
I snorted, “Don’t you mean; I should cook for a month?”
“No. You always cook. I want to-”
“The first one, I’ll try my best. However, you may not cook alone.”
“You burnt curry last week! You might as well get that five dollars bill from underneath my pillow and burn that too.”
“Why do you have a five dollars bill underneath your bed?”
“What in the Goddamn world can you purchase with five dollars?”
We continue talking about the most random things until Amoli sprints towards the bedroom to steal my five dollars. I had to fight her off with a plastic bat. “My five dollars!”
The week flashed in an instant, and it was my interview day. I stood near the door. “I can do this.”
“You can do this,” Amoli chants back at me.
“I can do this!” I screamed.
“You can do it!” she shrieks back.
I screamed from the top of my lungs, and Amoli did the same time. We both stood there with our hands clutch into a fist, back-arching, heads full swing in the air and shrieking.
“Shut the fuck up!” Again, our wonderful upstairs neighbor decides to greet us with the edge of his broomstick.
“Good morning to you, too, Mr.Orien.” Amoli grabs our broom and bangs it against the ceiling, something our landlord does not appreciate.
“How are you?”
“Good! Vivian is going on a job interview!” She decides to tell the whole apartment complex.
“Jesus didn’t hear you.” I whispered, “Yell louder.”
“Again? The other girl got another rejection?”
I grab the broomstick from Amoli’s hand and bang it against the ceiling. “Thanks for your loving support Mr.Orien!” I’m quite sure he senses my sarcasm. “And for the last time, I’m not the other girl. My name is Vivian!”
“Understood, Veronica!” I sigh when he decides to call me by one of the many names he chooses to give me. “Oh, Amanda!” That was one of his many nicknames to Amoli.
“Yes?” she replied, brushing off the fact that he called her by the wrong name...again.
“My wife wanted to know if you can teach her how to dance again tonight! She’ll pay!”
“I’ll be there!”
“No problem!” she said, before taking the broom from my hand and throwing it to the corner. “What? The man pays me almost $40 an hour to teach his wife to dance. He can call me whatever name he wants.”
I sigh, knowing dancing is Amoli’s passion. However, her parents refused to enroll her in dancing school, so she registered herself. Her parents want her to major in business, to help with the company, or become a doctor. There is also a third option, but it’s something she doesn’t even take into consideration. In the end, Amoli went to both college and dancing school.
Her parents pay for college and living space. However, dancing school isn’t, so she takes small gigs and lowers her living standards. Amoli is supposed to live in a moderate-class apartment, but she chooses to live in a place when you can hear your neighbor’s toilet flushed.
I wiggle my toes, “If only I weren’t born with two left feet.”
“Girl... You’re African American. Dancing should be in your blood.”
“That is so stereotyping.” I don’t understand why everyone merely thinks being dark-skinned means you can pop it and lock it. I can’t even walk without tripping on the sidewalk.
“I can always teach you.” She thrust her hip, and I couldn’t help but exhale in envy at her luscious waist.
“I’m so envious.” I didn’t bother containing my lust for her waist - in the most non-sexual way, if that is possible. She began twirling towards the kitchen. “I want your butt.”
She swirls back towards me and stuffs a pancake into my mouth like she was sparing someone. “If you want this ass-” she slaps her butt, “you eat.”
I salute her and munch down on the food. “If I get the-”
“When you get the job,” she corrected me.
I smile widely, a broad one that tells the world I’m happy even when I ran out of toilet paper this morning and had to..let’s not talk about that shameful moment. “When I get the job, I’ll take you out to eat with my first real paycheck.”
“You better,” she winks, before handing me my heels. “I want the fancy kind of instant noodles, not the cheap kind.”
“I’ll purchase the most expensive instant noodles in the nearby convenience store. Hell, I’ll throw in eggs, just for you.” We did our secret handshake before I bid her goodbye.
Walking towards the bus stop, I tied up my hair only to find out that I didn’t bring a hair tie. “Always present when I don’t need you, but when I do. You disappear.” I talk to my wrist, causing the old lady sitting on the bench to shake her head.
The bus pulled around, and I proceeded onto it. “Another interview?” Bob, the bus driver asked.
I grin and nod, “I thought you’re only here temporarily?”
“Got the position. I’m your community permanent driver now.”
I dig into my purse and drop the coins into the box before walking towards an empty seat. I notice Lisa in the corner of the bus, with Marisa in her arms. She was rattling Marisa up and down, but her mind seems to be elsewhere. “Hi, Lisa.”
Steadily, her eyes trance towards me; somehow, it wasn’t as lively as when I first met her last week.
I sat beside her, “Something wrong?” I place my hand on her arm, hoping I’m not overstepping my boundaries.
Lisa swallowed before blinking off a few times, wiping the water that lurks above her lashes. “I’m fine. Allergies.” I could tell she was lying, but at that moment, I knew it was wrong to confront her about it. After all, we only met two times, not enough to invade her privacy.
I nod, “When you hit rock bottom, there’s no way but up, right?”
Lisa somehow seems to be off into another cold gaze. “You’re right,” she whispers. I tilt my head at her, “When you hit rock bottom, you can only go up.” She stood up, “Bob, stop.”
"Umm Lisa, I can’t s-”
“Bob! Stop!” Bob swerved towards the emergency lane and pulled an abrupt stop on the brakes. Everyone thrash forward then back, clutching onto their seats. The small number of people began mumbling in displeasure.
Lisa turned towards me, “Can you watch my baby?”
Did I hear, right? Did the mother I met twice, counting this time, ask me to watch her baby? Is this some prank where someone is going to jump out and slap me in the face? Perhaps, Marisa is asking me to watch her baby so she can go to the police station to tell them I kidnapped her baby. I have no money, and I’m quite sure she knows that, so why? Is she doing this for some sick pleasure?
Roll after roll of questions pops up inside my mind as I sat there, staring at Lisa. Perhaps, Lisa is crazy, and I didn’t notice it. Before I could reply, she thrust her baby into my arms and stomped out of the bus. “Wait! You forgot your baby!” I ran out after her. Remembering her baby bag, I rush back inside to grab it only to see her running towards the opposite direction.
The bus squeals and moves again. “What are you doing, Bob? Did you not see Lisa giving me her baby?”
Bob dab the sweats off his forehead, “I’m sorry, Vivian. I got a schedule to keep up.”
I sat down, not wanting to drop the baby if something were to happen. “Then, why did you stop?”
“She sounded like she had something important to do.”
I groan, sliding my body down. The heels scratched against the metal surface as my head hung back, seeing the mold latching onto the ceiling. “Why...Why me?”
Marisa giggles, and I look down to see her blowing a spit bubble. Once it pops, she claps her hands and giggles once more. I sigh, tickling her cheek, “Your mother probably has a good reason, don’t worry. She’ll be back.”
The bus stop and Bob turn around, “Vivian, do you want me to turn around?”
I inhaled a deep breath before standing up straight. “No, don’t do it.” I know it’s foolish, what I’m about to do, but this is the last chance I gave myself.
I look at my wristwatch, seeing the interview time coming to a close cut, so there isn’t time to go to the police station. I grab the baby carrier and face everyone. “Who here knows how to strap on a baby carrier?”