God is like this child who whines at a diner, crying, making a tantrum, hoping his mom would listen to him and buy him that apple pie a la mode he has been craving since the beginning of time. You might think this is blasphemous and iconoclastic, but for me, it is just another day in my life as an illegal immigrant. Roberto was right about one thing: I only seem to talk about religion and sex all the time and should start thinking and talking about other things. But, can you blame me? When I was born, the first book my mom threw at my face was the Bible, and, when I was a teenager, I spent nights watching and studying the Kama Sutra on TV to learn how to have proper sex one day.
But sex isn’t the important thing right now. It’s God. He wasn’t done with me. And he never will be. First, he sent a Christian girl to steal my heart and take me to church. It almost worked out. Now, as I was painfully suffering through another graveyard shift at the gas station, a Jehovah’s Witness approached me, talking to me about things I’d read before, thanks to a woman who used to visit my mother every week, bringing her Watchtower magazines nobody read.
This Witness dressed nicely, his polished shoes clacking as he walked in at midnight, while I tried to read A Hundred Years of Solitude (the Spanish version). I looked at him. He touched his hat with the tip of his fingers, a really proper and antediluvian greeting. He made his way through the aisles as I continued ogling at his black suit. He was also carrying a black bag, just like mine. For one second, I thought he was another Amway business owner.
I wasn’t reading anymore. I couldn’t concentrate. A million thoughts flew around inside my head, like kids inside a jumper. I realized (too late) that I had made a mistake by signing up with Margarita. I was working too much, still going to school, and had no time left to focus on the business properly. I decided to put the book away while the Witness opened the cooler to get God-knows-what.
I drifted inside my head for a moment, thinking about Roberto and his wise words. When I told him I signed up to do the business, he gave me a disapproving look. We’d been at Staples earlier that day. As soon as my shift was over, I came running to work at the gas station.
Yep, that’s how my life was.
“Are you stupid?” Arturo had said. He was also there, in the break-room, when I was talking to Roberto. “When are you planning to have time to do the business?”
The guy was right.
Juan was there too. “Ese,” he’d said. “You gotta start making smart choices.”
I’d looked at Roberto. Juan and Arturo left while Roberto and I got our stuff ready. Roberto saw me put the book I was reading inside my bag and asked, “Is that the English edition?”
He gave me another disapproving look. He wanted me to focus 100% on English.
“Someone is about to fall asleep,” someone said, pulling me away from my thoughts. It sounded like a voice from the afterlife, an echo lost in time.
It was the Witness. He caught me before I fell into the depths of Sleepland. I was ready to somaticize the moment I was living, converting it into a painful and unbearable headache. “Nightshifts aren’t pretty,” I said, trying to smile and show some politeness.
The Witness was an old, Chicano guy in his late fifties. His face was round, and the evidence of a past stroke could be easily seen on the right side of his face. Every time he talked, that half of his face was stiff.
“I bet,” he concurred. “I used to do graveyard work when I was your age,” he said all of this while putting a gallon of milk and a small pack of peanuts on the counter.
“You don’t say!” I marveled while scanning his items. “And what do you do now?”
“I’m a musician,” he said, the working half of his face showing a proud smile.
I looked at him for a second. “Jazz music?”
Now he was the one who marveled. “How did you know?”
“Your clothes gave it away,” I said, stretching my hand to get his debit card.
He was looking at me as if I were Jesus Christ walking on water. “Wow! You’re a really smart boy!”
I smirked. “Smart? I don’t think so. I’m just observant.”
And then there was the moment of silence, the time when he had something in mind that he wanted to share but didn’t know how the recipient (me) would react. “Do you believe in God?” he asked.
Here we go again, I thought. “Let’s just say God and I have a dysfunctional relationship.”
Now he looked surprised, or so the half-frown on his face told me. “How do you mean?”
I told him about my agnosticism.
“But you have to have faith,” he said while browsing inside his bag, probably looking for a Bible or a Watchtower magazine. “There’s a passage in the Bible that talks about faith, but I can’t remember now. I think it’s_.”
“Hebrew 11:1,” I said. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
He was about to fall on his knees and praise The Lord Gabriel Lucatero, the wannabe god of all the illegal immigrants of America.
“You know it by heart!”
I shook my head. “It’s not by heart. It’s just I read it more than once, and it stuck in my head. It’s more like a stain; something OxiClean wouldn’t get rid of.”
He smiled. “But you have to have faith.”
“Oh, and I do,” I concurred. “But I have faith in me. Isn’t that the most important thing in the world?”
Before he left, he gave me a Watchtower magazine. I saw him again a couple of times, but we never talked about God ever again.
Later, on a different day, I met a curious man when the last days of July were fading away. His name was Daniel. He was a manager at another Shell Gas station but came to my store to grab printing paper. We talked for a while, getting to know each other, and, somewhere in the middle of everything, God poked his mighty nose in our business.
“So you’re a Mormon,” I said, “I’ve never heard of that one.”
He felt offended by my wording. “I guess you’re a Catholic,” he said, standing up straight, giving me an angry stare, all of that while farting confidence and self-assurance.
“No,” I said, making a mental note about checking up on this curious cult later on. “I’m an agnostic.”
“And what is that?”
I wasn’t offended by his wording. “It’s just a point of view. I claim neither faith nor disbelieve in God.”
He didn’t get it. “So you’re an atheist?”
I took a breath, grabbed a battery that was on the counter, and explained. “Put it this way: think of a Duracell battery, the plus symbol indicates Christianity, whereas the minus symbol indicates atheism. Did you get it? Now, I’m the guy who is in the middle, the one who looks at the two of you arguing while I relax, drinking a coke, and eating popcorn at the movie theater.”
He squinted while taking in the battery example. “So you don’t care?”
“Exactly!” I said. “But that doesn’t mean I disrespect your beliefs.”
I had a feeling he liked that. “Thanks,” he said, and while walking away, with the printing paper against his chest, he asked, “So you don’t believe in anything?”
I told him what I told the Witness.
One morning at home, I noticed I was getting skinnier. I looked like an anorexic girl, but the only difference was that I did see the skeleton in the mirror every morning. I was getting ready to go to school, where I would see my friend Nestor, the guy who told me about the job at the gas station in the first place. I told him I was getting fed up, not just because of the workload but also because of the person who was supposed to come in every morning. He was always late.
I liked the guy as a friend, but he was an unbearable co-worker.
As we walked out of the cafeteria that afternoon, Nestor asked, “Are you talking about Luis?”
I nodded. “He’s a funny guy, don’t get me wrong. Besides, it’s not his fault I’ve got to go to another job right after the gas station.”
Nestor was surprised. “Seriously? Why don’t you tell Staples you can’t?”
I had to consider answering that question. How could I tell him I didn’t want to work at the gas station anymore? But I had to. In the end, honesty stinks less than sugarcoated bullshit. “The truth is I don’t want to work at Shell anymore,” I said. “The manager at Staples is giving me more hours, so I don’t have to kill myself doing the graveyard shift.”
He had to take in all that information before opening his mouth. I was hoping he’d be mad because of my ephemeral interest in the job. Thanks to people like me, I never speak for anybody when it comes to getting a job. Therefore, to avoid disappointments, I believe in The Golden Rule: every man for himself.
“Can’t say I blame you,” he answered.
I was surprised. “Sorry to put you in that position,” I said.
“It’s cool. So are you planning on quitting?”
“I am,” I said.
That was a good question. “I don’t know.”
I gave my two-week notice that weekend. The store manager was a Mexican man with dark brown skin who looked just like Hugo, the Amway guy from Guatemala I’d met before. His name was also Luis, like the guy who came late every morning. He received my request with the same enthusiasm as a rheumatic turtle strolls down the beach.
I couldn’t say I was surprised. I didn’t think I was that special.
“So this means I’m working this weekend and the next one, right?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said while hurrying back into his office.
Later I learned he didn’t mean what he said.
The penultimate weekend of my tenure at the gas station had a bit of sexual innuendo.
A petite, Hispanic woman came to the store one night. She walked in a way that suggested what I like to call ‘an itch.’ The rhythmic movement of her hips as she walked down the aisles had my eyes moving from left to right, right to the left, in a hypnotic way, making me daydream about whatever was behind those blue jeans she wore.
She came back carrying a Magnum ice cream bar, the one with the chocolate and almonds. She put the mouthwatering thing on the counter and said, “Hi.”
The mere tone of her voice gave me a tiny erection. But I had to keep my cool. I was still a virgin (at least on American soil) and wasn’t really in the mood for sexual intercourse, despite my body’s animal needs. “How you doing?” I asked. My voice was slightly deeper. It always happened when I talked to women.
I scanned the bar, and she asked, “Have you had this before?”
I said, “Yes. They were my definition of porn when I was a kid.”
Her pupils dilated as if an idea had just stricken her. She started to touch her pockets, looking for money that wasn’t probably there. She did all that while sensually looking at me. I was young, but I wasn’t that stupid anymore. I knew she was planning something.
“I don’t think I have any money on me,” she said while pursing her lips. She then rested her elbows on the counter while her small and perfectly round breasts stared at me from underneath the black blouse she was wearing.
I squinted. I’ve watched actual porn before, so I knew what she expected me to do. So I also rested my elbows on the counter, looked at her straight in the eyes, and said, “Well, I guess you’re not gonna eat your Magnum today.”
She wasn’t happy with my reply. She was about to leave but then tried to come up with another plan. “What if I show you my tits?”
I smirked. “I’ve seen tits before. They’re not that impressive.”
Her face was turning red with a mixture of anger and amusement she couldn’t deny.
“Alright,” she said. “What do you want, then?”
I thought about it. “Nothing now. I’m working.”
She sighed and squinted as if she couldn’t believe the words I spoke. She looked at the Magnum, longing for it. “Okay, fine,” she said. “What if I give ya a blowjob?”
“Nope,” I said. “My dick is the stuff of legends. It doesn’t go into just anybody’s mouth.”
She had to smile at that.
Photo by Un-perfeckt.