I saw Margarita at school one day, in the cafeteria. She was doing homework. It was Wednesday. I was wearing a blue Dodger’s t-shirt, a black jacket I picked up at the Goodwill store for five bucks, and another pair of pants I’d bought at K-mart. My black computer bag was perilously dangling on my right shoulder, and my wavy hair yelling for a trim. I didn’t remember when the last time was I went to the barbershop.
“Hola,” I said while dropping my bag on one of the empty chairs and sitting down on another one. It was dinnertime, and students rushed into the cafeteria like shoppers on Black Friday.
She looked at me. It took her a second to recognize me. “Hey, partner!” she said. She started calling me ‘partner’ ever since I joined in on her business. “How are you?”
“I am well,” I said, trying to keep up with the right use of English grammar. I could’ve kept going, but she decided to go back to our Mother Tongue.
“We have a meeting next week,” she said, getting down to business. “Have you talked to anybody about Amway?”
I gave her an are-you-serious look. “I just signed up two weeks ago, and I haven’t even gotten the welcome package. The only thing I’ve been thinking is that I don’t know how I’m gonna do it. I don’t have a lot of time.”
She looked worried. “What are you saying? You don’t want to do the business?”
“Then talk to people about it.”
I squinted and leaned back. “Talk about what? The only thing I know about the business is what you’ve told me. I am not prepared to go and talk about it.”
She didn’t like my general demeanor. “Gabriel, aren’t you excited about the business?”
I didn’t think I was excited about anything.
She didn’t buy it. The look in her eyes was pure doubt and distrust. “I don’t think you are.”
I had to sell it. I had to make her believe me. “I quit the gas station so that I can have more time for the business,” I said, and the smile on her face erased all her qualms.
She even gave me a book and a CD, something about some hotshot businessperson I had never even met in person.
The next day at Staples, I walked in holding five coffees in a cup holder. I saw two new managers, probably my age. They were talking to Carl near one of the registers. They were white. The guy was skinny and tall, the girl bulky and short. I walked through one of the aisles and gave Juan and Sergio their coffees. I kept walking toward the end of the store when I saw Roberto pushing his black cart.
“Here’s your coffee,” I told him.
His face lit up. Coffee has that effect on you. “Thank you!” he said, grabbed the coffee cup, and took a sip. The orgasmic look on his face suggested he enjoyed it.
“Where’s Arturo?” I asked.
He looked to the sides, “I think he just fell off my pocket.”
I smirked, “Somebody has jokes.”
“Sometimes,” he said while pushing his cart towards the furniture area. “I think he’s in his office.”
He gave me a serious look.
“Nah, your jokes aren’t good,” he said, kept on going, but stopped to say something he forgot. “Are you done with that Garcia-Marquez book you were reading?”
“I am,” I said. “And my business partner just gave me a book to read.”
“You know, motivational stuff. I’m gonna follow your advice and read about more things, so I don’t only talk about sex and religion.”
He smiled proudly. “Good. I like that. But remember: English only.”
“Well,” I said, scratching my head with my left hand. “The book my partner gave me is in Spanish.”
He didn’t like that. “Are you serious?”
“I- I can read something else in English,” I said while Sergio and Juan marched to the break-room.
He stopped pushing his cart and approached me. He looked like The Godfather, a bit shorter but equally terrifying. “Are you planning on going back to Mexico?”
“No,” I said without hesitation.
“Do you still want to write?”
“Yes, but I need to study and-”
“What do you want to write?”
“How are you planning on accomplishing that?”
I thought about it for two seconds. “I watch a lot of movies, so I have an idea on how I can come up with a story. And not just that, I’ve also written fiction before.”
I’d told him about the lost and forgotten play I wrote when I was in school back in Mexico.
He ruminated on our dialogue for a moment. “You are like a drug addict,” he said. “You are clinging to your Mother Tongue like you like to call it, but you have to understand that it’s time to let her go. You are too attached to her.”
His metaphor was clever.
“So you don’t want me to speak Spanish anymore?”
He looked at me with pity. “You can, only if the person in front of you can’t speak English.”
That made sense. “And what about the business? Do you still think it was a bad idea to join?”
“Oh, yes, I do!” he said, also without hesitation. “You already know what you want to do with your life. I have no idea what else you think you’re looking for.”
He left me thinking.
“Gabriel to the back office. Gabriel to the back office!” Arturo’s voice said, coming out of the intercom.
Fuck, I forgot to give him his coffee.
“Where the fuck is my coffee? You little shit!” Arturo yelled, as splendid as always when I saw him.
He was in the office. Sergio and Juan sat across from him, laughing their guts out. “I was talking to Roberto about the merchandise I have to put away today,” I said while handing him his cup of coffee. Of course, he knew that was pure bullshit.
“Really?” he asked before taking a sip.
“Yeah. Besides, the coffee was too hot. I didn’t want you to burn your tongue.”
Sergio and Juan stopped laughing.
“These two said you were talking about your business,” Arturo said.
“Briefly,” I admitted. “He was merely reminding me that it was a bad idea to sign up. Like all of you thought it was.”
“So you listen to us?” Juan asked.
“I always do.”
“Yeah, but you do the opposite,” Sergio said.
He was right. Sometimes I do that.
“It’s ok,” Arturo said, looking at me. “Let him try. He might just be the exemption to the rule.”
“The one that states that most people never make it in those kinds of multilevel crap.”
“Yeah,” Sergio said. “And if you make it, you’re gonna take us to lunch every day.”
I frowned. “I already buy you coffee. What else do you want?”
“Oh, I want more, baby!” he belted, and everyone laughed.
Before leaving to the break-room, I said. “I got good news.”
“What?” Arturo asked.
“I quit the gas station. This weekend is my last.”
He smiled, “So you’re ready to be my full-time bitch?”
“I don’t think I have a choice,” I said and walked away.
Friday, at the gas station, I had a brief conversation with Luis The Coworker. He normally worked in the morning, but that day he was covering Nestor’s shift. I told him this was my last weekend.
“No. It’s next week,” he said, after taking a sip of Monster, his favorite energy drink. Luis was a bit shorter than me, and his hair was longer and curlier, his skin whiter, almost paler.
I took a sip of my Rockstar. “But I talked to him last week.”
“Yeah, he told me. He is actually already looking for another person.”
He was done for the night but stayed there a while longer, shooting the breeze. He invited me outside for a smoke. He had a fondness for Camel Crush, and I couldn’t remember when I smoked the last time. Anyway, he offered one, and I didn’t want to say no.
I lit it up and took a drag, the fuliginous air filling my lungs with the promise of future cancer. “I think I’m gonna call him, just to make sure.”
He shook his head. “He’s on vacation. Never takes his phone with him.”
I thought that was strange.
“I don’t know what else I could do. My boss at Staples already made the schedule for next week.” I lied.
“You have to talk to him.”
I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to run away at that moment if it was possible. He left and said he’d be back in the morning.
“Are you coming early?” I asked.
He laughed. “I don’t think so.”
See? Didn’t I have a reason to leave?
Nothing interesting happened that day. Saturday was equally uneventful. I spent the nights sweeping and moping and listening to the CD Margarita gave me; I had gone to RadioShack to buy a CD player for that purpose only. The advice I got from this hotshot businessperson was priceless. However, the only thing I kept on thinking was writing. I didn’t see myself as a business owner. I saw myself as a writer.
“You already know what you want to do with your life. I have no idea what else you think you’re looking for.” Roberto had said.
He was right. What was I looking for? Life experiences?
As I was mulling over these thoughts, looking fervently at the clock, waiting for my time to leave that place and never come back, I saw the girl who wanted to give me a blowjob the previous week.
This time she was wearing black jeans and a large white t-shirt with a knot on the front, just below her navel. Her breasts were staring at me again. She saw me, ignored me, and walked to the back, probably looking for the Magnum she couldn’t get before. She came back, her lips pursed, feigning dislike.
She put the ice cream bar on the counter and said, “I have money this time.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” I said nonchalantly while scanning the item.
She was looking at my face attentively. The trace of a smile began to form on her face. “You have nice hair.”
“Thank you!” I cheered, “Unfortunately, I’m losing it.”
“Poor boy,” she said, and that sensual voice of hers was beginning to cause trouble below my belt.
“Nah, what can we do? Nothing lasts forever.”
She gave me three dollars. “Keep the change.”
“I will.” I put the money in the register and said thank you.
She peeled off the Magnum, slowly and suggestively. She put it inside her mouth, closing her eyes in the process, letting a moan of pleasure escape her throat. She took it out and said, “So, the stuff of legends, huh?”
Of course, she remembered our last and brief conversation. “That’s right. You’re never gonna forget that, are you?”
“I couldn’t. I thought it was interesting,” she said and outstretched her hand, “I’m Martha.”
I looked at my name tag. “I’m Gabriel.”
She smiled. “What? You don’t remember your name?”
“Sometimes I forget, depending on the time of day.”
We talked for a while, getting to know each other a little bit. I told her that was my last day, and she thought I was lying. I told her that even though seventy-five percent of the things I say are lies, this was now the rare twenty-five percent of me that seldom came out. We walked outside for a smoke. She asked my age, and I told her I was twenty-two, which she believed at once, given that I still looked like a kid. But when she told me her age, I couldn’t believe it.
“36?” I whispered, even if nobody else was around. Maybe I didn’t want the ghosts of the night to find out.
She had to laugh. “Yeah! Why do you whisper?”
“Well, because it’s incredible. I would’ve never guessed it.”
“Thank you!” she rejoiced. By that time, the Magnum was gone, the cigarette she smoked was under the sole of her shoe, and her eyes were eating me alive. I couldn’t escape her gaze. I didn’t want to escape her gaze. She launched herself at me and stole a kiss of my lips. This moment felt like déjà vu because the last time a woman kissed me like that, it was in a similar fashion.
When she pulled back, Martha said, “You don’t know who I am.”
“Sometimes it’s better that way.”
She stepped back, said goodbye, and left. Just like that.
I didn’t show up to work the next weekend. Based on what I understood, Luis The Manager said I’d already worked the two weeks I had to work. Daniel The Mormon called me. He was in charge that day because Luis The Manager was still on vacation. I told him about my conversation with Luis and what he told me. Because he wasn’t around and didn’t have his phone, there was no way to check if what I said was the truth.
Later that night, Luis The Coworker called me, begging for my help. If I didn’t show, he would have to work sixteen hours straight. Too much for him. By that moment, I felt free; the weight on my shoulders had been lifted. I didn’t want to go back. I had run away. I was gone.
“Sorry, man,” I told Luis The Coworker over the phone. “I can’t go.”
I guess the only thing I missed from the gas station was Mysterious Martha. The way she came and went was fugacious. I didn’t even have time to fall in love. Like she said, sometimes it’s better that way.
Life experiences. After all, I guess this is what I am actually looking for.