I spent Saturday doing the usual. I lounged around in the morning drinking coffee, writing poetry and feeding the cat that liked to visit me at the window by the fire escape. I took a yoga class on the North side then bought a veggie wrap and hung out in McCarren Park where I spent a lot of time people-watching. When it got dark I headed back home, waved to the busboy I saw almost every day working in the restaurant on the bottom floor of my building and spent a couple hours dancing around my living room to my favorite songs. Some were belly dance songs and drum solos, others were a mix of reggae and rock songs by people like Pato Banton and Pat Benatar. I danced by candlelight because it was like a little ritual for me…and it made the room look enchanting and beautiful. It was a perfect day to myself.
I didn’t see any of my friends, not even Natalia, my best friend in the world. She had left a message for me asking how my first couple of days at work had been but I hadn’t returned her call yet. I was like that sometime. I liked being a homebody. I liked cooping myself up. Maybe it was because I was from a smaller city in Pennsylvania where I had more space and time to myself and New York could be so overwhelming. Or maybe it was just my nature.
On Sunday night I was munching on a bag of baby carrots, wondering if I had any ranch dressing hanging out in my fridge somewhere. I had been writing snippets and thinking about different story ideas. Most short stories I wrote were about my childhood back home or a re-imagining of moving to the city. I had had a different idea of what it would be like to come to New York. I planned to meet cool people and tag along on their adventures and eventually create my own. I thought I would magically evolve into a vixen of the city and somehow figure out my life. That’s not quite what happened because life generally doesn’t work like that. Or again, maybe it just wasn’t my nature.
I opened the fridge and moved things around. No ranch sauce. No dip whatsoever. I put the carrots away and walked around my apartment, thinking. I stopped in front of the full length mirror by my bed. It looked like I had lost some more weight. I always ate less when I was single. And I usually ate healthier, too. Whenever I got out of a relationship, I would lose ten pounds in the first month afterward. And then lose a little more. I’d have to stay single to stay thinner, I thought to myself, chuckling. That was my cycle.
I stood in front of my mirror, examining myself. For most of my life I had critiqued my body, insulted it really, because I weighed too much, my hips were too wide, my thighs too heavy, my butt too big. Now in my mid-twenties, I was really starting to let go of the critic in me. I would watch and hear my friends pick themselves apart, and yet to me they were always so beautiful, strong, funny, creative and a million other things. I always found myself trying to turn their thoughts around into a more positive light and I was getting better at turning my own thoughts around, too.
My phone rang. I thought I had put it on silent. I found it and saw that Natalia was calling.
Lady was my pet name for her. A term of great endearment. Natalia was a petite and spunky Russian girl. We were fast friends when we met at my first job in the city. She was the kind of girl who took charge and my perfect match. She took me under her wing and ended up convincing her roommate to let me live with them because I was looking for a place to stay. She became my best friend.
“Princess, can you stop being so snobby and call a person back?” she teased.
“And how are you?” I laughed.
“Who cares how I am. How’s the job? Any cute guys you can hook up with?” Natalia had been exclusive with her boyfriend for just over a year, which was the longest she had been with anyone. Since her romantic escapades were over for now, she tried to live vicariously through her friends.
“Two floors full. But you know cute guys aren’t my type.”
“Oh right, they’re my type.”
“I haven’t forgotten…” I murmured. “But for real, the place is cool. I’m not the only new person, there’s a few of us. They’re fun, I like them.”
“Not more fun than me.”
“Impossible. You are fun in caps. They are fun in lowercase.”
Natalia laughed, snorting a little. “So when are we going out?”
“Soon, I’m writing.”
“You’re trying to write. There’s a difference.”
“Ok well call me. And you better call me soon or I’ll go find a new best friend.”
“No one will ever be as best a friend as me.”
“Bye…” I hung up as I noticed some movement by my window. The cat was back.
When I woke up Monday morning I remembered the meeting I had with Marvin and Riya. I had to get to work early and print out the aging reports and the spreadsheet I had created on Friday. I had combined all the company agings and created a summary tab to reflect the totals and priority accounts. I was looking forward to seeing Steve and Mira and hoped by Friday we would be back at the bar.
The L train was packed and I almost fainted because I was squished between so many people and hanging on to the overhead bar that was just a bit higher than I really needed it to be considering my height so my arm felt numb. Worst train ride ever.
By the time I transferred to the F I was just praying to be able to stand against the door. When it pulled in I breathed a sigh of relief. It was pretty empty. Maybe I’d even get a seat.
The doors opened and I stepped in. I didn’t see an empty seat so I just leaned back against the doors. I debated whether to pull the book I was reading out of my bag. Better not, there were only three stops. I stared into the floor, spacing out.
“I guess you don’t see me here,” a voice said to me from below. I looked over to my right. Adrian sat there in the first seat, right next to where I stood.
“Well hello sunshine,” I said, a bit startled. Truth be told I hated to run into people on the train, especially in the morning before work. I wasn’t a fan of small talk, especially not with people I hardly knew. And then it occurred to me that I may run into Adrian a lot on the train since we lived in the same area. From his attitude so far I wasn’t thrilled.
“Do you wanna sit?” he asked me. I was surprised he even bothered to ask.
“No, that’s ok. I’m fine here.”
“Ok.” He paused. “We don’t have to talk. I just didn’t want to ignore you and then have you notice me here and wonder why I didn’t say anything.”
“Ok,” I nodded, kind of surprised by his explanation. I didn’t think he would care. I looked back at the floor, smiling because it was funny. Out of the corner of my eye I could see him smile too. When we got to our stop I walked out first and I felt him watching me from behind. I didn’t hate it.
“Alexandra,” Marvin swiveled from his desk over to the table in his office and stretched his arms over his head. “Let’s see those reports.”
I distributed copies from the pile in front of me, laying them out separately in front of him and Riya. Marvin paged through the aging for the largest company, which held the biggest account, Dideo.
“Looks like D is slowing down their payments. What’s going on there Riya?”
“As I mentioned before, they were having some issues with their system and the purchase orders. It’s been hard to keep up with, but that’s why Alexandra is here,” she smiled and gestured to me.
Marvin nodded. “Ok, so everything over thirty days will need to be addressed. D pays invoices on time so this is unusual for them. This takes priority. As soon as we’re done here call them and find out what’s happening.”
“No problem,” I nodded.
“You’ll have to call Budapest, that’s where they handle payments. I have a contact there that you can reach out to; I’ll give you the information,” Riya told me.
Budapest. I had never called Budapest before. I was about to ask about the time difference.
“They’re five hours ahead,” Riya added, reading my mind.
Marvin flipped through the rest of the pages, noting other old invoices that needed to be addressed. There were many, as I knew from reviewing these reports several times already.
After about a half hour of going through the other aging reports from the other smaller companies and taking note of more outstanding invoices, Marvin pushed back to his desk and reattached himself to his computer.
“Thanks ladies, great meeting. Let’s get this money,” he said, while we stared at the back of his curly-haired head. We left his office and Riya said she’d e-mail the contact info for Dideo. I got back to my desk and realized I hadn’t shown him the spreadsheet I created. Oh well, there would be more meetings.
By lunchtime I had called Gherair at Dideo and learned that 84 of the 120 invoices had been resubmitted for payment, and the others I had to email to him. I e-mailed Marvin and Riya to give them an update, then made about thirty other collection calls.
I escaped the building for lunch, taking a small bag with my notebook, pens, phone and earphones. I was alone because Mira was meeting up with another friend and Steve had gotten caught up with work. Adrian had seen me pass by the office he shared with Riya and he called out, “Half a day?”, and I looked back at him in confusion. Was that a joke? Must be. I just shook my head and left.
I was starving. It always started out that way when I got a new job. I was always ready for lunch in the beginning. But after a few months I would start to lose my appetite and get tired of eating.
I remembered a sushi place a few blocks up that I used to go to when I took a few night classes at a school on 40th street. I called ahead and ordered two rolls, Philly and eel. I loved maki rolls and the Philly was my favorite. I returned to Bryant Park with my lunch and found a table.
It was the end of September but it was still warm. It was a beautiful day to be outside and I was grateful that the park was just across the street from work. I opened my sushi rolls and filled the little dish with soy sauce. I pulled out my notebook and a pen and began looking over the stories I had been starting and could not finish. I would get stuck because they just didn’t feel right. Sometime I ended up writing about things I didn’t really know, or hadn’t experienced. And then what I usually ended up writing, and what I wrote best, were these stream of consciousness blurbs without punctuation. My poetry. I was most happy with these when I finished them. I got my phone out and attached the earbuds, sticking them into my ears. I selected my writing playlist and dipped a piece of Philly roll in the soy sauce, popping it in my mouth. It was so delicious. I ate a few of them as I listened to the music only I could hear and surveyed my surroundings. After a little while I was staring into space, rocking slightly. The world seemed even more beautiful when I had my own soundtrack to it.
The heeled boots I was wearing were bothering me so I unzipped them and slid them off my legs, leaving them under the table. I wiggled my toes. Dirty Diana, by Michael Jackson, had started playing. I had only discovered that song a few years ago. I always wondered how I had never heard it before. I scanned the lawn again, watching the cars speed by in the distance. I put my pen to paper.
breathe my city air my patches of green grass in the middle of the smog and the fanfare you can still find a piece of me how i used to be i am still here
I rocked a while and drifted into a Staind song. God I loved Aaron Lewis. He was like a male version of myself. Perhaps not identical. Fraternal. He even flunked gym, like me. I loved his songs. I could see myself writing so many of the same words.
I felt someone near me and looked around. I didn’t see anyone I knew but I felt it, someone watching. Shit, what time was it? I looked at my phone. I had about ten minutes left. I’d have to pack up soon. This is what I hated about working. It took time to relax and get into a writing mode, and then when I was just getting there…it was time to go back to work. Then again, I probably shouldn’t set myself up for this during my lunch hour. It was hard not to though. I’d be working and feel that creative air creeping through me, luring me to wander.
I sighed and took my earphones out. I didn’t want to go back. I bent over and groped under the table for my boots.
“Staind, huh,” I heard a moment later.
My head shot up and hit the table hard. My hand rushed to my head, rubbing the ache as I squinted up at, who else, Adrian.
“Ow,” I kept rubbing. “Why startle me like that?”
“I like catching people off guard,” he said, stepping back. He had been looking at my phone.
“Great job.” I rubbed my head some more then started slipping my boots on and zipping them up. He watched me without saying anything.
“Have you been watching me?”
“Of course; I’m standing right here. Nice boots.”
“But were you watching me before?”
“Before when? Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Never mind,” I muttered, not believing him.
“So how long has your lunch break been, like two hours?”
“Please, you know when I left. I’m going back now, sir.” I responded sarcastically. “Why are you giving me a hard time…”
“It’s how I get through the day.”
I found that sad. And when I looked at him, I could see a flash of that reality in his face.
I finished putting on my boots and shoved my stuff in my bag. I gathered up my trash and stood up to leave.
“See ya.” I walked away from him, toward the trash can.
I was almost out of earshot, but I was just close enough to hear him say something and just far enough not to understand it. I turned around and looked back at him. We stood there looking at each other for a second. He didn’t repeat himself, but his expression was different. For a moment he didn’t look like the guy I had met a week ago. He didn’t even look like the guy who was talking to me a minute ago.
I found myself unable to turn away, but eventually, he did it for me.