As I walk back into the cutting room, leftover Tim Horton’s cakes from the Christmas party stir the lower parts of my bowels and I sprint to the bathroom very aware that an African’s toileting is diligently watched in workplace America.
Later I step out and notice that the white grannies in the sewing room gaze at my entire toileting. Right there, they confirmed my suspicions! That’s when a frail 60s tailor picks me out and I stroll behind him into the mattresses sewing room, feeling important. Without uttering a word, the tailor meanders back to the toilet and beckons me to follow. My mood darkens.
“Don’t use brown paper, Gemy” he warns me and barges his hand up the restroom ́s door sign. “Read here “Pas De Papier Brun. Merci” he says in fluffy French not even minding if I read and understand the language. ‘Brown paper blocks toilet,’ he finally spurts on seeing that I have stood transfixed at him without showing emotion. “Your pee costs us $2000. $2000 in repairs,” he says.
Each time an African worker is rebuked at Intercolli Fabrics Factory, the US dollar estimate of his toilet mistakes must be revealed, it seems. An African’s toilet errors, I think, are quantified in real dollar terms to amplify the guilty.
I am finally released from my toilet stunt probe by the old man when Lourna my factory supervisor casually tells me to skip lunch today without even caring to ask first if this is feasible for me. I ought to cut ‘ExP Ladies SH250 fabrics’ for an urgent customer across the border in Canada, she commands. A lorry will be loaded this evening if I pull off this job. ‘ExP Ladies SH250’ those are codes for women’s menstrual pads, Amrik the Indian gleefully tells me, seeing that I am intrigued by both being forced to miss lunch and codes.
I decided that I must work fast before a scheduled technician arrives to inspect the Gerber Paragon cutting machine or else, I will fail to complete Lourna’s emergency instructions and with it, my job tenure in the factory would be under severe threat. I whistle to myself and dive into the job, the pangs of my hunger stubbornly lingering around.
I have done two hours of overtime work today and I limped my way home, frustrated that the baked duck lunch that I had planned to consume at work has gone stiff cold in the carry bag and I might have to reheat it upon arriving home.
At last, I tell myself as the train jolts into Plamodon Station where platform benches look like brothel bins of that Johannesburg ́s Diplomat Hotel ‘Room 21’ lady who kept a bucketful of condoms laced with oily sperm of various men. Fifteen months ago, whilst in transit to America to become a refugee for the first time, I stopped by my favorite ‘Room 21’ lady for the last time. Twelve used condoms filled her bedside bin by 11:30 Am. Hers was a long morning. Mine was a last chance to thoroughly quench my thirst, for I was told sex in America is thoroughly expensive and, in some states, being caught on the wrong side of it means stiff punishment from conservative prosecutors.
“Throw your condom in there, Gemy,” she said, “into the mortuary.” Her overpopulated condoms bin was – the mortuary. She was romantic when one opened her ‘Room 21’ door and carelessly threw out haughty words when the deed was done and paid for.
Thinking of her and whether she survived the crackdown on immigrant sex workers which is gripping South Africa, I stumble in snow thickets that hug both sides of the February Boston streets as I find myself on a final stretch home. Then I enter the usual Chinese “depanneur” corner shop where I stock my beers just to grate over my fury of being asked to work overtime and ruin a lunch carefully scripted over a whole weekend. The Chinese daughter, her father must be the corner shop’s owner, oversees the cash register box today. Her father always sells me a $2, 80 Stella Artois beer and allows me to pay with a MasterCard even though the booze is below the $5 threshold for card transactions. He must either be thoroughly pitiful for an African buyer to suspend his rules or in his mind, I am a petty shoplifter whose demands must always be met so that I take as few minutes as much in his shop. She declined my purchase today and bubbles her eyes in a steady and calm way.
“But your father never minds any stuff no matter how much it costs,” I say.
“Ya, yaw, yum, but it’s below $5,” says the Chinese daughter slicing her teeth one row atop the other.
Terrific! “Ok, got it”, I tell her.
Humiliated by my unusual encounter at the Chinese corner shop, I head straight home and ignore the snow shovel that is stuck in our driveway for anyone who comes home first to clear the footpath up our home. I bang off the kitchen lights whilst Cox ́s dinner is boiling. I dive into my bedroom, forget my cold missed lunch from work, and rue my last moments in the Chinese corner shop.
“Oh, good, Gemy,” Cox my white flatmate leaps from the dark kitchen, his waspy hair dangling with steam, “Every time my pot is boiling you switch me the fuck off!”
“Sorry didn’t notice you,” I say of both his dinner, the light, him, and what else – I don’t know.
“You crave darkness so much; from Africa?” says Cox, stirring his noodles in the smoky evening darkness.
20 March, 2023