All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
Simple Strangers Come to Realize
The high pitched two tone bell echoed three times through the tunnels, half muffled by the five o’clock morning rush of clicking heels, ringing cell phones and the slurping of coffee. Small gaggles of multi-cultured Torontonians gathered at the edge of the platform, just at the borderline of the yellow caution strip. Lately, most had been wary about being too close to the gritty soot covered tracks for fear that they would meet their death just as the man had a few days earlier. The story, which had been circulating in the news broadcast on every channel, was that the man was standing too close, lost his balance and fell face first moments before the train heading towards Keele came racing from the darkness. She shuddered at the thought, welcoming the sudden rush of heavy dust and putrid air as a distraction. The brakes, as feeble as they were, screeched in protest as metal on metal made the subway train come to a rolling stop. She briefly caught a glimpse of her reflection in the fingerprint stained window, how her long tight-curled hair fell uneven on her broad shoulders and that the collar of her white dress shirt had been sticking up awkwardly. She sighed in frustration, pulling down the hem of the shirt and flattening the stiff starched collar at the corners. It was only then she realized she had been walking around with tufts of wiry short hair generously peppered all over her bust area. Darwin, her Miniature Schnauzer, must have cuddled on top of it while spending the night at the footboard of her bed. She laughed and brushed herself off.
As the automatic double doors retreated into the gaps, waves of commuters flooded subway card, mixing the moist, musty, stale air into the red polyester fibers of the seats. Her eyes scanned the incoming messages displayed on her Blackberry screen while her thumbs had minds of their own and fluttered over the mini keyboard. Athina Summers was too preoccupied to notice that she had stolen the single empty seat from an elderly woman hunched over her walker. As she sat down, the cold grimy surface exposed to her slender alabaster thighs crept up her tight pencil skirt. The contraption that held her whole life in order beeped twice, signalling that a new message had been received.
“¡Aye, por Dios!” He swore as he finally managed to yank the dandelion out of the hard clay earth.
The mid-afternoon fire ball burned his caramel bronzed shoulders, creating the thick sheen of sweat to soak through his soiled muscle shirt. With the back of his green rubber gloves, he caught the beads of his labour trickling down from his forehead all the way to the tip of his chin. His knees ached right down to their caps, triggering a strong prickling sensation in his excessively toned calves. He struggled to stand, momentarily paralysed by the painful sharpness of blood circulation returning to his lower body. Stiff, sticky and sweaty, his arms extended towards the ceiling of the universe, his fingertips just touching the shifting cloud’s base. His joints cracked loudly, releasing the weeds of pain deeply rooted into the kneaded clay of his body.
“Looks good,” Lucy said, carrying a tray of iced lemonade and a cup. She laughed as a small hyper dog chased his tail around her heels. “I’m impressed…and apparently he is too.”
“Thanks,” he mumbled, suddenly feeling self-conscious and embarrassed.
His employer, Lucy Oakley, poured him a glass of lemonade covered in cool condensation. Grateful for the drink, he downed it all in one breath, quenching his thirst hungrily.
Only then did Corey Marquez privy himself to admire his work. The Cedar pine tree that had been littered with weeds, dry needles and an infestation of earwigs this morning was now a strange scene to him. Rows of bright orange marigolds, drooping Bleeding Hearts, belching Angel’s Trumpets and towering Snap Dragons lined the four feet circumference around the tree.
“HURRY UP YOU WORTHLESS B****!” He screamed from his reclined throne in the living room, “THAT BEER AIN’T GONNA GET IN MY HAND BY ITSELF!”
Up to her elbows in dirty dish water, Maria fought the urge to shout back and pushed her mousy light brown hair behind her ears. She shook off the sudsy filth and opened the rusty fridge door to find a mouldy beerless void. S***. She thought as she felt centipedes crawling up her back. I’m gonna have to improvise.
Maria knew of a small corner store across the street that sold a limited variety of beer but wasn’t sure if they carried her father’s favorite brand: Corona. Still, anything at this point was worth a try to save her skin until the next morning. Making sure she had the extra set of keys in her jean pocket, she tip-toed around the uneven wooden floorboards that threatened to give her away. She peeked around the corner of the small apartment sized kitchen, watching him disgustingly shove his hands in his pants while enjoying the new adult porn DVD series. Good, he’s distracted. Gladly thanking whatever superior force that might exist beyond the walls of her prison, she started to crawl across the ant infested stretch of carpet that led to the door.
Then, he cleared his throat. S***. She was done.
“My sweet Maria, where do you think you’re going?” Her father said in a seductive friendly voice. “Come here, sweetie.”
Maria started crying softly into her tattered shirt, forcing herself to get up. Her eyes were already moist from the tendrils of rancid smoke that stung her eyes and nose, each one freely floating towards her, poisoning her from the inside out.
“There…th-th-there was no…no more b-b-beer in the fridge.” She barely managed to pronounce, “I was g-g-going…to go out t-t-to get some.” Maria squeezed her fists as tight as she could to control her tongue that refused to coordinate with her thoughts.
She watched his dark calloused lips suck on the cigarette, fearing the bright red burning at the end. With the little light that emanated from the television screen, she could make out the silhouette of the multiple folds that immersed his bones deep into the moth-eaten chair. He never looked into her eyes when he spoke, yelled or touched her. After all, he feared her.
“Come closer my child, you need to tell me a secret.” He whispered as he took his hand from his pants, the other holding the cigarette.
Still crying, she cowardly inched closer, her face barely a few inches from his crusty infected ear. Her stomach suddenly jumped into somersault mode as it tossed around pure acid at the stench of his greasy long hair. Biting her tongue as if to brace herself, Maria knew very well what was about to happen next.
“Forget the beer, Maria.” His tone was too serious as he wrapped his sweaty slimy hand around her wrist in a death grip and guided it beneath the front of his pants. As weak as she was, her strength was no match to his.
“Open your hand.” He demanded impatiently, blowing smoke into her face until she obeyed. Having no energy left to fight back, she surrendered to him. After taking a long satisfying drag he grabbed her face with the cigarette hand and held it amazingly close to her left eyelid.
“You’re going to pay for the missing beer.” He threatened.
“NO!” This was the only time her tongue chose to obey her thoughts. As soon as the word escaped from her mouth, it was too late.
He pressed the blazing cigarette bud into her eyelid, melting the thin skin that was already infected from the last time while scorching the few eyelashes beyond the roots. The excruciating pain sizzled in her ears and overloaded her will power to resist as she reflexively squeezed as hard as she could. He burned another whole into her other eyelid, pressing the cigarette deeper. A shrill scream rang out but Maria couldn’t tell if it was hers or not.
Robert 5:30 am : Good morning my sxy hot godess <3
Athina 5:31 am : Jst the man i was thinkng abt!
Robert 5:32 am : y? u have othr men on ur mind? :P
Athina 5:32 am : lol, jst u. wish u could b w/ me i miss u :(
Robert 5:33 am: miss u 2 im here alredy y u keep me waitin?
Athina 5:35 am: got up late, stuk in mornin trafc
Athina could finally breathe again as she exited the southbound platform of St. Patrick’s station. Briefcase in hand, she smiled at the thought of walking away with a perfectly ravishing prize she had found just before stepping onto the platform. She fantasized about the smooth glide of the Bic ReAction ballpoint pen, how it would be the perfect fineness to sign all her legal documents. The easy glide ink system she yearned for matched with a comfortable grip for her slender fingers made shivers roll up and down her spine.
“Do you have any spare change miss?” asked the corner door of Timothy’s World Coffee on University Ave.
What looked like an old woman in tattered clothes sitting crossed legged in front of the coffee shop stared straight into Athina’s eyes. Her entire face was littered with big circular scars, wrinkles formed at every crease. All her belongings sat neatly in a small cart accompanied by a make-shift walker. Athina couldn’t help but feel startled at the sight and audacity of the homeless woman who dared to interrupt her happy thoughts. A stream of annoyance washed over her, knowing perfectly that this woman always asked her every morning for money to spare at the same time and the same place.
“Look, you old hag for the last time, I don’t have any money to give you. Why don’t you get off your lazy ass and get a job!” Infused with just the right amount of hate in her voice, her one hundred dollar Jimmy Choo heels disappeared around the corner.
Corey’s body ached from all the weeding, planting, fertilizing, digging, watering, trimming, kneeling, bending, digging, cleaning and carrying that his first job required from him. He rubbed his eyes at the sight of the bright bold numbers that flashed 6:30 am onto the ceiling. Today was Monday and to Corey, that meant that he was scheduled for the early opening shift, well at least until Eric? the head manager? came in at nine o’clock. He threw the sheets in one swift movement onto the other side of the twin size bed, pulled his tight pants on and still managed to bump his head the door frame. Damn, why do I have to be so tall? He thought as he trudged to his mother’s room to kiss her goodbye.
Before rushing out the door, he noticed the subtle yet big scrawl of his grandmother’s writing on a scrap paper. Corey had to focus hard; the words seemed to undulate in every direction, scrambled together like ingredients for a cake. Even with his glasses on, he couldn’t decipher the simple sentence that was laid out before him. Although, it didn’t take him long to find his grandmother’s delicious club sandwich on the top shelf of the fridge. He always craved for the taste bud firework feeling when she cooked for him every day.
He tied the apron around his waist and checked the streets for any sort of life form. Bingo, nadie in sight! He thought excitedly. Each morning he was greeted by empty streets, Corey took this as a gift from el Dios todopoderoso, the almighty God. With Enrique Iglesias already beginning to sing Cuando Me Enamoro, he grabbed the coffee pots from the second cupboard on left and started filling them up until the four cup line. Dramatically filling four paper trays with coffee grind while holding a stir stick as a microphone, he lost himself in the rhythm as he sung from the top of his lungs : cuando me enamoro, cuando menos me lo espero, me enamoro…
He gave the back door a little nudge with his butt, singing away happily until he stopped right in the middle of the chorus, garbage bag in hand.
He cleared his throat, embarrassed that he had not seen the old woman sitting on the step. “May I help you señ-ora?” His voice cracked, giving him away. “If you want, you can come in for a little bit.” He managed to half smile.
She looked at him and he stared straight back. He didn’t shrink away like everyone else did. “You’re kind and you have a nice voice. I can see you being famous one day.” Her voice rhymed genuinely with her words, touching so close to his heart.
He shrugged. “No, señora I cannot sing like Enrique, he is too bueno compared to me.” Corey dumped the garbage into the bin. “Besides, I don’t have enough coraje to fulfill my dreams.”
She waved at his offer to come in; instead he sat right next to her. “Let me tell you this, you can do whatever you want if you pursue your passion and chase your dreams. If I gave up my dreams of escaping my son of a b**** father, I would still be stuck in that hell hole.”
The tainted memory of her father made her feel uneasy and paranoid again. Maria’s hideous reflection copied her every movement as she washed her oily, scarred face with the water from the subway bathroom. The floors shook with the come and go of trains, feeling more like several mini earthquakes rippling through the tiles. She hated having to wear a disguise but she knew that this was the only way that her father wasn’t going to find her. Even after several years of escaping, she couldn’t help but feel like he was going to find her and drag her back with him.
Just before settling on top of the sidewalk grate covered with newspaper, her mind drifted to the events of her day. She thought about the young man who was singing in the coffee shop and smiled. He was so kind and not at all prejudice against her. He respected her the way one should respect any other person, compared to that other lady who had been nothing but rude and hateful towards her. Who did she think she was to talk to her like that?
“Mom, you know I don’t like bright colored clothes, it simply doesn’t look good.” Athina wined as she exited the Toronto Courthouse on 361 University Ave. Too preoccupied with her conversation, she let the heavy door swing back on to a delivery man who was carrying heavy cardboard boxes.
“I know honey but wouldn’t it be nice to wear a nice coloured dress to work sometimes?” Lucy said in her best convincing voice. “A nice orange dress would match with your lovely freckles.”
Athina rolled her eyes as she sat down on the steps. “Mom, stop mentioning the freckles ok. That’s one thing I hate about you!” Her voiced turned sour at the end, coming out more like a snarl than she intended.
She heard her mother put the phone down, calling for Darwin to cuddle with her. After a few minutes, she picked up with a quivering voice. “Darwin’s gone.”
“Corey, Corey, Corey! Hay una bestia en la casa!” There’s a beast in the house! His grandmother screamed as she flailed her chubby arms in the air. “¡Es en la garaje!” It’s in the garage!
Tired from his full day shift at Timothy’s, he grabbed the broom to reassure his grandmother that he would take care of the beast in the garage. She followed at his heels, explaining dramatically that it was big and hairy and that it ate through the bag of carrots. When he opened the door, thick short hair was spread all over the cement floor.
“Abuela, es un perro y no una bestia.” He bent down to kiss her forehead as he explained that it was a dog of one of his clients. He guessed that it had jumped into his bag as he was packing up.
Athina conspicuously stared through the curtains, peeking through the crack in between. The dark skinned man walked up to the steps carrying a bag with him. Should she panic and call the cops? The door bell chimed once. Nervous, she stuck her eye to the tiny hole and saw that he held Darwin hostage.
“Give me my dog back or I’ll call the police!” She screamed extra loud so he could hear her through the door.
“La policÍa? No, no, I come to return Lucy’s dog. He accidentally fell in to my equipment bag.” Correy said apologetically, desperately hoping that she wasn’t calling the police as they spoke.
Hesitantly opening the door, she snatched Darwin from him and immediately closed the door again. “Go away now.” She said, stroking Darwin’s head between his ears.
“Miss, I was wondering if you or Lucy could kindly drive me home. It was a very long ride for me to come here by TTC and I assumed that both of you were worried about your perro.” He asked politely. “I spent my last bus ticket.”
“Sorry Alejandro but no can do. I’ve got Toddlers and Tiaras to watch tonight.”
“You know miss, you are very rude. You remind me of this woman who insulted a homeless woman on the street. She could afford expensive shoes but she couldn’t even spare any dinero to help the homeless woman. Oh ho ho and the best part señorita, is that the woman is only homeless because she’s trying to escape her abusive padre. Nonetheless, tell Lucy that her dog is home. Good-BYE!” Corey was out of breath from the long winded explanation but felt good about saying what he said.
Athina froze as she heard his voice through the door. Her own father had abused her. She knew how it felt to be treated badly and yet she had mistreated a poor woman who had been an abuse victim herself.
She opened the door, car keys in hand and said, “Wait, I changed my mind.”
I saw her again, that woman who said those vile words to me. There was something different about her this morning, was it the way she walked or maybe the way she carried herself? Wanting nothing to do with her, I kept my mouth shut and then she stopped and stared me straight in the eyes.
“Maria, right? We need to talk.”
I sipped the bottled water again and again. My Converse clad feet wouldn’t stop pacing, my fingers felt like they were sweating buckets. Why was I here? It wasn’t too late to turn back, was it? My name was called by Ben Mulroney, introducing me not only to the live crowd that screamed beyond the stage but to all my television fans as well. Could this seriously be happening? Was I about to perform in front of my nation?
“Hi, would you like to help raise awareness against women and child abuse?” the cashier asked at the Goodwill as she checked her items out.
With the click of her ReAction ballpoint pen she said, “Where do I start?”