by Vantucky Derby: Clint Williams and Vinnie Kinsella
It was almost 5:00 AM. Ashane looked out across the garish rows of magazines and snack foods to the glass-fronted refrigerators lining the back wall. A lone customer was poking through the selection of sport drinks. The radio station on the overhead speakers was airing an advertisement for something, but the volume was turned down too quietly to really understand the words. Ashane turned to look out the window behind the counter, noting that the neon Michelob sign which hung there was still glowing brightly against a black sky.
The customer, a stocky Mexican in Levi’s, cowboy boots, white T-shirt, and a Stetson, settled on an orange drink, grabbed a bag of pork rinds, and made his way up to the counter. Ashane could not understand the Mexican obsession with pork rinds. He didn’t know if this was a product all Mexicans enjoyed or just the ones who came into his store. He didn’t much care to find out.
The man set his food on the counter and pointed to the calling card display behind Ashane.
“You get me one of the international cards, man?”
Ashane answered in a thick, Sri Lankan accent. “Very good sir. Which one are you liking?”
“Uh, the green one there.”
“Oh, no good, no good. The Verizon is costing very high for minutes. You are wanting maybe this one. The ZapTel. Same price as Verizon, but almost twice minutes.”
“Yes, I use it to calling my family in Sri Lanka. I speak with lovely wife and all five children.”
“Five children? What, did you start having them when you were twelve? You can’t be older than twenty-five.”
“It is true we are marrying young in my country.”
The door sensor chimed as Dave, the Pepsi driver, came in pulling his first load of bottles on a hand truck. He looked at Ashane and nodded his hello. Ashane nodded back and continued his conversation.
“So will it be the ZapTel card for you?”
“I’m not sure. Verizon always has good reception. I just want to call my grandma in Tulancingo for a few minutes to wish her a happy birthday.”
“Not many people are knowing this, but ZapTel uses same network, and their minutes do not expire. I have never lost a call to delightful family.”
Dave was shaking his head and smiling as he stocked the refrigerator.
“So,” the customer asked, “your wife seriously lives in India?”
“Sri Lanka, yes. I come to America for earning money to bring her and all our children to live. Especially my youngest, Kannan. His foot is badly crippled, and needing surgery to make strong.”
“Wow, that’s crazy. But I get it. My parents were migrant workers, but they met here. That must be tough to be that far apart. How long since you’ve seen her?”
“It is being three years, next week.”
“Three years! Man, I couldn’t do that. Not if she expected me to be faithful.”
“Oh,” he said with his hand on his chest, “but my wife is beautiful and delicate women, like a goddess. I have only to think of her, and I am satisfied. When it become tough for me, I have my work to staying busy.”
Dave bent over his hand truck, gripped with a fit of coughing. Several plastic bottles went rolling across the floor. “Nothing spilled,” he shouted. Ashane looked at the Mexican man and continued.
“Please to be trusting me on this one. ZapTel is the card for you.”
“Okay, man. Sounds good.”
After the cusotmer left, Dave sauntered up beside the counter, still grinning.
“What do you pull that stuff for, Shane?” he asked.
“Dude, what are you talking about?” Ashane asked, dropping his affected accent.
Dave put his hand to his heart and began imitating Ashane’s performance. “Oh, my beautiful wife. She is like Hindu goddess. I could never cheat on her.” He laughed at himself.
“It’s the boredom, man,” Ashane said, “it makes me crazy.”
“Well, maybe you should go do some real acting. Like professional. I think you’d be good.”
“Maybe. And dude, for the record my family is Buddhist, not Hindu. There’s a difference.”
“Yes, yes,” Dave said, “and you’re Sri Lankan, not Indian. I know.”
“You wouldn’t understand. You’re a Euro-mutt. A product of the melting pot. Your genes are contaminated and diluted.”
“Hey! I’m one-eighth Apache.”
“Well then, you’re more Indian than I am.”
Dave laughed. “I keep telling you,” he said as he walked out the front door to grab his second load of drinks, “this little game of yours will bite you in the butt someday.”
Ashane reached up and drummed his hands on the cigarette bin above his head. The store had been relatively quite since he started his shift. It would stay that way until close to dawn. Most of the delivery guys had come and gone, as had most of the nightly regulars—guys like Officer Marlin who always came in around 3:30 for his mid-patrol coffee. Such was the excitement of working night shift.
Ashane laughed at that title: night shift. Technically, most of it encompassed the AM hours. He thought it would be better called the wee morning shift or even the sunrise shift. Not that he ever took note when sun came up. Every shift was the same for him: dark when he started work, light when he got off.
The highlight of his shift so far was when the new Wall Street Journal guy had tried to introduce himself. He was a gimpy old Mumbaikar who tried speaking Hindi to him. Ashane shrugged and responded in Sinhalese. When the man realized Ashane was Sri Lankan, embarrassment flooded his face.
Ashane wondered why his manager carried the Wall Street Journal in the first place. He was fairly certain they only sold one copy a day. Ashane never saw who bought that paper. He figured it was some broker or banker who stopped in after work or during his lunch break. It would have to be someone who came in during the day. The readership during Ashane’s shift was more into Playboy and Hot Rod Magazine.
About ten minutes later, Dave had finished carting in all of the day’s product, and was unhurriedly setting up a new display.
“You better shake a leg, dude. Don’t you still have five or six stops left?”
“Five, but they won’t take long. The displays are just for the Plaids. This is my last one.”
“Well then, you’ll be back home and in bed before my shift is even done.”
“I wish. I’m supposed to help chaperone my kid’s field trip to the zoo. My wife was going to do it, but she was able to pick up an extra shift at work, so I’m going to take her place with the rugrats. We could use the money.”
“You guys work too much.”
“We have medical bills to pay. Especially since my monkey of a son decided to take the quick way down from the last tree he climbed. Six fractures in his right arm and hand. He must have broke everything in there.”
“Well, considering that there are thirty bones in the arm, twenty seven of them in the hand and wrist alone, he probably could have done worse.”
Dave peeled the backing off a large decal. “Thanks for that, Dr. Shane.”
“Yeah, well, if you ask me, what you need is a nice night out. What are you doing on Saturday?”
“I’m going to my mother-in-law’s birthday thing. Why?”
“My cousin’s coming into town for a business trip. He wants me to go with him on Saturday night to The Bombay to watch the Sri Lanka versus India cricket game. You should come. It would be a cultural experience for you.”
“Cricket, huh? That sounds different. What time?”
“The game airs here in the States at midnight, ’cause of the time difference.”
“Well, the party will be long over by then. My wife might be cool with me going. I’ll see.”
“All right, but if you make it, you’ll have to cover up that tattoo.”
Dave looked down at the snarling tiger, seemingly ready to spring from his forearm.
“It wouldn’t go over well with the older Sri Lankan crowd. Trust me.”
Dave was about to press for more information when a young woman stepped through the front doors. Ashane watched with approval as she walked past the counter. She was slim and sporty looking, with a pony tail pulled back through a Nike cap. Dave smiled at Ashane and went back to work on the display. The woman wandered up and down a couple of aisles, hesitated, and then headed for the counter. Flashing a smile, she said, “Hi. Do you guys have any of that five-hour energy stuff?”
“You bet, it’s right here,” Ashane said, reaching around to the display. “Need anything else with that?”
“No, that’s perfect. Thank you.”
“All right, that’ll be $3.35. Long day ahead?”
“No, long night behind me,” she sighed. “I’m trying to finish a term paper. Almost there.”
“Oh, what school are you at?”
“Reed.” She handed him a five.
“Nice. I went there a few years ago.”
She looked at him with interest. “Really? What did you study?”
“Poetry. ‘For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”
“Wow, that’s beautiful.” She smiled warmly at him.
“John Greenleaf Whittier,” he said, handing her the change. “And by the way, you have cute dimples.”
Her smiled widened. “You know, I bet you could help me with the conclusion of my paper. It’s an examination of the sectarian inner-conflict of John Donne.”
“Oh yeah, John Donne was the man. I’ve read lots of his stuff. And,” he added, puffing out his chest, “aiding lovely damsels in distress is my specialty.”
She giggled, and Ashane noticed Dave rolling his eyes as he fiddled with the display.
“I’m Jen,” she said, offering her hand. She looked at his name, hesitant to try pronouncing what she read.
“It’s Ah-shaw-nay,” he said. “But you can call me Shane.”
Just then the door sensor chimed, and man came strolling in wearing paint-splattered coveralls. The guy was a regular. Ashane tensed up.
“Ashane! How are you?” asked the man, beaming. “Has your wife had the baby yet?”
Jen looked confused for a moment, then squinted at Ashane and recoiled.
She was out the door before he could think of any way to salvage the situation.
He sighed and flopped half-heartedly into character. “Yes Mr. Louis, sir. Very good sir. Will it be one or two powerball tickets for you this morning?”
In a few moments, the customer was on his way. Dave came back to the counter with an armful of cardboard debris. “Shane,” he said, looking both pained and amused.
“I know, I know,” said Ashane, shaking his head, “you don’t have to say it.”
“I thought your major was Economics.”
“And I thought you went to Concordia.”
“I did…after I got kicked out of Reed.”
“You’re a crazy man,” said Dave. “With all that knowledge in your head, you ought to be on Jeopardy. When are you gonna use your brain cells for something worthwhile?”
Ashane shrugged. “When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars?”
Dave gave a laugh, pushing out through the doors. “Okay then, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Ashane serenaded his exit. “This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius!”
The morning rush was close to beginning. The sky was turning from black to dark blue.
Malicia had been on shift for half an hour, but she had barely spoken to Ashane during that time. This wasn’t out of the norm, though. She was gothic to the core and not much for social interaction. Ashane figured she thrived on the mystery her disconnected nature afforded he. He also figured Malicia wasn’t her real name. For the first month that she worked with him, he called her Melissa just to get a response. She never got riled up about it. She would just say, “It’s Mal-ee-shuh,” in a monotone voice and refuse him the satisfaction of getting angry.
“I’ve noticed you’ve been getting a bit of color in your cheeks, Malicia,” he said after she finished ringing up a customer. “I found this in my car. I thought it might help.” He handed her a near-empty bottle of sunscreen.
Malicia sighed. “Very funny, Shane.”
Moments later, a dusky skinned man with a scraggly gray beard and a red tilaka on his forehead came through the door. He did so every Tuesday and Thursday.
As soon as Ashane saw him, he turned to Malicia and said, “I’ll be on my break if you need me.”
Malicia looked up to see the old man. She said nothing in response.
Ten minutes later, when the man was gone, Ashane returned to the register.
“I keep telling you,” Malicia said, “he’s not a terrorist.”
“Yes he is. I know it. He’s probably one of the SOBs who came after my Dad’s family.”
“That’s a pretty big indictment. And a pretty mean one, don’t you think?”
“Look, I keep telling you, he fits the profile. He’s got a Tamil accent. He’s missing, what, two fingers? And he’s got scars all over the place. He’s a freakin’ Tamil Tiger Terrorist. I don’t even want to think about how many innocent Sinahalese people he’s killed. Some of them were probably my relatives.”
Malicia shrugged. “That’s racial profiling. Do you see me freaking out every time some Middle Eastern guy comes in? Do you see me calling Homeland Security to tell them to put the country on amber alert?”
Ashane turned to her defensively.
“First off, amber alerts are for abducted children. Green, blue, yellow, orange, red: that’s how the Homeland Security codes go. Second, you have no idea what it’s like to live with terrorists in your backyard.”
“And you do? You grew up in San Jose, Shane.”
Ashane was about to speak further, but he decided to let it go. Malicia was right. His parents fled to California when the civil war broke out in 1983. He had no memories of Sri Lanka to call his own. All he had was stories.
Ashane looked at the clock. His had less than an hour left in his shift. This was the part of the morning when men and women in business suits made their way into the store. This was also the part of the morning when Ashane played with his British accent.
“Hello, chap,” he said to a tall man dressed in knock-off Dolce and Gabbana suit. “You look awfully dapper for a Tuesday morning.”
“Thank you. You have quite the accent. Are you from the UK?”
“Yes. Mancheter. Go United! Rooney’s a great striker, what?”
After Ashane’s performance was over, Malicia asked, “Why do you that? You sound like an idiot.”
“I’m just having fun, Mal-ee-shuh. It brightens other people’s days. But you wouldn’t understand that. You’re not into brightening anything.”
A businesswoman in his perpheral vision let out a chuckle. He didn’t see her enter the store.
“Oh, Shane,” she said as she approached the counter. “You’re still the same old joker.”
Ashane looked up in surprise. Did he know this woman?
“Aren’t you going to say hi to me?” she asked.
“Nicole? Whoa, look at you! Are you back in town? Why are you dressed like you’re someone’s boss?”
“Because I am someone’s boss. I’m the new regional director for Jarecki and Associates. So yes, I’m back in town.”
She gave him a mischevious smile, the same mischevious smile that lured hime into trouble many times in the past.
“For real? Wild Child Nicole is now a regional director? I never would have seen that coming.”
“Tell me about it. I woke up one morning feeling like an adult, so I ran with it. Don’t let the suit fool you, though. I’m still a wild child at heart. Especially on the weekends.”
Ashane walked out from behind the counter.
“You got a mintue?” he askded. “Let’s step out front.”
Nicole noddded. They were out the door before Malicia had a chace to protest.
“I was on my way to the office,” Nicole said. “I thought I saw your old Camry parked out front. I had to stop in and see if you were still working here. And look, you are!”
“Yup, I’m still here,” he said a bit sheepishly.
“I figured you’d be running some global enterprise by now. You were such a whiz when it came to all that business stuff.”
“Yeah, well, I got done with Concordia about the time the economy went down the toilet. No one’s really hiring, and besides, I’ve been thinking I should move back to California, so I didn’t want to settle her. It would be nice to be close to my family again.”
“Got done with Concordia? Don’t you mean graduated?”
“Nope. Got done.”
“I see. Well, we’re hiring over at Jarecki and Associates. If you’re interested, send me your resume.”
“That would make you my boss. Are you sure you’d want to be responsible for my actions?”
“Oh, I think I could manage. Although, you would be a difficult one to let go.”
She reached into her purse and pulle out a business card.
“If you don’t send me your resume, at least give me a call. My cell number is on the bottom. The Wild Child wouldn’t mind a weekend adventure now and then.”
Ashane held the card high and fanned it into the air.
“Look at you and your gold-embossed cards. So fancy.”
Nicole chuckled. “Same old Shane.”
She gave him a friendly hug. “I’ve got to get to the office.”
Ashane watched her get into her car and drive away. He stuffed his hands into his pockets.
The sun was up. He looked over at the band of light working its way down the side of the building across the street. He had missed another sunrise.
He turned Nicole’s business card over in his pocket, running a finger across the embossed type. The sound of tapping at the window interrupted his thoughts. He glanced over to see Malicia gesturing for him to get back inside. He squinted at the time on the clock.
“Mein Gott!” he cried. “Only fifteen minutes to practice my German!”
He clicked his heels together, turned, and went goosestepping back through the doors.
© 2010 Clint Williams and Vinnie Kinsella