Four thirty A.M.
A.M. means ante-meridian, a fact that I learned ages ago somewhere on the internet. It pops up in my head constantly, no matter how useless a fact it might be. No one cares where things come from anymore. I stand at the bus stop with my green stainless steel travel mug clutched in my white-knuckled hand, using it to mask the bus pass I shell out $129 for each month because in the hours before the sun bathes the world in light and judgment, I am terrified of getting mugged for it.
The coffee is weak. I made it while I was half asleep before dragging my body into the shower to breathe some life back into my bones. I ache almost constantly these days and I remain unsure as to whether it’s age or the weight gain from quitting smoking that’s the culprit. Maybe it’s both — I am both older and heavier than I was a few years ago. I poured too much water into the coffee maker without realizing and the result is coffee that’s nearly too weak to stomach. I pretend it’s not decaf so the placebo effect will make me feel like I slept last night. I didn’t, but that’s typical.
The bus is nearly deserted, and I drink my decaffeinated swill with more enthusiasm than I actually feel. It’s a rough start to my morning.
The windows of the bus struggle in their frames, perhaps trying to escape the jostling caused by poorly-paved roads. The great mechanical beast groans its way down Yonge and with great effort, lurches to a stop at my street. Stepping off the sanctuary of the bus and into the darkened downtown streets, I am instantly on high alert. Peripheral vision and my heavy travel mug are my security in the dead morning, where everyone is my enemy. Those who say there is no such thing as rape culture are the ones who’ve never had to live with it.
Mercifully, I pass no one except a heavyset man sleeping on a bed of newspapers in a doorway. My heart skips a beat when he mumbles in his slumber and I recall the time I had to take an alternate route due to an accident. I walked down a side street and was followed by a thin, dirty man who asked me repeatedly if I had time for a quickie and would not take my “no” for an answer. Terrified, shaking, and alone, I tried to call up the bravery of my ancestors and steady my voice when I asked him to stop following me.
As I head toward the heavy glass door of my workplace, a man rounds the bend and walks quickly toward me. “Excuse me, miss,” he begins, but I’m already frightened. No good can come of talking to strange men outside the bus station at such an hour. “Sorry,” I cut him off, “I’ve got to go to work now.”
Work has been my go-to excuse for ages. In my past life, when a man would call expecting me to come over and give him a blowjob, I would tell him I had to work in the morning. When a man beat the shit out of me and threatened to bash my head in, I stayed still and attempted to calm him through the worst night of my life. As the morning light began to pour into the destroyed room in which I was held captive, I reminded him that I had to go to work and if I was missing, people would ask questions.
I hardly remember that day at all.
Safe inside the building, I breathe a sigh of relief. I made it, safe from the clutches of catastrophe for one more day.
Someone doesn’t show up on time for their shift. That’s the first bad omen.
The espresso machine breaks and I have to call it in. In the middle of the morning rush, I hold the phone to my ear with my shoulder and ram my hand into the guts of the behemoth machine in an attempt to coax the trapped grinds out. No luck, I have to request a technician. This repair job is too much for a high-school drop out barista like me. Second bad omen.
I don’t see the omens until it’s too late.
Nine thirty A.M.
I am trying to catch up on breaks, so I send two people at once and man the tills myself. “Are you missing bodies?” a voice from my right catches my attention, and my stomach drops. The district manager and her second-in-command are coming behind the counter and that can’t mean anything good. I am pulled into the back and so begins the inquisition.
Why are you on till if you’re supposed to be running the floor?
Why is the door to the back room propped open?
Why aren’t the trash bins brought in?
Why isn’t the patio set up?
This doesn’t look good. This doesn’t look good. This DOESN’T LOOK GOOD.
It’s a bad day to be an opener, pulled from the closing shift and thrust into an unfamiliar world full of morning people. My answers are interpreted as defensive. When attacked, does one not defend? I am confused. These people probably don’t even know my name.
Eleven thirty A.M.
I rush through the deposit, swallowing my tears in a lump that painfully contorts my throat. My boss wants to know why I’ve fucked up so badly and why I’m so upset. I don’t explain that when I feel like I’m not being heard, I break down. I don’t explain that when I was four, my father flew into a rage when he heard me reading aloud from a book about squirrels. “The squirrels go ‘chit-chit-chit’,” I chirped, proud of myself for knowing the words. “YOU CAN’T SAY THAT!” he exploded, storming into the living room. “NOT IN THIS HOUSE!” My repeated pleas for him to look at the page, read the words, and see that I wasn’t saying “SHIT SHIT SHIT” fell on deaf ears. I was silenced, and enraged by that silence. I don’t explain that no one heard me when I tried to talk about the people who molested me, repeatedly, from the time I was maybe six years old. I stick to the facts, and thankfully that’s enough for him. He lets me know he’s on my side, and I am grateful.
Three thirty P.M.
P.M. means post-meridian. I learned that somewhere on the internet. I step inside my cool apartment and collapse onto the couch with my boots still strapped to my feet. I do not allow myself to cry, not this time. Today was a shitty day, but a flash-in-the-pan. Already I know tomorrow will be better. No one knows the reasons for my overreaction to being questioned about the day’s mistakes, so my secret is still safe.
I needn’t have worried. No one cares where people come from anymore.