Commuting consisted of walking five blocks at the slowest possible speed, which was never slow enough. But at least I had the key now — my bosses trusted me blindly. As a result, I felt compelled to do everything with utmost care and precision. It was all mundane tasks: stockroom duties, ordering products, following up on clothing alterations for special customers, and the till. That was the point of pressure, the reason why I had earned that trust. Counting money was a mindless task, there was nothing challenging about it and yet the bosses were delighted every time I cashed up the till and the numbers were right.
Several incidents in the shop made me realize that stealing from the till was much more common than I thought, and a couple of co-workers came and went in a matter of weeks because of that. There was one who hit me really hard, a soft-spoken brunette with a heavenly smile. I thought about asking her out, but always froze at the last second, and then she wasn’t there anymore. I didn’t even get her phone number, and I wasn’t going to ask Carina. I needed the money too much to make her question if I was reliable, and dating a former employee who got fired like that would have been uncomfortable. Or maybe I was just too afraid to admit that I liked her more because she stuck it to the man.
“Yo, are you deaf? I’ve been knocking for ages!”
Adrián was shouting from the other side of the window. The door was locked, we never opened it before 9:30. We did let some customers in on occasion, mainly when Carina was there. She never missed a sales opportunity.
“Sorry, I zoned out. It’s too early.”
“So why the hell have you been here since the Ice Age? Sleep more, come in later.”
“I like the headstart. Makes me feel like I’m on top of things.”
I knew I’d regret saying it.
“From my side, it looks like you hit rock bottom. Half an hour overtime every day for free? You’re nuts. Or a masochist.”
“I’m doing this to avoid going nuts. I’m not explaining it again on a Monday morning. Go change.”
“You have no power over me.”
Adrián’s English was flawless and he sounded exactly like the movie. He was one of the less geeky persons I knew, which made the reference hilarious. But I only laughed inside.
“Alright, whatever. I need to count this, so shut up.”
Adrián went straight to the back room, changed clothes in a minute and put the kettle on. There was no morning without mate and facturas, but Claudio was late that day. We downed half a thermos before he showed up, carrying the goods with a snarky smile.
“She’s there again, boys.”
Adrián’s face lit up.
“The Felony girl?”
“You still don’t know her name?”
“I know she works at Felony, so I’m going there. Gimme a 100, I’ll go get change. We always need change.”
He snatched the bill from my hand and stormed out, almost bumping into Lía, who had an exhausted look and muttered a general hello. “You slept well last night, didn’t you, Miss San Nicolás?”
Claudio always called her that. Lía had been a pageant winner in her town last year. It was something I couldn’t picture, no matter how hard I tried. She was down to earth, gentle, funny. No self-centered aura, which was the defining trait of those contests. She had a powerful beauty, a captivating simplicity like sun rays on a meadow.
“Four hours, we’re moving tomorrow. Still have to fill some boxes. I’m starting to hate Manuel’s library.”
“Didn’t you say half the books were yours?”
“Yeah, but he’s the one who keeps buying hard covers. Huge, expensive bricks disguised as books.”
Adrián came back, 10-peso bills flaming in his right hand as a victory banner.
Lía was not awake yet.
“The Felony girl! Her name’s Mariela. She’s from Arroyito. Single. Likes to skate, hangs out with those BMX guys in the square sometimes. You know, the hardcore band. Protesta Viva?”
“Protesta Activa.” My words had a scolding tone. It always bothered me how he ignored them. They were smart, and they sounded tight. Good people too, in-tune with everything that went on in the city, committed.
“You got all that in five minutes while asking for change?”
Claudio couldn’t believe it.
“I’m inspired today. It must be the sugar, those facturas were dope.”
“You know, street slang is not your thing. Leave it to the hardcore guys.”
Lía was awake and joking now.
Adrián was about to counterattack when Carina came in. We all said hi and got to work, focusing on our current tasks. Behind her felicitous façade was a merciless shop owner, never fully satisfied with what we did. It was a family business, and she was the youngest one but also the most demanding. And we had the blessing of having her there every morning. They owned five different stores, but she had a preference for this one and I always attributed it to the location. A massive window in a corner, where she could contemplate the city center’s movements and be admired by passersby in the meantime. She loved that.
“Nice blouse, Cari! That’s not one of ours, right?” I knew how to play the game. Even when it wasn’t officially my job, I often engaged clients with comments like this and ended up selling a thing or two.
“Thank you! No, it’s from Vidaclara.”
That was their poshest shop, three blocks down the road. My trial period had been there. The snobbery was ten times higher than in Cactus.
“Finished with the shirts. What now?”
Lía didn’t sound too industrious.
“Sort the belts again, honey. They’re a mess.”
The tension between them was always there. They hadn’t clicked since day one, but Lía was also the best salesperson they had. Carina did not care very much for her, but she wasn’t in denial. Numbers never lied.
The rest of the day rolled by with unexpected stillness, but it was not a bad way to start the week. Marina got there at noon as usual, and we had our lunch trading weekend tales. We had become friends at once, and I sometimes went for drinks with her and her guy Facu. They were boisterous new friends for me. Most of my regular crew could be loud too but in a different way. We always ended up having deep discussions, even when we were drunk or high. I loved them, but we had built a temple of intellect. There were days when I needed less philosophy and more party.
After lunch, I had little to do and I opted for faking it. I had learned it from George Costanza: If you looked worried and walked around carrying papers, people thought you were super busy. But the strategy didn’t speed up the clock, and 5:30 took a long while to show up. I rushed to the back room at 5:27, which I could get away with when Carina was not there. We all nicked a few minutes whenever we could. Come to think about it, they owed me even more time for the early mornings. I started walking home on autopilot, Warrel Dane’s voice blasting on the headphones. “They took away your freedom, but they’ll never take your mind.”
To be continued…
In the Middle – An International Transposition (Fiction)
Introduction to In the Middle – An International Transposition, edited by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey
January: Forgetting – Turkey, by Seyit Ali Dastan
February: The Unreal in Real – Armenia, by Armine Asryan
March: Catching Water – Argentina, by Javier Gómez
April: Unwanted – South Africa, by Sarah Leah Pimentel
May: House with a Stucco Ship – Ukraine, by Gennady Bondarenko
June: A Girl Pedaling up the Road of Life – Cuba, by Marilin Guerrero Casas
July: The Last Day – Poland, by Pawel Awdejuk
August: Through my Hands – Venezuela, by Veronica Cordido
September: Amelia’s Euphemism – Spain, by Jonay Quintero Hernández
October: Until Love Do Us Part – Uruguay, by Alejandra Baccino
November: A Journey to the Edge – Lebanon, by Rayan Harake
December: I Used to Smoke – Russia, by Kate Korneeva
Background – Context
Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)
L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)
From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)
More work by Javier Gómez
The Canyon Inside Us – transposing emblem by Javier Gómez
Uncharted Bliss – transposing emblem by Javier Gómez
The Way of No Way – transposing emblem by Javier Gómez
Emblems and stories on Argentina
Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from Armenia and other countries
Cover photo: Penumbra (Charata, Argentina) by Fachy Marin (Unsplash)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed