By Maria Monroy
The blazing August sun embraced the earth so tight that it seemed like smoke was rising from the black parking lot we parked in. A small “Ugh,” escaped from my pink glossed lips; I felt such a burden to leave the cool air- conditioned Jeep just to walk ten steps into the convenience store. As the Jeep’s door opened, the heat of the sun wrapped itself around our legs, arms and face; we struggled to walk up to the convenience store but as soon as we opened the door the cool air gently enveloped our skin.
Aisles of potato chips, and baked beans, and fridges packed with beer, and sodas surrounded us from all sides, luring us to take one of them with us. Customers hurriedly grabbed snacks, drinks, or even chargers for their phones; some just got in line to pay for gas. The line grew longer and longer as people decided to prolong their stay in the store before facing the heat again.
The burning rays of the midday sun lazily reached through the huge windows towards the inside of the store in attempts to caress one of the paying customers but in its efforts failed, only making the white floor appear even that more white. Everyone would glance outside every now and then and sigh, the August heat was threatening and seemed like it could smother one to death. I could feel the air conditioner blasting cold air towards my face, I felt this made it worth leaving the comfort of the cold Jeep. Today we didn’t pick up any snacks or beverages, we didn’t need gas or more air in our tires; we were simply there to use the fax machine available. The electricity company needed proof of residence so we had to send a copy of a bill through fax; as we didn’t have a fax machine of our own and the convenience store around the corner from our house offered the use of the fax machine for just one dollar, we went there. We were Tenth in line; everyone was giddy to pay for their items and bolt back to their cold homes, workplaces or wherever they were headed.
The smell of sunscreen was prominent and coming from behind us in line, sure enough I looked back and there was a woman chasing her three little boys; her husband didn't seem to notice or care- he just stood tall and looked on. In front of us was a man in a black suit, his hair was slicked back and I wondered how the heat had not drenched his suit in sweat. The line seemed to stretch miles, there was only one cashier.
The store was comfortable with its cool climate, the hustle and bustle of people grabbing snacks and putting them back and grabbing them again, the sound of the soda machine pouring sodas one after another, the sound of the cash register ‘beeping’ with every item, the crinkle of the bags, the many languages being spoken back and forth and way that people respected the space of others. Finally we advanced to eighth in line, my skin had stabilized to its normal temperature and my shorts were no longer holding onto the sun’s heat. The sunscreen-covered kids kept on playing around us, their mother now standing with her husband- she seemed to have lost the fight to calm down her kids; I was surprised in the way they didn’t seem to knock anything down. The man in front of us was in no way fidgety or impatient, he stood still as can be in his black suit. I looked around impatient that we had to wait so long just to have a fax sent.
Fifth in line, ten minutes had passed… ‘If only people wouldn't buy lottery tickets when there’s so many people in line, everything would be fast,’ I thought to myself, “Ugh,” I uttered impatiently.
“Don’t worry we are almost at the counter,” said a voice from beside me. I smiled and tapped my foot to calm my impatient manner.
Two girls dressed in red sundresses, skin kissed by the passionate sun walked in as they took their white rimmed sunglasses off. A gust of hot air bust into the store and diffused with the cold air as they whipped their blond hair in efforts to cool down. They poured themselves a cold Pepsi each and got in line behind all of us.
‘Fourth in line now, nice!’ I thought as I watched an elderly man pay for some gas and buy a yellow ice pop for his granddaughter. Inch by inch we got closer to to the cash register; one dollar in my hand ready to pay to use the fax machine.
Finally, the black suited man paid for gas and bought a charger cable and left out the door into the hostile heat. The counter met our palms as the cashier was putting away a nickel. I looked to my right and in Spanish I confirmed the fax number given to us; the voice in my head is always in Spanish, since it is my maternal language. At this moment is when I heard an annoyed sigh stumble out of the cashier's throat, I thought nothing of it and proceeded to tell him in English that we needed the fax machine to fax a document.
The two blond women started chatting loudly and the store’s door welcomed the heat of the sun for a moment. The cashier stared at me for a couple seconds with his stone blue eyes and asked for the documents that would be faxed. I fumbled for the document and pulled another one out with the fax number that it would be sent to on it, I gave him the two documents. He took both of the documents, his tall frame stormed to the fax machine, ‘it must have been a long day for him I thought’- I was actually impressed that by his storming off, it produced a gust of cool air behind him.
While he was at the fax machine I looked at my watch it showed off a high noon. I admired how the pale leather band contrasted against my olive skin-tone, with this I placed the green one dollar bill on the counter hoping the ordeal would be over soon. However, I was comfortable in the convenience store and didn’t really wish to go out into the burning atmosphere outside.
I looked at my watch again: 12:02 it read, I looked towards the fax machine to see if the cashier was almost done… he had turned towards my mother and stared whilst shaking his head -- confused my brow furrowed and heartbeat quickened. However, what was louder was the sound of tin cans falling to the ground one by one then all at once, the loud clamour filled the store; the three little, sunscreen-clad, boys had finally managed to knock down a pile of carefully arranged bean tin-cans. For a moment everyone was shocked and turned to stare at them. Their mother hurriedly scurried them away and tried to pick up the cans, embarrassed, her brunette hair swung around in a ponytail.
“Don’t worry about it ma’am,” bellowed the blue eyed cashier. My heart was still beating against my chest worried that something might be wrong. Wrong, I still didn’t know in what sense; however, down in my gut I felt a queasy feeling, the churning right before the stomach spills all its contents. I looked at the tin cans rolling in all directions still, in no fixed way. The little boys were at the chip aisle now, the sunscreen smell was farther and I could only smell hints of it. I breathed in and out, in and out, trying to calm down the racing beats of my heart. I turned to see him again and sure enough he proceeded to fax the document and every number beeped as he punched the buttons. ‘Nothing to worry about, you were just over- reacting, see everything is fine,’ I thought to myself, ‘we will be out of here in no time.’ My heart was still stubborn in its beat and my gut was still churning even though I was trying to make myself believe that this was just another hot day in Texas.
Just as my instincts had feared; all of a sudden the beeping stopped. Stunned I looked towards the fax machine again, the cashier looked up and loudly proclaimed that the paper provided was too small to be faxed; it was the standard sized paper so I felt in my heart and knew in my mind that comment was a lie. ‘Why would he lie about that,’ the thought raced through my mind and I was too slow to respond… from beside me a heard a soft “I’m sori?”
Frustrated that I was too slow to respond, I felt blood rush to my face. All of a sudden the convenience store seemed to be closing up on me. All of a sudden the convenience store’s air conditioner started blowing what felt like pangs of hot air. All of a sudden I felt
exasperatingly hot, I could feel droplets of sweat forming on my face, on my neck and on my chest. ‘Why do I feel like this, this is just a normal day, stop feeling uneasy… stop,’ was everything that was running through my mind while my mouth was frozen and my words were icicles just waiting to break. I still didn’t understand the feeling but I was sure something was not right.
His voice cold as ice proclaimed “You can’t understand?” The tone of his voice so mocking it could break even the most brave soul down. Again he looked us straight in the eye and sneered “You can’t understand English, huh?”
I could feel the blood pressure in my veins sprinting almost to the point that I felt my veins would pop and splash their contents all over the shiny-white floor. The store door opened and the three little boys along with their mother and father left, impatient with the whole ordeal; was it my fault the line was being held up? I looked down at my hands and their color had gone from their nice earthy shade to one of reds, pinks and purples… ‘great’ I thought, ‘why would I get nervous now?’ Out of the corner of my eye I saw the fiery red sundresses of the two blond girls trail us from behind.
I looked up and saw the reflection of me and the one of a beautiful and strong woman; olive-tone skin colored her face, strong and full brows framed those resilient brown eyes of hers, full nude lips, and lunares all around her face danced. I looked to my right, towards the reflection and saw my mother's beautiful face, weatherd with age. It was hers, the voice that I had heard, she was the one that shyly let out the “I’m sori;” it was her voice the one that had spilled the meek and humble words said that afternoon. My mother had spoken in the English language… the one she was so embarrassed of because of her accent. The beautiful accent that reminded me of my roots. The beautiful accent, the one that had surrounded me before I attended kindergarten and learned about the Anglo-accents. Why would anyone criticize her accent… the one she works so hard to hide. The accent that keeps hidden close to her chest and thus brings me along to interpret for her, to be her voice, one that has can untangle from her roots and tango with the monoglossic tone of the masses. The beautiful accent that glosses her English words with a soft and unique sheen. That accent has always sweetened my ear, making sure that I am okay. That accent that I love and have come to know as proof that one woman is capable of anything… even uprooting her life and nurturing a new life in new soil. Her voice was the one to speak up that afternoon… not mine. But wasn’t her voice the one that had taught me how to stand my ground and speak out for my beliefs?
It felt like an eternity in the scorching-hot Hell in front of that transparent counter. My mind raced, confused… ‘Why would he ask if she didn't understand?’ ‘Is it because she spoke so soft and meekly?’ ‘Why wouldn’t he just repeat what he said?’ ‘Is it because of our olive-toned skin?’ ‘Is it because we are women?’ ‘Is it because my mother’s accent?’ ‘Everyone in the store is staring at us.’ ‘Stop; Stop being dumb.’ ‘Stop being naive!’ ‘You know what is happening here, what will you do about it?’ ‘Will you let him jeer at your own mother like that?’ ‘Is he even worth saying anything to?’
The convenience store compressed around us even more; in efforts to entomb us, it seemed to grow even that much more hot, it seemed like it was being overtaken by the rays that were lazily grabbing all the white tile they could encompass. My face grew as hot as the sun waiting for us outside, by now a trail of sweat was slithering from the back of my neck onto my back. Sweat was drenching my skin even though just moments before the frigid air had made such a welcoming space for me. Thanks to the heat my body unfroze and the blood pressure that threatened to explode my heart into a million pieces, jolted me to action.
“You know this isn’t right,” I whispered to myself. I took the dollar bill, I had put on the transparent counter just a few moments ago, back and I turned; I saw the fiery red sundresses of the two blonde girls, they had stopped talking and were looking down- probably feeling uncomfortable about the whole situation. I swiftly walk towards the blue eyed cashier. He just stared at me with no expression in his face… fish eyes. My brown eyes met the blue of his, I grabbed the paper from him, his pale-white arm brushed my brown arm as we exchange papers. I stand in front of him and by the fax machine… “Never ever silence my mother,” I proclaimed; his stone cold blue eyes somehow still try to pierce their way through my dignity.
“Mamá ya nos podemos ir,” and with that we both walked out of that now scorching hot convenience store.
The automatic doors slide open and unlike before there is no difference in temperature as we enter into the sun’s land. I feel the sun’s rays caress every single one of my limbs and I know I am safe.
“Put your sunglasses on mija,” that reassuring accent envelopes me in it. My mother puts on her sunglasses and I follow suit.
“You know ma, I love your accent and you should embrace it; don’t let people like him try to belittle us.” The smoke keeps rising from the ground and the world keeps moving.
I look down at my watch, it shows 12:05; the sun reflects on the glass face and hurts my eyes making me look away.
Back in the Jeep we go, it feels almost like a sauna; my mom blasts the cold air, my body temperature fails to go down, but my blood now calmly marches through my veins.