Fiction: Saving Money

April 5, 2018 Fiction , POETRY / FICTION

Ian Sane photo

 

By

Jerome Teelucksingh

 

 

 

Jose Pico was a Guatemalan who wanted to be a novelist. He was an illegal resident in the United States. Two years ago he had written a novel but it was rejected by royalty-paying presses. This made him depressed and he felt that if he had remained in Guatemala his work would have been appreciated and published in Spanish. He checked his wristwatch. It was 1.10 pm. He had to return to work. He was employed as a clerk at the counter of Continental Airlines at Terminal E of the George Bush International Airport in Texas. His job was to ensure the weight of each piece of luggage did not exceed the maximum limit. It was a monotonous job and lacked excitement. He felt it would have been more exciting to rummage through selected suitcases checking for contraband items.

After work, Jose met his friend, Vladimir, who was a bathroom attendant for the toilets near Gate 30. Vladimir informed everyone that he was an illegal immigrant from Russia who arrived in the United States in 1992. He had a driver’s license and government-issued identification card. His job was to ensure that toilets were flushed, liquid soap containers were refilled, mirrors wiped and the floors mopped. He had two children, a daughter from his previous marriage and a stepson. He was diagnosed by a psychologist and psychiatrist as being a paranoid schizophrenic and suffering from depression. For the past three years he took two tablets on a daily basis to prevent mood swings and delusions. This effort to restore his sanity was only temporary.

Jose and Vladimir would usually chat during their lunch breaks. They would buy snacks at Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, and sometimes had tea or coffee at Nestle Toll House Café and Gloria Jean’s Coffees.

In Terminal C one of the bathroom attendants was absent because she had to undergo surgery. The supervisor asked Vladimir to fill the temporary position which was near Gate 32. For three months he worked in this new location. On mornings he would pass near the President’s Club of Continental Airlines. He longed to enter the room to use the facilities. During his morning break he would buy a copy of USA Today from CNBC News. He was always interested in reading the international news section. Sometimes he purchased a chocolate bar or nuts for his children.

During lunch-time, Vladimir ate tuna, beef, chicken or cheese sandwiches. These were prepared at home and would also be the lunches for his children, Nikita who was nine years and Ali who was twelve years old. Occasionally, he would buy lunch at the Urban Crave which boasted of selling authentic street cuisine. His favorites were braised tacos, classic burgers and chop chop salad.

During his cleaning routine, Vladimir pulled a small, yellow barrel on wheels. This barrel had mops, brooms, rags, toilet paper, liquid soap, floor deodorizer, aerosol sprays and toilet brushes. The barrel also had a small, portable yellow sign- Wet Floor. This sign would be placed on sections of the floor that were mopped. He would tell his children, Nikita and Ali, of incidents that he witnessed. These included stories of passengers who forgot their luggage or wristwatches in the toilet, passengers who would be reading in the toilet and who left with pieces of toilet paper stuck to their shoes. ‘Today there was a man from India who forgot his yellow turban in the toilet.’

Nikita laughed and doubted the authenticity of the incident. ‘You told us that already, two weeks ago.’

‘No, no, no. That was an Indian man who left his suitcase behind the toilet bowl.’

Ali smiled. ‘Daddy we don’t believe you.’ Their father left the room and soon returned with the yellow turban which he found in the airport’s toilet. Both children had shocked expressions.

Vladimir’s wife, Sumintra Benn, was a Guyanese. She was employed as a maid at the Marriott and her job was to clean the guest rooms. Every morning, she was given a list of rooms that needed cleaning. She was short, fat and dark-skinned. She was a graduate of the University of Guyana. Her ex-husband was a Trinidadian and they had one son- Ali. She won custody of her ten year old son and they departed for the United States in 1999.

She desperately wanted citizenship and was a fugitive from the Department of Homeland Security. Two weeks ago, she received a letter in the mail. It was from Publishers Clearing House informing her that she could win US$50,000 weekly for the rest of her life. She began to daydream of the clothes and electronic items she would buy at Cyber Monday and Black Friday sales.

She met her future husband, at the airport, during one of her visits to Guyana. She had mistakenly entered the men’s washroom and he smiled and told her it was the wrong place. The short conversation resulted in the exchange of telephone numbers and emails. She married him believing that she would become a U.S citizen. However, Vladimir lied about his resident status so she would marry him.

During work she collected newspapers from the tables and bins. She neatly folded each one and placed them in a green plastic bag. ‘This is for recycling, I’m trying to save the environment.’ Other maids did not seem to care about her efforts.

Her boss was impressed. ‘I’m very glad to see that you are concerned with saving the environment.’

Sumintra was not concerned about the environment. She collected newspapers and circulars for the coupons. During the nights and weekends she would force her children to cut coupons for discounts from nearby stores. She often stole flyers from the postboxes in her neighborhood and other communities. During the nights she encouraged her husband to assist with the clipping of coupons. He would begin cutting and after fifteen minutes would complain he was bored and wanted to sleep or watch television.

In the evening, Vladimir said goodbye to Jose and his friends. This was his last day at work. Next week he would begin a new job at the JFK Airport in New York. He and his family would be renting a three bedroom apartment on the sixth floor.

New York was hectic but Vladimir soon got accustomed.  The apartment had a small porch. He opened the sliding door and stepped into the porch. He felt the evening wind blow through his hair. The pet hamster moved in its cage. It was hungry.

Sumintra was seated on the kitchen floor cutting coupons. She regularly boasted that she saved hundreds of dollars every month at the grocery. She had a scab on her left arm. This was due to a cut from broken glass which she received whilst digging in a dumpster searching for old newspapers. She asked neighbors and relatives for their old newspapers. Every morning before Vladimir departed for work she reminded him to check tables and seats for unwanted newspapers.

Each room in the apartment was slowly transformed into storage areas for products bought with coupons and food stamps. There were tins of Campbell’s Chicken Soup under the four beds, on the kitchen floor were Gillette razors, tins of sardines, Chips Ahoy cookies, diapers, Pop-Tarts, bars of Cadbury chocolates and Viva paper towels. In the living room there were large bags of Purina dog chow and hundreds of cans of Friskies Dry Cat Food.

One Friday evening, she entered the Food Emporium located on 49th Street and 8th Avenue. She slowly read labels of products, compared in-store deals and double-checked prices. She also spent considerable time seeking advice from aisle attendants and other shoppers. After twenty minutes of indecision she finally decided to get a bottle of 7-Up. She hurried to the shelf, grabbed the bottle and headed for a cashier. She opened her purse and gave him coupons, food stamps, and the Bonus Savings Club card.

‘Good evening marm.’ The cashier smiled and glanced at the items in the cart. ‘So how are your pets and babies?’ He swiped the card and returned it to her.

‘Oh, the babies and dogs and cats are fine. Just buying the usual food for them.’

‘You must enter them in our Pet Contest next month.’

She nodded. She had coupons to get fifty cents off Blue Diamond Almonds, one dollar off Sun-Maid Raisins and sixty cents off each bottle of Comet.

He checked the coupons and food stamps and passed a hand-held electronic device over the bar codes. The machine beeped and the cashier smiled. ‘That will be $9.74 marm.’

She expected a lower price and reluctantly gave him ten dollars. She waited for the change and receipt. Before entering the subway station she counted the coins to ensure the cashier did not make an error. After exiting the station she purchased a chicken sandwich at a deli. She complained that the sandwich was too expensive. The food attendant smiled but did not reply. When she returned home she quietly entered the kitchen and hurriedly ate the sandwich. This was a common trait because she did not want to share food with other family members.

Next day, Vladimir was in the kitchen. He had a bowl and container of milk on the table. He opened and closed cupboards. ‘Dear do we have any cornflakes or Quaker Oats?’

She was using a hairdryer and did not hear him. He banged on the door and repeated the question.

‘Not sure. Check in de porch or living room.’

He cursed and slowly headed for the living room. He checked under the couches, behind the television and then went to the porch. He moved the food items hoping to find cornflakes or oats. ‘No I’m not seeing any. Did you buy any Trix, recently?’

She switched off the hairdryer and shouted, ‘Check in the bathroom for a box of Wheaties, Rice Krispies, Banana Nut Crunch, Corn Pops, Cap’n Crunch, Special K. If you don’t find any, try some Cracker Jack. I think I bought some last week at Walmart.’

He then decided on a tuna sandwich. He liked Starkist Solid White Tuna in oil. However, he realized there was no tuna. He went to the porch and saw two large bags of Kibbles n’Bits and three bags of Purina Pro Plan and Beneful. He reluctantly opened one of the bags of dog food. He took two handfuls, smelled it and then carefully placed it in a bowl with milk. He slowly stirred it with a spoon. His arm was trembling as he placed a spoonful in his mouth and began chewing. He felt nauseous and swallowed. He suddenly realized the taste was agreeable and had another spoonful of dog food and milk. It was crunchy and reminded him of cornflakes. He also enjoyed the dog snacks- Meaty Bone and Scooby Snacks.

During the next month, for breakfast, he would have dog food and milk. His friends felt his hair looked glossy and shiny. And, he no longer suffered from constipation. He read the ingredients of Purina Beneful and saw it had ‘real beef and wholesome grains’ and Purina Pro Plan had ‘wholesome rice and high levels of antioxidants.’ He felt this was nutritious and quietly encouraged his two children to eat the dog food and dog snacks. It seemed to have a positive effect on Ali who no longer needed Ritalin.

One evening, Vladimir agreed to prepare dinner. He boiled pasta and opened a can of mixed vegetables. He searched for tinned tuna or salmon but realized there was none in the apartment. He was frustrated and annoyed and wanted to dump the pasta. He saw two tins of Friskies and a bag of Catnip. He read the ingredients and shook his head. Friskies had thirty vitamins and minerals and was supposed to have ‘high quality protein for growing muscles.’ It seemed healthier than the sausages which he enjoyed. After twenty minutes he decided to open two tins of cat food and added it to the pasta. ‘Nikki come and set the table.’

Nikita entered the kitchen and opened packages of plastic spoons, paper cups and plates. To avoid the task of buying and washing dishes and cutlery, her lazy mother bought disposable cups, plates and spoons.

The entire family enjoyed the meal. Sumintra licked her lips. ‘This is a great meal. One of the best you ever made!’

‘Yes dad, it tastes like you added some exotic spice,’ said Nikita.

Ali added, ‘Yes, compliments to the chef! Daddy you are a great cook.’

Vladimir smiled but was angry that the apartment was stocked with items that they did not need. He sternly said to his wife, ‘Listen, I said it before but you need to buy food and items we need. Look how much dog food, baby food and cat food we have!’

‘What wrong with dat?’ asked Sumintra.

‘We don’t have a cat or dog! We have no pets! And we don’t have any babies!’

This did not bother her. ‘But we can buy a cat and a dog. I suppose we can adopt a baby.’

‘Adopt a baby? Honey you cannot even care for the children we have and you want to adopt! Look last week the hamster almost died of starvation,’ her husband continued, ‘cut down on the time you spend on cutting coupons and help with the children’s homework. Go and pay some of the bills. Look AT&T disconnected us because we did not pay.’ He stared at the two tattoos on her arm.

‘Mummy, listen to daddy he is right,’ said Nikita, ‘look we have no fabric softener, ketchup, salt and foil paper. The cable bill has been unpaid for four months.’

Sumintra smiled and casually dismissed their concerns. Next morning, Vladimir began making sandwiches for lunch. The sandwiches comprised mayonnaise, chopped celery, garlic and cat food. He found these sandwiches were tastier than the hot dogs and cheese sandwiches.  For dessert he would have a small bottle of Gerber’s baby food. A routine annual blood test revealed reductions in cholesterol and blood pressure. This made him believe that the cat, baby and dog foods were responsible for his improved health. He did not mention this to his wife because he felt she would buy more of these foods. On Fridays, he shared the cat food sandwiches with Jose.

 

 

 

 

 

Jerome Teelucksingh

I am from Trinidad & Tobago (in the Caribbean). My short story ‘Cricket in the Caribbean’ was published in the Caribbean Writer and ‘Pastor Tries to Save The Environment’ was featured in the anthology Jewels of the Caribbean.  Also, my short story, ‘The Tourist’ appeared in the IUP Journal of Commonwealth Literature. My poetry has also appeared in magazines and journals including the Poetry Box, Taj Mahal Review, Journal of South Texas Studies, San Pedro Review and Diálogos.

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