THE UNIVERSE SPOKE
Brandi bounced happily into the apartment she shared with her two roommates, Amanda and Candace — or Mandi and Candi as she referred to them, much to their chagrin. The three of them shared a two bedroom flat close to the university where they were all enrolled in classes.
Brandi was twenty-two, tall, with straight dark hair, and brown eyes. She was very pretty, and knew it. She also helped curate her good looks by always having the most current everything — fashion, electronics, apps, jewellery. She was a trendsetter, all her friends agreed. But unfortunately, she was a trendsetter without a following, and consequently was deeply in debt. But that didn’t seem to bother Brandi. She’d figure it out. She was sure something great was just around the corner.
Amanda and Candace, were both in the living room, each doing school work. It was the end of therm and finals were now. Candace was engrossed in a textbook on nano technology. Amanda was knee-deep in a scholarly paper she needed to finish in two days for her Computational Molecular Biology course, her laptop balanced on her knees, as she researched her paper.
Amanda was a petite blond, who was also a black belt in judo and aikido. She had been recruited for the national olympic team for judo, but had quit the team stating that she couldn’t do both her studies and compete on a national level — something had to give, and Amanda had decided it would be sports, Olympics or no Olympics. Instead, she devoted herself to earning her degree in molecular biology, with her eye on a Master’s degree in Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology. She had already been accepted at the University of Helsinki. Suffice it to say that Amanda was no slouch.
Candace was also blonde, but taller and more laid back than Amanda. The two had known each other for years, and had recently started dating. Candace had a less intense view of life. She had taken dance as a child, and still took instruction from the woman who had taught her for years. Dance was her way of keeping fit and giving her life some balance. Unlike Amanda, she couldn’t seem to devote her entire life to her studies, preferring instead to intersperse her studies in nano engineering with movies, parties, and of course, dance.
Compared to her two roommates, Brandi was flakey. She was working on a degree in media studies, but was struggling. She was taking a reduced course load — two courses a term instead of four, and still seemed to be grappling with the concepts of due dates and class times. She was in her fourth year of studies, but was still taking second year classes. The fact that she neglected to tell the people at the student loan program that she was only taking a half course load, meant she was still receiving full-time loan money. That delighted Brandi, because it meant that she had more money to spend.
“Everywhere I went today, I saw Birkin bags,” she announced to the women. “I must have seen ten different styles. So, I figured it was a sign. The universe wanted me to have a new purse. So I bought a bag.”
Candace looked shocked. “You bought a Burkin bag? Are you insane, Brandi? Those things can cost up to five hundred thousand dollars. The cheapest one is like ten thousand dollars!”
“No, silly! Even I wouldn’t spend half a million dollars on a purse!” She laughed. “I bought a Michael Kors bag that just looks like a Burkin bag. See!” She held up a sleek black leather bag. “It was only two hundred dollars. What a deal!”
Amanda and Candace exchanged glances.
Amanda spoke first. “Uh, Brandi, how are you going to pay for that?”
Brandi was looking at her bag. If someone could love a handbag, that was the look in Brandi’s eyes. “Don’t worry, Mandi. I put it on a card. I’ve got this.” She dragged her eyes away from her new purse, and smiled widely at Amanda.
Amanda got up and went to the basket beside the front door, and grabbed a bunch of envelopes.
“These came for you.” She handed Brandi the envelopes, many with PAST DUE stamped on the envelope in red. Brandi didn’t even look at them, she just stuffed them into her new purse.
“Thanks!” she said, as she bounced into her bedroom.
Candace looked at Amanda. “What are we going to do?”
“Well,” said Amanda. “She’s a grown up. We can’t take her credit cards away.”
“Sure, she’s an adult, but she’s also two months in arrears for rent, so maybe we need to say something to her.”
“It’s hard,” said Candace. “She’s so nice.”
They left it at that. Neither wanted to be the one to tell Brandi she needed to pay up, or get out.
The next day, Brandi was shopping in one of the most exclusive areas of the city, when her phone rang. She didn’t recognize the number, so she declined the call, and continued to shop. A few weeks ago, she had made the mistake of answering an unknown number, and it had been some man from a collection agency, demanding they put a plan in place for Brandi to pay the money she owed to the dentist who had overseen her dental implants and veneers. She had paid by cheque, and apparently there wasn’t enough money in her account to cover the second instalment. Brandi had promised the man that she would get back to him with a plan, and had hung up. She hadn’t like the way that he had spoken to her, and besides, what were they going to do? It wasn’t like they could repossess her teeth! Not like they had her car. Brandi had taken that phone call as a sign to never answer unknown number calls.
She had been walking from store to store, but hadn’t seen anything that had given her joy. The thought that she would return to the apartment empty-handed was depressing. She was a bit at odds today, because she could usually find something that made her happy, but today that hadn’t happened.
Brandi stopped dead in her tracks, her new Micheal Kors bag at her side.
What does it mean if I can’t find anything to buy? She was dumbstruck. Could this be a sign that she should stop buying so much? She thought for a long minute, and smiled.
Nah, she thought. There is no way the universe wants me to stop shopping!
And to prove it to herself, she walked into the next store and bought a beautiful pashmina scarf in the most lovely shade of blue that Brandi had ever seen. It matched her eyes so perfectly. She bought scarves for Mandi and Candi, as well.
When she got home, she gave Amanda and Candace their presents, and insisted that they all put them. They did not seem as taken with her purchase as Brandi was.
Amanda was the first to speak up.
“Thank you for the scarf, Brandi, but you shouldn’t be spending money on scarves when you’re two months behind on rent. Candace and I need the money so we can pay the rent. We can’t be supporting you any more. You need to pay your fair share.”
Brandi furrowed her brow. “Two months? Are you sure?”
“Yes. In February you said that you were waiting for your student loan to be deposited into your account, and in March you were in Cancun when the rent was due.”
“Huh,” she said. “I didn’t realize. I’m so sorry. You shouldn’t have to cover my expenses.”
She went to her room and brought out her cheque book. “Okay, so who should I make the cheque out to? Mandi? Candi?” She looked from Amanda to Candace.
Candace spoke up. “Brandi, you know that we can’t accept a cheque from you. You’ve bounced two cheques already, and we’ve been dinged with the overdraft charge. We can’t afford it. We need you to pay cash.”
Brandi was a bit crestfallen, but she understood. She hadn’t meant to bounce the cheques, it was just that it was getting cold out and she needed a winter coat, so she bought a beautiful Canada Goose jacket, with a snuggly fur collar. Sure it had been twelve hundred dollars, but she needed to be warm, didn’t she? And a girl needed new boots to go with her new coat, right. And the Prada boots looked so nice with the jacket …
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll go to the bank tomorrow.”
“That would be great, sweetie” said Amanda, giving her a hug. “Make sure you get next month’s rent, as well. It’s due in a week.”
Brandi smiled, and nodded. “No probs. I’ll have the money for you tomorrow — cold, hard cash!” She gave each of the women a hug. “Thanks for not kicking me out!” She tuned and went into her bedroom.
Hmmm, she thought. Nine hundred dollars. By tomorrow. That’s a lot of money.
Brandi looked around her room. There were clothes everywhere. Her closet was overflowing, and she had installed another three clothing racks. All of her footwear was piled up the walls in clear plexiglas boxes with colour photos pasted to the outside of each box. Other wall space had been devoted to hats, scarves, purses, and jewellery. Her queen-sized bed was pushed into the corner, and there was a dresser with a mirror, every inch of its flat surface covered by makeup and hair products. She had an inordinate amount of clothing and accessories, but it was all treated well — a place for everything, and everything in its place. The problem was that there were no more places because she kept buying new things.
What a casual observer might notice was missing from her room was any indication that Brandi was currently attending university. Where were the textbooks, desk, printer, paper? These were the accoutrements any student would have. Except Brandi. She was able to keep all of her school stuff — books, laptop, thumb drives — everything that she needed — in a single luxurious black Coach Pacer messenger bag, currently on the floor at the foot of her bed, mostly ignored.
Looking at the bag, Brandi suddenly remembered that she had an exam tomorrow. It was for her Ethical Issues in Media course. Brandi nibbled on her beautifully manicured thumb nail.
This worried Brandi a bit because she hadn’t actually been to class in a couple of weeks, and she hadn’t actually downloaded the lecture notes or done any of the readings. In fact, she hadn’t even gotten around to buying the textbook yet, and the course was mostly over. And, the exam was worth forty percent of her final mark. She had not done well on either the major paper nor the midterm exam, and was technically failing the course. She was already on academic probation, and couldn’t afford to fail the class, or she would be asked to withdraw from the university. Her parents would be devastated. She didn’t even know anyone in the class to ask about what was going to be on the exam.
Sitting down on the end of her bed, Brandi felt a bit overwhelmed.
The next morning Brandi was standing outside her bank branch. The exam had been brutal. She knew nothing about what was being discussed, nor did she know the answers to the questions. She was quite certain that she had failed the final exam spectacularly. Even after bullshitting some of her answers, she was still the first person finished writing the exam, which never boded well. Maybe she could persuade the powers-that-be to let her take a make-up class over the summer. Probably not. Maybe it was a sign — the universe telling her that higher education wasn’t for her.
But failing her exam, and potentially getting kicked out of university was not the worst part of her day so far -- and it was only a little after eleven in the morning. No, the worst part of her day had occurred at the bank. Not only did she not have enough money to pay three months’ rent, but she was also in overdraft. And all of her credit cards were maxed out. Add to that, she had a purse full of overdue notices. She was flat broke.
How could this happen? she asked herself.
Brandi was sincerely baffled by this turn of events. Her family did not have any money, so they couldn’t help her. Besides, she couldn’t let them know that she had messed up this badly. No, she had to figure out what to do on her own.
She started wandering towards home. She needed time to consider her predicament. She could get a job, she supposed. Not what she wanted, but desperate times call for desperate measures, blah, blah, blah.
But where? Probably a clothing store. One that gives a giant employee discount. But, probably not. Brandi knew that a minimum wage job wasn’t the answer to her problems. She continued to wander as she considered her options.
What can I actually do to earn money? Pause. Nothing. Not really. She sighed. I am without marketable skills.
She wandered a bit more, lost in her thoughts. When she stopped she was in front of a gentlemen’s club, the Mons Venus. A big sign in the window announced Dancers Wanted!!!!
Brandi looked at the club, looked at the sign, looked back at the club. She knew this club. Some of the other students at school danced here. The pay was awful, but the tips were what kept them coming back. As long as you were willing …
For Brandi, this was her come-to-Jesus moment. Did she need money bad enough to become an exotic dancer? It would kill her parents. But she was broke —very, very broke — and needed money, desperately.
She stood there considering her options. She was pretty sure that the universe did not want her to become a stripper. But, then, if not, why was she here, looking at the giant Dancers Wanted!!!! sign?
Suddenly someone was pulling on her purse, and then she was flying through the air. She landed on the sidewalk, jeans ripped, knees skinned and bleeding, and a big swath of road rash on her forearm where she had skidded across the sidewalk. She looked up just in time to she the thief rounding the corner. She moved to grab her phone.
“Damn it!” she said out loud. Her phone was in her purse. She looked around and spotted a convenience store on the other side of the road. Maybe someone in there would call the police for her.
As she tried to get up her ankle went over. The heel of her Louboutin’s was broken. She looked down, shaking her head.
Of course it’s broken. That’s the kind of day I’m having.
She stood up, and took inventory of her injuries. Nothing was broken, but there were cuts and bruises on her legs and arms. Limping on her broken heel, she crossed the street to the convenience store.
“Welcome to Happy Bee Convenience! How may I help you?” said the clerk, an older, smiling man.
Brandi tried to return his smile.
“My purse was just stolen, and my phone’s inside. I need to call the police.”
“Oh dear!” said the clerk. “Purse snatching! A coward’s crime! I will phone the police for you.”
As he did that, Brandi looked around the store, wondering if they were hiring. When the clerk finished his call, he turned to her and said, “The police will be here in twenty minutes.” He disappeared into the back of the store, returning a few minutes later.
“You have been hurt,” he said, nodding towards her injuries. “Let me clean those for you.”
“No. I’m alright—“
“Nonsense!” He moved towards her washing her cuts and scrapes, covering the ones that were bleeding with Bandaids.
“Thank you so much,” she said, smiling. Her mother had always told her to keep twenty dollars in her pocket, for emergencies. She pulled out the bill, and offered it to the man. “Thank you for helping me.”
“No. No. No,” he said, putting up his hands. “I cannot take your money. I do this because it is the right thing to do.”
Brandi looked around. “Is this your store?”
The clerk nodded. “Fadil at your service.” He bowed slightly at the waist. “I have owned this store for five years, since I arrived from Syria.”
“Thank you for all your help, Fadil. I’m Brandi” she said, proffering her hand. They shook.
Brandi decided that if Fadil wouldn’t accept her money, then she would buy something. She looked around, spotting the lottery tickets.
“Okay, Fadil, I’ll buy that scratcher card, the … “ She looked closer at the name on the ticket. “ … ‘$150,000,000 Extravaganza.’” She was pointing at a rainbow coloured scratch card. It was twenty dollars, all the money she had.
“Excellent choice, Miss Brandi.”
The clerk held out the cards, fanning them out like a deck of cards.
“Select your card, Madam,” he said with a smile.
“Anything I win, you get half. Because you’re so nice to me.”
“Deal!” said the Fadil, smiling.
She chose the first card in the deck.
Brandi looked at him. “I, uh, don’t have a coin.”
Fadil grabbed a coin from the “give a penny, take a penny” jar.
“Your scratcher, Madam.” They both smiled.
Brandi started to scratch off the different icons. It took her about three minutes to completely uncover the prizes hidden under the opaque grey film.
“Oh my God, Fadil! We won!” she said, looking at the man. “We won!”
One week later, Brandi and Fadil stood holding an oversized check for five million dollars, while the lottery photographer took their picture. Both were smiling, ear to ear.
The universe had given Brandi a sign.