“I’m sorry, ma’am. We don’t have any postage stamps,” the lady says in her bored voice, standing on the other side of the counter in her baby blue polo. A plexiglass shield separates us and I glare into my own reflection, brow furrowed and mouth open. The coffee stain on my tanktop has leaked into my opened blouse, staining it a muddy red, even though I tried to blot it away with an old math assignment in my car. I blink three times. I’ve been waiting in the line for nearly an hour.
“Can’t you just print out a sticker and I give you fifty cents?” I ask as I drum my fingers on the counter.
“It cost uh-mu-mu-mu,” she says.
“Sorry?” I turn my ear toward her.
“It costs fifty-five cents to send a letter,” she repeats, nearly shouting. “There’s a new law saying you need a postage stamp to send letters.”
“You’re telling me the post office doesn’t have any post stamps?”
“Yes. You ca-mu-mu-mu-mu.”
“What?” I lean around the plexiglass.
“You can buy postage stamps at Costco,” she says. “Please stand behind the shield.”
“I don’t have a Costco membership,” I respond, scratching my face behind my mask. The man at the counter next to me stares as if I’d just eaten my boogers.
“We have a shortage due to the amount of letters being sent lately. If you want to come back, we should receive a shipment later today,” the lady says.
“Okay,” I sigh and turn on my heel. I dig my nails into the palms of my hands for being a procrastinator. Last time I turned in the rent late, I had to pay a fifty dollar late fee and none of my housemates helped, but it is my job to mail in everybody’s checks. That was the second time, too. The first time was a grace period, so my landlord let it fly. If my landlord lived closer than four hours, then I would just drop the checks off at her house.
In my car, I search on my phone where to find postage stamps: the post office and Fedex store, which is closed like everything else around here. I call friend after friend, asking if they have postage stamps, which none of them do. So I ask:
“Hey, do you have a Costco membership? No? Okay, audios, amiga.”
“Do you use your sister’s Costco membership? Oh? She took it back? Right. See you.”
“Your cat peed on the membership card? That’s gross. Oh, they haven’t sent you the new card yet, gotcha. Well, see you in class. Bye.”
The sun blinds me on the short drive to Costco. It’s a warm day, the type that makes me want to lay in the grass with a good book and a cup of iced lemonade. Even if I wasn’t running around trying to find a postage stamp, I’d be going for a long run, saying that I’m being healthy, and that’s more important than turning in that ten page report on the culture of Hinduism that I’ve been putting off for two weeks.
Mondays usually bring floods of people grocery shopping, and now there are half as many people as normal, but it’ll have to do. I watch from behind the recycling cans for ten minutes to find the perfect opportunity. There. I try to slip in with a couple of girls who look about my age, hanging behind them while they giggle about how their Turkish professor says ‘Rule of Turds’ instead of ‘Rule of Thirds’. The girl with long black hair whips around and gives me a dirty look. I slink back to search for another host. This time, I find a woman with two little red-headed children. I creep behind them and shuffle inside where the man in the red vest is checking everyone’s Costco cards.
“Hi,” the little girl says to me.
The mom turns around and snaps, “You’re really close!” She pulls her children away as if I have the plague.
“Ma’am, please keep six feet distance at all times,” barks the man in the red vest.
I groan and sit outside by the shopping carts. Not two minutes later, a large man with SECURITY printed across his chest towers over me.
“No soliciting, ma’am. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Really? Costco has security? I sigh and jog across the parking lot that is normally a zoo, cars jammed up and people pushing shopping carts that overflow with boxes of granola bars or pre-made meals, but now it’s as busy as a Wednesday morning. My mom used to shop at a Costco when my sisters and I were younger, and the Costco food court is a memorable experience (foot-long hot dogs, extra cheesy pizza, soft serve ice cream with loads of fruit jelly). My car is sweltering hot and brings a wave of nausea over me. I roll down the windows and stare at the mountains in the distance. Life was easier when I lived in the dorms, only paying room and board on my student account once a semester. Better yet, it was way easier when I lived with my mom a couple of years ago and didn’t have to pay rent at all. Maybe next year I can commute five hours to campus… classes are online anyways. No, that’s a stupid idea. I’d rather pay a late fee every month than go back to living with my mom and her nagging me to clean the house or poking her head into my bedroom every five minutes when I have a friend over. And forget having guy friends -- my mom is all up in my business, saying, “Oh, do you like him?” or “How long have you known him? How old is he? How about we have him over for dinner?”
I start my car and pull out of the parking lot. Mom is the one who’s putting me through school, so I can’t complain. Maybe I should move in with her next year if classes are still online because tuition is outrageous, even though I’m an in-state student.
Ten seconds later and red and blue lights flash behind me, the siren of the police car whoop whooping a couple times to get my attention. Great, I think, and pull over into a dumpy gas station. I fumble for my wallet and grope around in my glove box until I find the proper documents. A moment passes before the officer stands at my window. He’s the size of a boulder with dark skin and spiked hair. My heart drums in my chest -- there’s no way I was driving over the speed limit! It feels like I just drank three energy drinks that sent electricity spurting through my veins.
“Good afternoon, miss. Do you know why I’ve pulled you over?”
“No, sir.” My throat feels like a vice.
“I’ve pulled you over in accordance with the new law passed to ensure the safety of the community through social distancing. Are you aware that you’re not allowed to travel five kilometers outside of your home?”
“Um… yes. But I’m looking for post stamps. I need to send a check to my landlord.”
The officer gives me a hard look. “License and registration please.”
“I promise I’m acting in accordance with the law!” I say, heat creeping into my face as I hand over the documents. “Please, I just need a post stamp! But literally nothing is open and I can’t find one!”
“You’re only allowed to travel five kilomenters outside of your home for work or emergencies.”
“Paying rent is an emergency!”
He sighs like I’m the fiftieth person who’s given him this excuse today, and I probably am. “Okay, go on, then. Good luck,” he says and gets back in his car. I crank up the AC and let it freeze my face before pulling onto the road again. I figured they would have stops and checks on busy roads, not randomly pull people over to maintain the lockdown law!
It’s already half past four, so I return to the post office, wait twenty minutes in line, and face the same bored looking lady.
“Do you have post stamps?” I ask.
“No. We should have a shipment later today.”
“You close in ten minutes! You said to come back later -- it’s later! I need a post stamp!”
“What?” she says, and I repeat myself in a shout while brushing away stay hairs that stick to my face.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. We don’t have any postage stamps.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I growl as I stomp outside, people side-eyeing me. I don’t even care. This is literally impossible. This life is the same as living under a rock, and to think I’m still paying five grand a semester to get a mediocre education online -- it’s impossible! Who the heck can learn Arabic online? At least I’m not an out-of-state student. If I was, I’d drop out. There’s no way nineteen grand is worth an online education.
Once at home, I knock on each of my neighbors’ doors. Some don’t answer, and some cover their faces with their elbows, even though I stand six feet away from their front doors and wear a mask. None of them have a postage stamp, except for old Mr. Jones who’s as toothless and bald as a baby. He collects stamps but can’t give me his prized possessions. From the bottom stair of the porch, I see the frames of stamps cluttering his wall above his patchwork couch.
The sun sinks low in the sky, and I wander down the streets, staring at the pink and yellow houses, thinking of anyone who might have a postage stamp. The crosswalk sign has a red hand on it for far too long. Cars zip by in perfect intervals, preventing any plans of J-walking.
“Beautiful day, eh?” the woman next to me says with a grin, revealing four missing teeth. Her skin is like crinkled paper and she pushes a shopping cart holding lumpy black garbage bags.
“Yeah,” I mutter, staring straight ahead at the sign. Turn to the walking person, please turn, turn, turn, I beg in my head.
“It’s a long light, isn’t it?” the woman says after a minute.
“Too long,” I say and raise my eyebrows, stealing a glance at her.
“Why too long?”
“Because I need to find a post stamp before tomorrow, but no store has them.”
The woman grunts, then reveals a dirty envelope from her shawl. Her knobbly fingers pull out a little square with a butterfly on it. “I have one,” she says.
“Oh my gosh!” I stare at the postage stamp, then look her in the face. “Can I have that? I have fifty-five cents!”
“Of course, my dear, you can have it!” she says with a smile. I reach in my pocket for the change. “Ah, ah,” she says. “You can have it for a price, but you see, I’m a poor old lady.”
“Yes, I see that. Here, have the fifty-five cents.”
“It’s not enough.”
“What? I have a dollar. Do you want that?”
“Something a bit more.”
“Seriously? You want more than a dollar for a post stamp? I only have a twenty…” I say, and her eyebrows touch her hairline as a smile spreads across her face. I immediately regret my words.
It’s not like I have any other options. So I give her the twenty and take the postage stamp. My walk home turns into a run for having lost twenty bucks. My mom isn’t rolling in money! It was so stupid of me to say that! I run faster, my jeans sticking to my knees. By the time I’m home, my face is flushed as I slap the stamp onto the letter.
The rest of the evening, I work on the report due tomorrow. It’s three o’ clock by the time I go to bed.
The sun streams through my window and covers me in a warm blanket. I open a bleary eye, close it, then bolt upright in bed. I forgot to set my alarm! It’s already eleven o’ clock and I’m half an hour late for class! I don’t even bother brushing my hair -- my classmates shouldn’t notice my pajama top covered in little stars over the video call -- and instead turn on my laptop, willing it to work quicker. A dozen faces pop up on my screen, then switches to my professor speaking and scrolling through a powerpoint. She says in between sentences, “Nice of you to join!”
An hour passes and I finally get ready for the day. It feels like a mountain has been lifted off my chest, the assignment finished, I make myself a nice breakfast of eggs, toast, and sliced apples and sit at the dining room table and -- oh crap. The envelope for rent is sitting next to the salt and pepper. The post comes at ten o’ clock every morning! Abandoning my breakfast at the table, I swipe the letter in my hand and leap in my car to take it to the nearest drop box. But there’s only one day until next month, and it won’t get to my landlord’s home quick enough. I kick myself for being so forgetful. I’m going to have to pay another fifty dollar late fee.