Mia’s room was pretty much bare. She lay on a mattress on the floor, flanked by a few cans of Arizona iced tea. And she waited. It was what felt like the hottest summer in New York, although it feels like that every summer in New York. She was about to muster up the energy to get up and fill a tin can with water when the phone rang. An unknown number with a 2-1-2 area code.
Mia answered the call. Immediately an automated message played. “How would you like to earn one hundred dollars a night? With Bay and Temple’s Cleaning Service, you will. Become a maid today, visit 112 Bay street any time from 10 to 2.” a click.
Mia turned to lie on her stomach. She decided she would like to make one hundred dollars a night.
On the train over the Williamsburg bridge she looked out over the water. Everything was painted in lovely blues. The dark navy water, and the turquoise sky. From the air conditioned car Mia thought about how by looking at it, you’d never know the whole area was so sickeningly hot.
At Essex station, she waited for her next train. Gone was the comfort of air conditioning. Now she began to sweat in earnest. She felt like she was sweating more than the people around her and tried to maintain a respectful distance. She’d gained weight in the past few months and wondered whether this made her sweat such a great amount this summer. Against her better judgement, she looked up from the ground.
An eager face shook at her from a few people down the platform. A middle aged man, smiling with an outstretched hand was almost upon her when the next train came and she scurried on with an apologetic look to the man, as if she too was really looking forward to their reunion, and what a shame she had to go so fast.
Bay street. Mia Climbed the steps and her eyes met the full glare of the sun. She stood out on the sidewalk feeling the annoyance of passers by as she paused to get her bearings. Eventually, after some pacing up and down the street, she found 112 Bay Street, although the numbers had long since faded off the glass window of the door. The location was situated snugly between a two-story lingerie store and a pizza place. The door seemed more narrow than any door she had seen before and easy to miss. She entered, and was immediately faced with an elevator. There was no other choice in that starkly narrow hall so she pressed a little brass button and got in. She figured Bay and Temple’s Cleaning Service would be on the second floor, with a nice view of the bustling thoroughfare below.
On the second floor, she was surprised to see a sign that read “Bay and Temple” on a cream colored door with a chicken-wire window. Mia was somewhat used to ending up nowhere. The fact that this place truly existed in some physical way beyond the transmission of a prerecorded phone call struck her as a kind of magic.
Once she had acclimated to this new reality, that Bay and Temple Cleaning Service was here, and that she had found it, she adjusted her bra which she could feel making angry red lines across her shoulders. She placed her hand firmly on the brass doorknob and entered.
It was a surprisingly large office, and there were only two small desks. Both desks and the men who sat at them were pushed against the far wall, by the window. This left a great deal of empty space in the office, and the appearance that the two men had just moved in. But, as they studiously went over packets of copy paper, they seemed as if they had been there forever. Mia coughed.
“Hello!” said the man before her, who seemed quite far away. He got up and walked to the door to shake Mia’s hand. He was bald with short white hair growing just beside his ears. His hand was broad and firm as a frying pan.
“Has anyone ever told you you look Italian? You look Italian!” He beamed with rosy cheeks.
“No,” said Mia, smiling in a way she hoped was winning.
“Gosh, you’re sweaty. Is it really that hot out there?”
“I guess” said Mia, demurely.
The man produced two small plastic chairs and they sat down. The interview was a bit of a blur for Mia.
“Why should we hire you?”
“I’m hard working, I do a good job at what I set my mind to. I’m responsible.”
Mia looked at his expectant face. Clearly this was not enough.
“I learn quickly.”
The man chuckled and shuffled some papers around on his lap.
“Well clearly you’re a nice kid. And you know what, I’m hiring you. How does that sound?”
“Great” Mia beamed.
“Now we have to get you trained. In total that will cost two hundred dollars, for training. But you only have to pay half of that, one hundred, upfront today.”
“One hundred?” asked Mia, squinting slightly. Suddenly she could feel something emanating from the man’s associate, who was still sitting at his desk against the far wall. Was it anger, or impatience? She looked up at him curiously, but the man did not return her gaze, keeping his brow furrowed and his eyes on whatever work was before him. This man wore a button-down white shirt and black work pants. In Mia’s memory he was working at a typewriter. But that couldn’t be right.
“I’ve never payed to be trained before,” Mia redirected her attention to the rosy cheeked man in front of her.
“Well didn’t you go to college?”
And didn’t you have to pay for college?”
“Bay and Temple Cleaning Service is no different. Now we need one hundred dollars cash upfront. And remember, you’re already hired!” He smiled amiably.
“I don’t have that in cash today…”
“Well there’s an ATM down the street. If you go and come back now, we’ll still be here.”
Mia left the building and walked up the hot beige street. She decided to jog to the ATM, in case the man was watching from the window to determine her general speed and motivation. She withdrew one hundred dollars from the ATM, half of her account. And she came back to 112 Bay Street, to the second floor, where she filled out the on-boarding paperwork for Bay and Temple Cleaning Service.
Waiting on the underground platform for the train home, Mia finally allowed herself to think. She knew she had lost one hundred dollars. She knew she would never hear from Bay and Temple Cleaning service again. She felt panic build in her quickly, starting in her chest. She could feel the red panic rising towards her face, about to flood through her eyes when the roar of the subway cut through her thoughts. She stared into the bright lights and felt a warm wind wash over her from the fast approaching train.
On the crowded F train, she had the misfortune to look up and see the round face of an eager middle aged man, the same one she had so cleverly evaded earlier in the day. He made his way over, snaking through people hanging lamely from the subway polls.
“It’s been so long!” He said “And that number you gave me, it doesn’t work, you must have made a mistake. Here, put it in again.” He handed her a flip phone to maneuver.
He had won this time. Mia set about miserably typing in her number, with another convenient mistake in the last four digits. As she pressed the last key, the man ran a finger down her arm, apparently not sensuously but in the spirit of science.
“Wow,” he said, his face screwed up in a look of concern. “You’re really very sweaty.”
Before heading to her mattress, Mia took two ice cubes from a lime-green plastic tray in the freezer. When she lay down, she pressed one ice cube to her scalp and tied her hair up around it, securing it to melt against her head. The other she slipped down her shirt to rest upon her chest. For a moment she lay like this, eyes open, looking at nothing in particular. Then she picked up her phone and scrolled down her contact list, until she came to “Mom.”
The phone rang just once before her mother answered.
“Good news!” said Mia, “I got a job!”