She wiped the sweat from her brow with the collar of her own shirt. The heat lamps singed the ends of the hair barely left growing on her arms, but she was used to the discomfort. The timers were buzzing next to her, but she had grown so accustomed to their sound that she barely heard them. It was a day just like any other; with salty hands and a ketchup stained shirt.
Finally removing her forearms from the heat came as a sweet relief, to be met with the bitter triumph of lifting the bin only to have the oil splatter up her decollete. The sensation was as common for her as the shame she felt walking through life with little burn marks all over her body.
Coming to this country wasn’t as much of a choice as it was a necessity. It would be so much easier if she could just understand what these pimply teenagers were talking about half of the time. Unfortunately there wasn’t much time for her to study the language when she had to make ends meet in a new place with limited options for employment. She cleaned houses during the day and came here in the evenings. She was one of the lucky ones that got out, but she still had family that she wanted here with her. Like hell was she going to let a day go by without doing everything she could to give them the life that they deserved.
The fryer was buzzing again, and that pock-scarred boy was barking some nonsense in her direction. She would never admit it, but she did understand some of his snarky comments. It was just so satisfying to watch him turn red when she simply replied “Si, Senor.” Why say anything else? She was entitled to her own private joke at his expense. He had plenty of his own at hers.
Once the sun went down and the customers started to dwindle, it was time to tend to the messes they left behind in the dining room. The privileged children working for extra money to buy overpriced clothing didn’t have to do any of the manual labor. They made sure they got the food out the window in the right bag and put straws in the cup before another car pulled up. They got a pat on the back and went home with a smile while she laid on her back scratching gum from the bottom of a table. They went outside and smoked their overpriced cigarettes while she mopped the bathroom floor and removed waste from the garbage cans. They mocked her accent and feigned friendly exchanges with her as they toasted hamburger buns and she washed dishes.
Every now and then she caught herself thinking about how pretty the girls’ nails were.
“Juana! You can’t just stand there while the fryers are going off! If we lose one more batch of fries I’m going to make sure that corporate takes the cost out of your check!”
Of all the times that she had felt slighted, and out of every time she was passed over and given the grunt work, she never complained. She always nodded and did her work, but that day was different. The giggling girls had no burns, and the pimply boy that was yelling at her hadn’t touched a fryer in months. The only other person there that could speak her language worked in the middle of the night mopping floors and sterilizing counter tops. She looked over one more time at those beautiful fingernails…
“No more. I’m done,” she said in clear, perfect english.
She left the french fries to burn and walked right out of the store. She wasn’t sure where she was going, but she knew that she deserved something better than this.
She was going to find it.