Fiction in response to Partnerships for the Goals
I Am Heard
By Caroline Sun
My grandmother used to say that each new day brought a unique surprise to look forward to. The only surprises that are ever waiting for me, however, are not the pleasant kind: dirty tables to wipe, screaming customers, spilled food trays.
Oh, and there was that one time someone tried to flush a whole plate of food down the toilet—he was drunk. Needless to say, it got clogged. And who ended up having to clean up the entire mess?
None other than yours truly.
I sigh, rubbing my temples as I lean against the cash register. A strand of my long blonde hair falls onto my face, and I hastily shove the curl back up under my cap. The last time my manager caught me with loose hair, my pay was docked for an entire week.
The door clatters open, letting in a burst of freezing December air. Pasting a wide smile on my face, I stand up straight and chirp out a cheerful welcome to the customer.
The LED clock on the counter reads 8:47 pm. Three more hours to go.
I sigh again as the customer begins rattling off a ridiculously long list of food. I need this job. I need the money. I need to be able to support the baby waiting for me back home, to afford the clothes and the diapers and the toys. I need to be able to support myself.
And so I work.
* * *
I groan, rubbing my eyes as I sling my sequined purse over my shoulder and head out of the fast-food restaurant. The sky, fully dark now, is a velvet black pierced through with thousands of tiny pinpricks. Yawning widely, I begin my walk down the street, towards the apartment building two blocks away.
When I reach my apartment on the second floor, I unlock the door quietly, trying to keep from waking the baby. As I ease the door open and step through, I see two figures fast asleep on the bed in the corner of the room: one small and lying in a makeshift-crib, the other curled around the crib as if to protect it.
I smile. My grandmother loved the baby so fiercely that it wasn’t far-fetched to imagine her shielding the baby from harm, even in sleep.
When I had become pregnant, my mother and father removed themselves from my life. Although they have called once or twice to check up on things around here, they refuse to visit me or the baby. (They’re probably disappointed in me, and I don’t blame them. Honestly, I would be disappointed in myself too.)
My grandmother, though, is a different story. She stayed by me all throughout the years, helping me with the baby and giving both of us her unconditional, unwavering love and support. During the day, when I am out working various jobs, she stays in the apartment to watch over the baby.
I change into my pajamas—a tank top and shorts—and sit on the edge of the couch (which served as my bed, as I insisted that Grandma and the baby take the actual bed). However, despite an entire day of work, despite everything, I am not tired.
I let out a sharp breath before reaching under the couch and pulling out an old laptop of mine. I should be going to sleep. Grandma would certainly say so, especially with another entire day of work ahead of me.
Instead, I power on the cracked screen and sluggishly type in the password. (My typing skills have taken a dramatic blow in the two years since I had dropped out of high school; not much typing is needed if all you do each day is fold clothes or wipe tables. Alas, the old days when I actually had technology.)
Clicking open a search page, I type in the first thing that comes to mind and wait as the browser loads (the wifi I’m using is from the café downstairs and can take a moment). Eventually, countless links begin popping up, pixelated images bursting into view. On an impulse, I begin scrolling down, past all the recent news articles and popular websites, past all the images and ads and suggestions.
Suddenly, a specific website catches my eye, and I pause. After a moment, I click on the link, and the computer screen once again hangs in blank loading. As the website begins to appear, I see the words written across the top of the page: Actions in Spotlight.
Another click sends me tumbling headfirst into a world of words: words that show, words that tell, words that speak to me. Words that are me. My heart stutters a step as I flit through the pages, one after the next. Poverty. Education. Jobs. Words that form my very existence, that force me to work work work for my life, for the life of my baby.
The words pour over me like water, soothing me, running in rivulets down my spine and seeping into my skin, my mind, my heart.
These words understood me.
Each story held a different voice, weaving the words together to form a dew-covered web of language. Some gave me passion, others sorrow. Some simply gave the gift of knowledge, the feeling of knowing that I wasn’t alone.
I wasn’t alone.
Like these words, like these stories, I had a voice too. I needed to be heard. And now, I knew what I had to do. I smile, calm as the words now flowing through my veins, calm as water.
With one glance at the sleeping figures on the bed,
I set my fingers to the keys