I seem to have contracted a nasty stomach virus. I will not be coming in today.
Too curt, Vaya thinks, but signs and sends it anyway. She watches her phone’s screen for a minute after sending, heart pounding just a bit faster than usual. When a shrieking reply doesn’t immediately appear -- LIAR!!! -- she tosses her phone onto the kitchen counter and whoops with glee. She does not care that her roommate is still asleep; she does not care about anything.
The wooden floor is cold beneath her bare feet, its laminate crusted and peeling in the corners. The rent is due next week, but she ignores the purple post-it on the refrigerator, dances past the bulging garbage pail, her plate and and bowl in the sink, and bursts into her room, rejuvenated. Amazing how a surprise day off can infuse life into veins that were previously so heavy. Her bed still bears her imprint, a warm pile of recently vacated pillows and sheets. She considers curling back into its inviting cocoon and closing her eyes, but whirls to face her closet instead.
“I will not be coming in today,” Vaya murmurs, pulling down a pair of jeans, and another pair of jeans, and some sweatpants. “I will not be coming in today,” she mutters, yanking two, three sweaters off their hangers, tossing them in the rapidly accumulating pile of clothing on the floor. The world beyond her room is still dark, its early morning chill whistling in through the crack in her window. Soon the sun will pierce the gloom and her roommate’s music will blare and the great groaning engine of this life Vaya has fallen into will spin on in all of its predictable furor. The slightly burnt coffee smell and Listerine sting and subway transfer. Clocking in and checking out, the interminable march to 5 pm. But today she’s having none of it. An entire Tuesday of her own.
She stoops, fingers the soft leather of a black boot, before gripping it by the heel and chucking it at the pile, followed by its sister. Thud. What are you complaining about? her mother whines, when she calls her in fit of desperation. What’s the problem? Some old Nikes join the fray. Two scarves. Her therapist keeps telling her to care less about her job, to focus on what she loves. What does she love? She cannot think of a single thing. She snatches the satin scarf from her head, shaking her twists free from confinement. Burgundy wine slinking through a tall glass. The sound of a door closing, shucking silence out of a din. Where is her suitcase? The curve of her lips--but she’s long gone, replaced by furious tears, by dull swipes: left, right, left, left, left.
And is that the issue? Her knees protest when she drops and bends: there it is, black, slightly aged, thin coating of dust. She grunts pulling it out and unzips it from the side thinking of her desk, empty today. Her boss has probably responded to her email right now but she feels so far away from all of that, all of that strangling conformity, and only yearns to be further. Her roommate is stirring, coughing herself awake. The morning is breaking, extending its silver arms past the whispering dawn. Today is the first day of fall, she remembers. She remembers warm hands, so warm and open, massaging coconut oil into her scalp, the sound of her voice, rasping soft into her ear, the smell of her pillow when she would leave. That weekend, that fucking weekend that stretched into the intoxicating infinity of seventy two hours, miles and miles of brown skin with no borders, no islands, no oceans. She thinks of oceans, their deep pull, their salty oblivion. She wonders when a person can ever again be only a person, and not a shadow with the strength to destroy, a hurricane of longing. Her suitcase is full and she is not thinking in concrete cause and effect. She is rising and peeling her clothes to the ground, staring at her naked form in the mirror like a question.
“Hey, you’re still here?” her roommate knocks, and Vaya mumbles an affirmation, inaudibly. Her eyes roam her neck, her broad shoulders, her soft belly, as shrugging footsteps pad away, toward the bathroom. The shower gurgles.
I will not be coming in today. Vaya reaches up and unravels her twists, leaving a riotous afro in their wake. She steps into underwear, slides into slacks, hooks into a bra, wades into a sweatshirt. Her passport slumps into her purse and her phone charger curls into the back pocket. Her suitcase wheels loudly across the floor, masked by the running water. She’ll buy a toothbrush later--where?--just go. Her thoughts dance with frenzied focus. She won’t be going in today. Keys, chapstick. Phone. Who will she be calling? She nearly shrieks in laughter, and leaves before she can make herself stay.
The airport is blur around her, strangers actively leading their lives, walking running yelling grinning sobbing as she sheds her own like dead skin. Her bank account emptied, she is running for the gate, her heart thumping loud and wet, hands pulsating with sweat. The engine hums, and she has to cover her mouth, staring out the tiny window with wide, wide eyes. She won’t be going in today. The engine is humming, loud, so loud, and she cannot hear anything above or below it.