January 20, 2020
Bita went to back to her bed in the morning. Her body was aching, and she had an irritable, dry cough that would not stop. She was chilled to her bone, and she kept adding more blankets over her. She had no appetite ever since she lost her sense of taste and smell for a few days ago. She had to go to work every day to clean different houses, but she knew she couldn’t that day.
Most of her clients lived in San Francisco or Palo Alto areas. She enjoyed being in their mansion houses or penthouse condos, wondering what it would be like to live like that. She imagined one day she and her family will live like that—rich and famous, the American dreams. Maybe her grandkids would grow up in this country and let her live in a luxurious house like that someday. As she sat and watched the Bay views during a short lunch break in the middle of cleaning, she imagined herself living in luxury and chuckled. But she took pride in doing a good job cleaning, as if all these places are hers.
All her business was referrals from rich doctors. Her first cleaning job was from a rich doctor in the Palo Alto area, referred by her friend who could not add any other houses to her full list. After about two years, she was introduced to other wealthy people connected to the Palo Alto doctor, and she now had a good solid clientele for herself. Her schedule was full for every weekday and even every Saturday.
She did not have a car to drive. If she was going to San Francisco to clean a house, she had to take the Caltrain and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) for an hour and a half each way. Palo Alto was a much shorter trip. Because of the long train rides, she could only clean one house per day. On Sundays, she took her family to the nearby park and sometimes, actually rarely, they went to the Islam mosque during Ramadan.
She called the doctor’s wife who lived in Palo Alto that morning and told her she was too sick to clean her house that day. She realized she had never called in sick and missed her work before. She needed the money.
Last November, she got a flu shot from the nearby drugstore, but she didn’t because it cost $20 per person. She had her two grandkids and elderly parents get flu shots, but her husband, Payman, and Bita decided to tough it out and save the $40 to buy more food they needed. She now regretted that decision. She thought maybe it was just the flu, and she would get better tomorrow or the next day if she just rested and slept.
They lived in a small one-bedroom apartment. The grandkids and her parents slept in the living room, and she and her husband in the bedroom. The bathroom was almost always occupied by someone throughout the day, and especially in the morning. They all took turns going into the bathroom, and often interrupted by someone who had an emergency, which was guaranteed to be followed by a fight.
About three months ago, Payman lost his job at the San Jose Airport. They lived close to the airport, and Payman used to work in airport security for a while, but they fired him. He had a fight with his senior colleague who joked to him, “you look like a terrorist and shouldn’t work in airport security,” because he had a long, bushy beard.
His nationality as a Persian with dark-colored skin did not help him. Ignorant Americans call all Arabic-speaking people middle eastern regardless of the nationality, and to some people of these nationalities all looked like terrorists. Payman didn’t even speak the Arab language. He spoke Farsi, but some Americans did not care to know the difference.
Bita was told by her husband he was sorry about the whole thing, and he regrets punching his senior colleague in his face, which cost him his job. But she knew that he was secretly proud of himself. Bita was concerned about his bad temper and drinking habits, which became more frequent these days. He could not find a decent job, especially one with medical insurance benefits for his family like the previous job he had.
Their grandkids were growing up; the six-year-old boy needed to go to public grade school soon, and the four-year-old boy should be in kindergarten, but they couldn’t afford the school fees. They weren’t able to afford kindergarten for the first boy either, even when Payman was working at the airport. He could not keep his job for over one or two years at a time. He worked many odd jobs; picking almonds in the orchards, seasonal grape picking for a winery, keeping beehives, janitor jobs at schools and offices, and sometimes helping Bita clean houses. He always had many excuses to quit or get fired from his jobs. It seemed to him people did not like his looks, and he had no luck.
Bita’s clients also did not like to have Payman in their homes, even though the cleaning time was much faster when he was there to help her. Her clients told her they just wanted Bita to clean the house alone, and not to have a man with a beard touching their property.
Photo by nima gerivani
As his self-pity deepened, Payman was drinking more heavily, and behaving poorly by verbally abusing her, his grandchildren, and even her parents. He did not hit anyone or throw things, but she was afraid of Payman hitting her, or even worse, hitting their grandkids in front of her parents. His ugly side showed when his temper flared.
Bita and Payman had one daughter, who left her two kids when they were two years-old and six-months old. Her daughter was not married when she had her two children. Bita was not even sure if these two kids had the same father. Her daughter became a drug addict and had been fighting depression since her teenage years. She hung out with a wrong crowd. No matter what Bita did—and she tried paid counseling and strict disciplines—her daughter would not stop doing drugs, mostly methamphetamines.
Payman beat her severely once when she was sixteen because she was pregnant. Bita had to take her to the abortion clinic and paid cash for it. Soon after that, her daughter ran out of the house and did not come back until she had her two kids, now without their father. She showed up to Bita’s apartment one day and left the kids. She took off saying nothing. Bita and Payman adopted their grandchildren shortly after that.
Bita’s parents came to live with them while they were visiting them from Iran in their tiny apartment two years ago. At first, the whole family was excited to have them visiting and helping with the chores while they were working, and there was the added benefit of having reliable and permanent babysitters, but now, Bita and Payman were worried about the undocumented nature of their stay in America. They had just a three-month visa to visit their family in America, and that time had well passed.
Bita lectured her parents to not to go outside too much or cause any problems with their neighbors or with Payman. She was afraid her parents would be deported back to Iran if they were caught. She was also afraid Payman would lose control of himself and display violent behavior in a small contained space with her parents when she was out working. She was also scared about not having enough money, or the ability to pay for medical bills if her grandkids or anyone got injured. She was concerned about the lack of food in her refrigerator to feed six people, a large family, if she couldn’t work like today. She had to spend an enormous amount of money filling the refrigerator every fourth day or so.
Today, she couldn’t think or care about the whole family dynamics. She had to sleep off her flu. She closed the door behind her and slept the whole day. Periodically her family checked on her, encouraging her to eat at least some soup, but she couldn’t get up to eat. Payman went out to the drugstore and got her some Theraflu powder, dissolving it in warm water as a tea, and she drank that, then went back to sleep. She was thinking in between her dreams, where did she get this flu from? She has so much human contact from her train rides and in her close neighborhoods, but she remembered when she worked at Mrs. Kong’s place on the last two consecutive Fridays, she noticed Mrs. Kong was hacking with the same dry cough she had now. But Mrs. Kong never lay down in her bed with a fever or any other symptoms. At least, Mrs. Kong never told her she was very sick.
Bita would know because she changed Mrs. Kong’s bed every week, and the sheets were not soaking wet with sweat like hers are now. She thought she should go next Friday to see Mrs. Kong and ask her if she was very sick like she is at some point.
Read the entire novel. All of the author’s royalties are donated to those in need. Go to https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08P7486XX