Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chapter 11

When the last shirt was ironed, Jessie took off her head phones and was almost sorry that she was done for tonight.  She pulled out the plug of the hot iron, set it in the kitchen to cool and folded the ironing board.  Why do I only sing when I do the ironing, she wondered.  She never sang when she dusted her apartment, she never sang when she did the vacuuming nor did she sing with any other housework task.  In a way she knew the answer to the question.  Dusting, vacuuming, and mopping the floors were physically demanding.  She frequently found herself out of breath.  But ironing she found wasn’t demanding at all.  In fact, if it wasn’t that she could sing while she ironed, it would be quite boring.
Having put the ironed laundry away, she went to the kitchen and switched on the kettle for a cup of coffee.  She was looking forward to sitting in her favourite chair, putting her feet up on the futon and spending the remainder of the evening reading.  While waiting for the water to boil, Jessie went on the balcony and watched the traffic on Kennedy Avenue ten floors below her.  Where are all these people going, she wondered.  There was always traffic on the avenue, whether it was twelve o’clock in the afternoon or twelve o’clock at night, there were always cars speeding by. 
Jessie loved watching traffic and she sometimes fantasized about the motorists.  Who were these people who seemed in such in a hurry?  Were they doctors and nurses on their way to the hospital nearby?  Were they lovers on their way to some secret rendezvous?  Or were they just people coming home from a family visit?
Across the street a young couple was walking hand in hand, taking advantage of the warm night air.  Some distance behind them an old lady was walking her dog. 
The fast food restaurant across the street seemed busy.  Despite it being almost eleven o’clock the parking lot was packed with cars.  One of the cars was a Ferrari, Jessie noticed to her surprise.  It wasn’t every day she saw a Ferrari at a fast food place.  She figured that whoever drove such an expensive car would prefer to eat at a classy restaurant.  Then again, the rich didn’t lose their taste for the American favorite. A nice greasy burger, she enjoyed indulging in them herself from time to time. 
When the kettle boiled she went to the kitchen to make her coffee and returned to the balcony with the steaming mug.  She was just in time to see a man opening the door to the Ferrari and folding himself into the driver’s seat.  He didn’t drive off right away, but instead sat for awhile, with the driver’s door open.  Jessie tried to imagine why he sat there. Was he waiting for his girlfriend who was still in the burger place?  Was he lost?  Was he perhaps feeling ill?  She saw him looking at her building scanning each floor. .  Then he closed the door, started the engine and drove off. 
Jessie went inside, closed the balcony door and reached for her book.  She would read for an hour or so and then go to bed.
The next day Jessie made the decision to visit the Premier College and enroll for the secretarial course.  She took the subway downtown, and walked the short distance to the college.  She loved being downtown.  She loved the hustle and bustle of people around her, and the variety of stores.  It was such a difference to the suburbs where she used to work.  Muller’s Dry Cleaning & Laundry Services was located in the middle of nowhere, so to speak, and except for a small convenience store and a coffee shop there had been no shops whatsoever.  She’d used to go for a walk during her lunch hour and sometimes never passed another person on the street.  Here in downtown New York City there were plenty of souls and Jessie appreciated their company. 
At the McKenzie Tower she took one of eight elevators to the twenty sixth floor where the Premier Secretarial College was located.  The receptionist handed her an application form and she was surprised how easy it was to enrol.  She just filled in the form, paid the registration fee and was told the course started on the third of September.  There were no questions regarding her education or if she had finished high school.  She would have appreciated more information about the course.  She wanted to ask how many other students were in the course, what their average age was and what they would be learning, but the receptionist was too busy answering the phone. 
Back on the street she took a deep breath and couldn’t stop smiling.  She had done it, she had made a start.  To celebrate, Jessie decided to buy herself a cup of coffee and as it was almost lunch time a sandwich too.  Sandwiches always tasted so much better when you didn’t make them yourself.
Since it was such a beautiful warm day, she found herself a spot in the park and took a sip of the hot coffee.  She wished Betty was with her.  They could have gone window shopping, or just walk around and take in the sights. 
When a pigeon landed in front of her feet and eyed her sandwich, Jessie threw him a piece of the crust.  The bird hastily pecked at it and waited for more.  Jessie threw another piece.  To her surprise and delight more pigeons landed near her bench, all seemingly hungry.  Seeing them fight over a few crumbs, Jessie broke what was left of her sandwich in small pieces and threw the pieces and crumbs at the birds. 
Soon the park became crowded and Jessie decided it was time to leave.  In her cotton flowery dress she felt out of place between all the office girls who, even in this heat were all dressed in business suits.  She wondered if and when she finished her course would she would feel like she belonged?
Secretarial college was nothing like Jessie had expected.  She wasn’t sure what she had expected, but it wasn’t this.  Day after day she and nineteen other students assembled in a room and typed.  Well, if you could call it typing. What she and the others students did was more like groping in the dark, literally.  As soon as the lesson started, the overhead lights were switched off, plunging the room in total darkness.  Then a giant television screen was switched on.  The screen showed a computer keyboard.  Besides showing letters, figures and characters, the keys were color coded.  The instructor explained that you used your index finger for the red keys, the middle finger for the green keys and the ring finger for the blue keys.  Yellow indicated the pinkie fingers chore.   The spacebar was to be pushed with the thumb.  They had to look up at the giant screen and when a letter was lit up they were to type that letter on their own computer keyboard.  On their monitor they could see if they had hit the correct key or not.  After a few seconds another letter would light up and they were to type that letter.  Jessie concentrated on the screen and her fingers, but it was still a case of reaching, hitting and hoping for the best.  She wondered how her companion students were doing. 
On her left was Alain, a lanky twenty-one year old who was extremely funny. He had the entire class laughing the first day of the course.  The instructor had asked them all to give their names for the attendance register.  Alain had risen and introduced himself as Alain Thenhere.  When the instructor asked for the spelling of his surname Alain had replied with “Thenhere, t-h-e-n-h-e-r-e.  As in then here, then there, you know.”
The whole class had burst out laughing and the instructor had barely kept a straight face himself.  It was as if he already knew that Alain was going to be the class clown, apparently every class had one.
On Jessie’s right was Reeva Hastings.  Reeva was a gorgeous redhead of Irish descent, approximately Jessie’s age with a similar background.  She had been a machine operator in a plastics company until she was laid off.  In search of a better job she had applied for the secretarial course.  She was delighted to be accepted.
“No offense, but quite frankly I think they accept anybody,” Reeva had speculated.  “They don’t check your background or your intelligence.  As long as you pay the entrance fee, you’re in.”
Jessie wasn’t offended.  In fact she was beginning to feel the same way.  Almost everyone in the class was looking to improve their lives. Among her fellow students were waitresses, girls who up until now had worked in the manufacturing industry and bored housewives.  A small minority were young girls who had just finished high school. They had enrolled in the course to put the finishing touch to their education.  They weren’t popular with most of the class because they considered themselves better than the rest of the class.
“How’re you doing?” Reeva asked with an encouraging nod.
“Not too good,” Jessie shrugged, “I keep missing the keys.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Reeva swiped at an invisible fly, “everybody does.”
When the letter ‘N’ was lit up, Jessie reached for the key with her index finger.
“Wanna do something after class?” Reeva asked.
Jessie was about to enthusiastically accept when she remembered her appointment with Betty.  “I’d love to but I can’t Reeva,” she said with a headshake.  “I’m meeting a friend this afternoon.  We’re having our picture taken.”
Reeva nodded her understanding.  “Passport pictures or something?”
Jessie shook her head.  “No, we were at the hairdressers the other day and Francois, one of the stylists, offered us a deal.  If we agreed to have our picture taken, the visit would be free.”
Reeva’s eyebrows shot up.  “Cool.”
“It’s just a picture to hang in the salon,” Jessie explained.  “You know, to show customers different kind of hairstyles.  It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Are you kidding me!” Reeva gasped.  “Of course it means something.  You’re gonna be on a wall for all to see.  Women are gonna look at your picture and say ‘I wanna look like her’.  I might even copy your hairstyle, it looks great.”
Jessie subconsciously touched her hair and flicked it off her shoulders.  The style did suit her.  It wasn’t as nice and polished as when Francois had styled it, but she was happy with the look.  “Shall we get together tomorrow?”
Reeva nodded with a smile.  “Sure, I’d like that.”

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