1: New Cinalia
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP
Sia pressed the snooze button for the third time. She groggily turned off her alarm and rolled out of bed. Her legs hit the floor first and she kept hold of her pillow as she stumbled to her feet. Her black pajama pants hung low on her hips and slipped under the back of her feet as she dragged herself from the warm room.
“Noooooooo.” She groaned into her pillow and walked out of her dark room. The thin, blue curtain that covered the hallway window let several strong rays of the sunshine in and painted the walls a soft navy, instead of the dull peach they usually were.
The pillow blocked the light that streamed into the hallway from reaching her eyes. She wobbled down the hall a couple of steps then turned into the dark bathroom. The edge of her loose pants cushion her bare feet from the cold, tiled floor. She threw out her hand to turn on the light. She closed her eyes before the bright light could fully awaken her.
“Noooo.” She moaned as she set the pillow on the edge of the sink. Her hand blindly reached for a toothbrush and turned on the faucet. Cracked eyes opened into slits to examine the wet toothbrush. After it was confirmed to be the correct item, she closed her eyes and washed the brush once more. Her hips knocked against the wooden countertop. She leaned forward and the water rushed over the bristles of the toothbrush, splashing onto her hand.
“Hiss!” She sucked in a breath as hot water burnt her fingers. She wiggled her abused fingers in the air. Then slammed a hand down on the faucet and turned the water off. The heat had shocked her awake.
Her brown eyes glared into the mirror. She took a moment to adjust the slim blue strap of her tank top back over her shoulder before she glanced to the left of the mirror at the trip itinerary she printed out. Bold, black letters stretched across the page and spelled out New Cinalia to America, one-way ticket, and $4,000.
“Almost there…,” she grumbled. After rinsing her mouth, she dropped her toothbrush into the sink and tapped a damp finger to the itinerary before exiting the bathroom. Her pillow was left on the sink.
A couple of steps out of the bathroom, down a dimly lit hall, revealed her father’s bedroom door. She stared blankly at the shut door and ran a hand through her short hair. The excess water on her palms slicked her black hair back against her scalp.
The rest of the house was silent as she dragged her feet along the carpeted floor. She paused at the staircase and looked down at the bottom. Her shoulders sagged at the absence of a kitchen light or even a living room lamp being left on. Some sign that someone else had been within the house as she slumbered. Anything.
Sia didn’t need the lights on to navigate her home. She knew that at the bottom of those stairs would be an empty shoe rack, empty coat closet, and a minimally furnished living room with a coffee table that gathered dust day by day. The granite kitchen countertops would still be covered by the empty microwaved meal packs she’d carelessly discarded. The sink would be full of dishes from the past week. All but one stool against the countertop had been left unmoved these past few days.
Her fingers grazed past a cool wall as she trudged back to her room to put on her uniform. The dark green jumpsuit wasn’t flattering to her tall, slightly overweight form, but it was easy to slip into after she pulled off her pajama bottoms and tossed them at her dresser. The clock read 6:30 am when she rushed out of the vacant house to catch her train to River City.
Sia licked her chapped lips during her jog to the station. The train usually came at 6:40 am and she lived 10 minutes away. It was going to be close, but she always bought her tickets a week in advance. She only needed to verify the ticket before getting on the train. She got to the station at 6:38 am. Few people were around so she could run through the station and arrive at her platform without any trouble. The train pulled up as the machine stamped her ticket with the time of departure.
Sia sat down near the sliding doors and pulled out her smartphone. No new texts or calls, the phone was slipped back into her pocket. She sighed and leaned against the wall to look out the window. It was damp with raindrops.
Must have been raining. Sia thought before she looked down at her muddy boots. She groaned as she thought of a way to clean them before she got into work. Personally, she didn’t mind the mud, but it would be just her luck to run into one of the higher-ups at her current job.
ExplorerTech Industries was a small technology company. It was successful but not well known. Sia was surprised she was able to get the job with no prior experience as a janitor, but she wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Ever since the divorce of her parents, she had been looking for ways to make money and save for a plane ticket. A plane ticket she would use to finally see her little sister.
The train bumped around a corner and made Sia’s cheek rub against the damp window. She pulled away and took out her phone again. She glanced at her trip app and looked over the itinerary and calculations. For the past three months, Sia had worked for ExplorerTech Industries. She’d calculated that if she saved every paycheck for the next six months, she would be able to visit her sister by the new year.
Sia had quit her comfortable low-paying librarian job and acquired a higher paying janitorial job. The librarian position had been relaxing, and her social life had been thriving. The other librarians and college students that visited the space were always inviting her along for their group outings. With her side trips, snack binging, and tiny – small – minuscule amount of shopping…she had saved $50 from last year’s earnings. Hey, she had been 18, and it was her gap year. She was supposed to enjoy herself. That was what a gap year was for; you enjoyed yourself before you had to go to more school and were transformed into a copy of the boring parents who raised you.
Luckily, since no one had cared to notice the year was up, Sia could enact her new plan. A gap year in America would be quite different from a gap year home in New Cinalia. She should get to know both her countries before deciding where to study and begin her life as a carbon copy. She had known she would need a career change. ExplorerTech Industries had been a surprising help.
She closed the trip application and pressed an envelope icon to read over the recent messages sent by her mother and younger sister.
Call me when your shift ends. – 5 AM
Make any new friends? – sent yesterday at 11:55 PM
Whoo!!!!!!! It’s ur 3 month anniversary I’m proud…. – sent yesterday at 11:54 pm
Did you tell your father I called? – sent yesterday at 8 PM
Did you do your taxes last year or did your… – sent yesterday at 6:50 PM
Aaliyah told me to forward the party photos…- sent yesterday at 6:45 PM
Your grandma misses you. Everyone looks for…- sent yesterday at 4:29 PM
The welcome mat is missing. Replace it or…-sent 1/17/2018
She won’t be coming with me. I’ll see you when I…-sent 1/16/2018
Sia ignored the old messages sent by her father. Those were at least two months old. She paused over her mother’s message from last night.
Did you tell your father I called? – sent yesterday at 8 PM
What does she mean did I tell him she called…Does she really think he’d care to ask? Ugh. I don’t want to be in the middle of another fight between them.
The relationship between her mother and father had become amicable after all the years apart, and Sia could almost forget about all their arguments and her mother’s disappearing acts. The online video calls they had exchanged throughout the six years apart started out strained but had transformed into a seemingly healthy, distant, relative relationship. It could be because they didn’t have to see each other every day. It could be because her mother finally felt fulfilled and cared for back home with people she had grown up with. She could finally relax in the arms of her first love without shame.
It could be because her father had a new wife who kept him busy with her own nagging and annoying habits. A new wife, formerly known as the assistant who had made up fake appointments and meetings to enjoy her father’s company. It could be they were holding tight to their fantasy perfect images until the video call ended, so they could trash-talk each other without a floating head involved in their conversation.
Sia couldn’t understand how she was related to such irritating two-faced people. At least her father didn’t pay much attention. He confirmed she was alive, made sure she did her chores, and kept the kitchen stocked with food she could consume while he was gone. His wife paid even less attention to her than him. Annoying wench.
Their lack of attention was in her favor. As long as she didn’t skip the chores, he would never seek her out for conversation. Usually, Sia handled the cleaning and maintenance of her father’s home. Of course, he could employ a maid, but why would he do that when he had a healthy child who could do it for him?
Dirty bathroom? “Sia, make sure you don’t forget to clean the upstairs bathroom.”
Dirty kitchen? “Sia, I noticed the oven needs a thorough cleaning.”
As she got older, the chores became more elaborate.
The door won’t lock properly? “Sia, after-school make sure you put the new knob in.”
Toilet clogged? “Sia, the first-floor bathroom has been acting up; consult the manual.”
With years of training maintaining a 4-bedroom house, her job was a piece of cake. Most of the janitorial staff worked during the other shifts, and if she paced herself slow enough, she only had to clean a few rooms before it was time to clock out.
Sia arrived at her last stop and long-legged it to her job. Fortunately, the employee entrance she utilized was nearby the women’s locker room. The locker room had a basic setup. It contained rows and rows of horizontal metal storage closets with a large bathroom attached to the main room. She pulled her identification card out of the deep pocket of her green jumpsuit and pulled the lanyard over her head. The ID card was tucked inside the neckline of the jumpsuit before she slipped off her boots and detoured to the restroom area.
The stalls were empty. The blue doors were pushed in to reveal gleaming white porcelain toilets. Her eyes scanned the room before she walked over to the paper towel dispenser affixed to the white wall. The paper towel dispenser emitted a small rumble as she signaled the motion detector with her hand underneath the canister.
She tugged a few sheets of brown paper towel out of the machine and scrapped the mud off her boots. She tilted each boot under the fluorescent light to make sure no blemishes could be pointed out to her later. After a few more swipes on each boot, she tugged out a few more paper towels and cleaned up the mud chips she’d scrapped off onto the floor. After she completed her task, she pulled out her cell phone and checked the lock screen. Whoo. Just in time…gotta clock in.
She jogged out of the locker room and stopped outside of her supervisor’s office. A meter to the left of the door sat a grey machine attached to the wall with a dark screen. She tugged her lanyard out of her jumpsuit to scan the identification card. The square card was pushed against the dark screen.
The machine’s dark screen lit up, Sia’s name flashed across the screen in blue along with the time, then the device beeped and turned itself off. She tucked her I.D back into her jumpsuit and went to retrieve her supply cart.
The day went by the same as always. After a few hours of work, Sia parked her cart outside a bathroom door. She’d been paged to clean up a spill outside the third-floor men’s bathroom. She didn’t have to search the glossy tiled floors for long.
Blue liquid could be seen spilling out from underneath the nearest metal laboratory door. The door was slightly ajar and Sia could hear voices arguing within. Without hesitation, she placed her respiratory mask onto her face and tugged on her black gloves.
“Check, Check.” Her muffled voice muttered before she grabbed the handle of her supply cart and pushed it toward the door. She blocked the rest of the hall with the cart. Two “Caution: WET FLOOR” signs were placed a few meters down the hallway in both directions.
“Excuse me!” she knocked on the door. There was no answer. “I’m coming in!” Sia announced.
The voices paused in their discussion. Sia walked back over to her cart and grabbed two black, rubber mats from the side. She opened the door fully and dropped a mat on top of the fluid. She watched for a moment to see if the chemical would react adversely to the rubber. No reaction. She stepped on the mat and dropped the second one down into the room.
The room was designed the same as the others. A few wooden and metal tables placed around the room in neat rows. Atop the tables were liquid containers and vials. One of the walls was covered in computer screens. Data ran across the screens at an impressive rate. Sia overlooked all of this and focused on the steaming mess on one of the metal tables. A small fire had been ignited on the table. The blue liquid was spilled nearby the flaming material and followed the natural curve of the floor to spill out into the hallway.
Dammit. She rushed back into the hallway and grabbed her fire extinguisher. Swiftly, she stepped onto the mats and hopped off to the dry lab floor. She cranked the extinguisher and sprayed down the entire table.
“No! What the hell are you doing?!” a nasally voice yelled from behind her. Before she could turn to the man, Sia felt her shoulder jostled and the trajectory of the foam spraying out of the extinguisher was altered. She turned it off, but not before spraying the paperwork and laboratory equipment on the table beside the formerly flaming one.
“Idiot!” A female scientist behind Sia shoved her aside. For a second, Sia was blinded by blonde hair. She dropped her extinguisher and grabbed hold of the doorknob to steady herself. The man who had yelled rushed over to the table and shook his notes. His white lab coat was stained with blue along the front. The female scientist rounded on Sia and threw a white-gloved hand up, at what would have been her face – if she were shorter – the hand pressed at her chest forcing Sia to back up and adjusted her safety goggles. She blinked at the two ExplorerTech employees.
“Do you even know what you’ve done?! That’s hours of work ruined. Why would you–” the blonde woman fumed. She gestured at the vials and glass containers on the other table.
“I think we can still salvage this.” The greying man pulled out something from the mess and turned to the blonde woman.
“You don’t even understand the breakthrough you’ve interfered with. Why the hell would you barge in like that?” The woman turned her back on Sia and looked at the sample saved by her colleague.
Sia ignored the woman and bent to retrieve her fire extinguisher from the ground. Viscous, blue fluid coated the bottom of the metal canister. Sia sighed and went back to her supply cart. She opened her biohazard garbage and tossed the extinguisher inside. She went around to the other side of her cart and pulled two folded lab coats, in plastic wrap, and two protective sleeves for their shoes from a laundry bag attached to the side. She braced herself before reentering the lab. The woman and man were huddled over a computer.
“I need your soiled coats and shoe covers.” Sia placed the new lab coats and sleeves onto a clean surface then walked back out into the hallway.
She returned to the room with a biohazard plastic bag. Neither of the scientists attempted to remove their contaminated clothing. One scientist scanned the computer screens on the wall while the other labored over the surviving sample. Sia couldn’t tell what it was. Their bodies hid it from sight. She placed the biohazard bag next to the new lab coats.
“Excuse me, Doctors, but I can’t leave until all contaminated materials has been removed from-” Sia spoke to their backs.
“Yeah, yeah!” The woman’s volume had gone from soft muttering to the other scientist to an indignant roar. Sia’s shoulders twitched at the abrupt change in tone. “Get away from us! You’ll taint the results even further!”
Sia turned on her heels and exited the room once more. She pulled out her mop and cleaned the spill from the floor while a high-pitched voice raged behind her back. “Just smear the remains of our precious work all over the floor. Useless…I don’t know why they–”
Sia leaned her mop onto the wall beside the doorway and bent to retrieve the soiled shoe covers and lab coats they’d tossed to the floor. She stuffed the materials into the biohazard bag, grabbed the mop, and tossed the bag at the hanging waste bin attached to her cart. She chucked the soiled mop head into the garbage, replaced it, retrieved the mats, then cleaned the hallway area. The mats were placed into a container with the other dirty ones. Sia walked back over to the entrance and knocked twice on the door. “Is there anything else you’d like removed from–” Sia’s monotonous voice interrupted their discussion.
“That’ll be all!” the man yelled.
“Go!” the woman shouted with her back to the door.
Sia tightly grasped the doorknob, but gently closed the door. For several moments, she stood outside the door and took slow breaths in and out.
“Who hires these fools? Do they expect us not to report their incompetence? Fucking imbecile. You called for a liquid spill and he comes barging in and destroys our controlled experiment.”
“His hasty cleanup will set us back two weeks. Time the company doesn’t have to waste its’ money on.” Their voices were harder to hear when they walked further away from the door, but after a moment they returned back to their previous location. “–evolved past errors of this magnitude.”
“Well, we can’t expect much from someone who only qualifies for this sort of job.”
Sia was done with listening to them belittle her and turned back to her cart to take her break. As she briskly walked through the quiet halls, she imagined what she could have said to those obnoxious people. Sia didn’t actually know what ExplorerTech developed and she didn’t care. Nothing they created would make it okay to treat other people the way they did. As if their brains were too focused on complex systems to spare common courtesy.
It was always like that. Sia didn’t find the job to be difficult but after three months of that her scheduled time to work seemed to be a disadvantage. A couple of hours later, Sia clocked out of her shift and stormed into the employee locker room.
“What is their problem?!” Sia unzipped her uniform and sat down on the bench across from her locker. She untied her wet laces and kicked away her soaked boots. Coffee soaked socks were tossed onto the floor before she wiped her hands on her knees and wiggled out of her dark green janitor jumpsuit. She opened her locker, stood on the dusty, soiled clothing, and gazed into the mirror balanced inside. Her dark, tan skin was wet with sweat and a weird yellow dust-like substance. “This better not be poison. I don’t get paid to be a lab rat.” She pulled a towel from her locker to wipe around her eyes.
She squinted at her reflection and looked for any raised skin. Not finding anything odd, she stripped her underclothes and changed into a new outfit. A red striped t-shirt and black jeans were pulled on, and she looked back at herself in the mirror. “Sir, ma’am…. I mean…. whatever.” She pressed her hands to her chest and looked back at her reflection. Her hands loosely grip the small mounds of flesh that are neatly settled beneath her form fitting shirt. “I’m obviously not a man! If they took a moment to take their head out of their asses maybe they’d notice.” Her lips continued to frown as she roughly pulled down the edge of her t-shirt and slammed the locker door closed.
She pulled on her sneakers without socks and placed the wet items inside her dusty uniform before she stuck it all under her arm and stomped away. Her grumbles could be heard quite clearly as she neared the locker room door.
“Sia! Just the girl I was looking for!” Her supervisor cheerfully exclaimed the moment the door opened to reveal Sia’s tall form. Ron, her supervisor, stood at about 185 cm and Sia was a couple centimeters taller. She used to take pride in her height in school, but it served as a disadvantage when trying to hide or runoff. She could only pretend to be busy and hope no one observed too closely while she meticulously polished the windows.
“Sia! One of our night shift workers has asked for a shift change because of a family matter. Are you free nights, or would it take up your party time? I know how important your social life is to kids your age. I–” Before Ron could start rambling about his opinions of her generation and all the generations to come, Sia accepted the shift change. “12 to 7 am might seem like a boring shift, but it’s the best time to get everything important done while the other employees are gone.”
Sia nodded to Ron as she slowly slid away towards the side exit hallway.
“You can’t slack off on that shift like you do on this one, little lady.”
Sia held her tongue and swallowed the comment she wished to make. If only she could get past this corner and disappear from his old man gaze.
“Well, I’ll see you tomorrow night, Ms. Chen.”
“See ya!” Sia yelled before she briskly turned the corner and jogged to the exit.