We were normal once, weren’t we? Before all of this? It’s getting harder every day to remember a Before all this. Maybe it was always the same, just in a different location. We still wake with the dawn to cook. There are still chores to be taken care of and bills to pay. Life has always been like this. Will life change? What will we do if it does?
Linda is getting in the shower now. I hear the water turn on. She’s not in there yet. She always turns it on and then brushes her teeth before she gets in, letting the water heat up. I don’t like that she is wasting water but I don’t feel right telling her that she should just clench her teeth and bear it. Has she ever had to bathe in cold water on a cold morning? No, that is not her life. It never has been. She was born in the After.
She will not be cooking after she showers and dresses. She will blow-dry her hair and comb gel through it and tie it back, close to her scalp. I watched her once, when I entered the bathroom to brush my teeth. She does it so carefully, neatly. She doesn’t wear makeup; it takes too much time. When she is done, she will go to the kitchen, take a banana, guzzle a glass of orange juice while pulling on her jacket. She’ll eat the banana while waiting in the front room for her friends to pick her up. As soon as they pull up in front, she’ll call out a goodbye and be gone for the next eight hours. A part of me still has trouble grasping the difference between my youth and hers.
After she leaves for school, after I am done helping Ma cook, I shower and put on one of my gas station uniform shirts. Ma packs the soups and stews and rice into stackable tiffins, insulating them with newspaper so that they will stay warm until lunch time.
When I get to the station, the boys will say hello to me and ask me what I’ve brought that day, then they’ll go back to the cars they are working on. Their uniforms are smeared with black grease, unlike mine. I stay at the register in front and the cousin who has been there since five in the morning will get to go home. Sometimes he stays to have lunch with us, sometimes he leaves. After lunch the other cousin comes to take my place, and I gather the empty food containers, wash the plates and cutlery, and go home.
Ma is always out in our large yard when I get back. There is always weeding or pruning or harvesting to do. I go to her and say hello and help her for a while. I’ll tell her if anything has happened that day that she should know about. Otherwise we are mostly silent. On TV, mothers and daughters are always talking to each other, but it isn’t like that here. We are different. I am not sure whether it is because we have little to say or because people wouldn’t care to watch two people say nothing to each other for half an hour.
When Linda returns from school, I am helping Ma make dinner. She goes to her room usually, to do her homework or to talk to one of her friends on the telephone. I eat dinner early and prepare to go to my English class. It is two hours long, three nights a week. The instructor uses magnetic picture cut-outs to demonstrate words, sentences, and we have worksheets that have sentences with missing words. We fill one sheet in all together, and the others are homework. We practice speaking to each other in English, but it can be difficult because we all are still learning.
I go home after class and do the homework. I may help with the washing up if there is still some left after dinner. I sit and watch television with the others for a little while, then we all go to bed.
And that is how it is. I wonder whether Before this really existed. I wonder whether it matters.