The Other End of the Line

She has no formal education yet earned almost $60 thousand in 2010, which is more than what educators with a Master’s degree and no earlier teaching experience make annually working in New York City public schools.

She is medium height with chicken legs and crows feet. She is…

A woman who isn’t afraid to smile at strangers.

A woman who befriends strangers.

A woman whose past is strange to me sometimes.

A woman who doesn’t leave the elevator without saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to whoever accompanies her on the ride.  

A woman who left home at 15 years old.

an oldie of mum
an oldie of mum found in an album

My mother calls home every few hours at work five days a week. Her seven-hour shift is split into two parts; the first half spent cleaning rooms on the sixteenth floor and the second half spent doing the same one floor above inside a New York City hotel that earned $12 billion in revenue in 2012.

She breaks for lunch around 1 p.m., and resumes her labor-intensive duties right after.

I suppose stuffing pillows into its cases, scrubbing the exterior and tiny crevices of toilets, replenishing bathrooms with unscented soap squares among other things that allow time to pass a litter quicker and keeps my mother focused on why she came to America to begin with; to build a brighter future for herself and her loved ones.

I imagine that the only break given to housekeepers apart from their time munching on delicacies and portioned meats during lunch is a short recess taken at their own will – at the risk of getting caught by a manager.

In that instance, I notice her name appear on the home caller ID when I answer to speak to the person on the other end of the line.

Mom: Hiii, Aru’yeh

Me: Hiiii, ma  

Mom: Kemey we’ilki iz’ya gwaley

Me: Dehan wei’leyyy. Kemey weilki

The conversation never changes. It is routine and consistent and begins and ends the same way. And yet we speak in a way other mother-daughter pairs would when they’ve allowed a few days to go by without contact. 

Depending on how I respond to “How are you, my daughter?” my mother adjusts her speech.

Mom: Kemey we’ilki iz’ya gwaley

Me: I’m fine, ma.

My replies in English connotes irritation. This reply is code for “I don’t want to talk about [it] or anything really.” I realized that I have fallen into another monotonous call with my mother on the phone, and I want out.

taken at 11 mos. old during a family visit to the city
taken while 11 mos. at a family visit to the city

When she’s not on the phone, my mother is likely off somewhere schmoozing with other blue and pink-collared workers. The bellman who enters the sixth floor. Another housekeeper wheeling her station down the hallway. A guest who has trashed his room and is now checking out of the 49-story building.

Everyone who crosses paths with my mother gets treated with dignity and respect.

This could be anyone from guests to co-workers to company executives. For the last 22 years, my mother has shown up ready to work and serve thousands of guests who travel from afar to spend money and absorb the luxury that awaits them in the walls of the hotel or downstairs on Fashion Avenue and beyond.

The closest piece of home a job cleaning hotel rooms can afford its immigrant employees is a quick minute spent on their mobile devices with loved ones. My mom keeps her Samsung Galaxy s4 in the front pockets of her navy blue uniform pants.

Whenever I miss her call and a thick red dot next to the call icon on my phone surfaces, I know it was her who left the voice message. Alas, it’s another opportunity to salvage what makes me feel most safe; hearing my mother’s voice on the other end of the line.

If lunch time has passed, and I haven’t received any of her calls, I wait an hour or two and call first.

Hours spent not hearing my mother’s voice creates a slow mounting fear of worry. Suspicion soon envelops me. Albeit, it’s well hidden, and I make no fuss. I circle the living room which connects to the family kitchen and check for signs of uncleanliness. I fold a few clothes that linger in my room. I visit the hamper to make sure that there’s nothing of mine in it.

A lot of order is lost when I don’t hear my mother’s voice. A day without hearing her on the other end of the line is often incomplete.

The routine greetings. The brevity of our conversation. The monotony of the questions she asks.

What have we eaten

What we’re doing

What the weather’s like outside of our window

When I hear my mother’s high-pitched voice on the other end of the line – in the absence of her physical presence – that tells me her day is going well and has been mostly uneventful.

Nothing in life feels safer than knowing she is still the same person that hugged me on her way out the door for working in the morning.

Dedicated to my Queen ✨

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