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.
"Noooooooo," She groaned into her pillow and walked out of her dark room.
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 brightly lit bathroom.
"Noooo," she moaned as she closed her eyes and set the pillow on the edge of the sink.
She blindly reached for a toothbrush and turned on the faucet. She examined the wet toothbrush while cracking her eyes open into slits. After confirming she retrieved the correct item, she closed her eyes and washed the brush once more. She leaned forward and splashed some of the water onto her hand.
"Aaagh!" She exclaimed as hot water burnt her fingers," Dang it."
The heat shocked her awake. Her brown eyes glared into the mirror. 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 $4000.
“Almost there..,” she grumbled as she brushed her teeth.
She dropped her toothbrush onto the sink and tapped a damp finger to the itinerary before exiting the bathroom. She left the pillow on the sink. She trudged back to her room to put on her uniform. The clock read 6:30 am when she stomped out of the silent house to catch her train to River City.
She licked her chapped lips as she power walked to the station. The train usually came at 6:40 am and Sia 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. She ran to the entrance, down the stairs, then back up the stairs to her platform. 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. She sighed and leaned against the wall to look out the window. It was damp with raindrops.
'Must have been raining before I got out,' Sia thought before she looked down at her boots.
Her boots had mud on them. 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 new job.
ExplorerTech Industries was a small technology company that was successful, but not very well known. Sia was surprised that 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 that she would use to finally see her little sister. Her mother had decided to move back to her hometown in America, and Sia's little sister had decided to go with her. That had been six years ago.
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 her trip itinerary and calculations. For the past three months, Sia had worked for ExplorerTech Industries and 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 library job and acquired a higher paying janitorial job. You see, her librarian salary had been $8 an hour with her only working 4 hours for 5 days of the week. Her social life had been thriving and 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 that 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 that 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 opened her Messages application 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
She ignored the old messages sent by her father. Those were at least two months old. She paused over her mother’s message from yesterday night.
Did you tell your father I called? - sent yesterday at 8 PM
'What does she mean did I tell him she called...Why would he care? I don’t want to be in the middle of another spat 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 and phone calls they had exchanged throughout the 6 years 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 around. 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. Or it could be that 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.
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 that 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? "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 changed into her uniform straightaway, pulled her lanyard over her head, grabbed her boots in one hand, 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 stomped over to the paper towel dispenser affixed to the white wall. The paper towel dispenser emitted a small rumble as she signaled the motion 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 that was scrapped off her onto the floor.
After she completed that 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. She stopped in front of a grey machine attached to the wall with a dark screen. She tugged her lanyard out of her one piece, green jumpsuit to scan the identification card. The square identification card is 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 and looked around. She’d been paged to clean up a spill outside the third-floor men's’ room. She doesn’t have to search the shiny tiled floors for long.
She could see blue liquid spilling out from under a metal laboratory door. The door was slightly ajar and Sia could hear voices arguing within the room. Her respirator mask was placed onto her face and her black gloves were tugged on.
“Check, Check.” Her muffled voice muttered before she grabbed the handle of her supply cart and pushed it over to the laboratory door. She blocked the rest of the hall with the cart and pulled out two signs.
She dropped a “Caution: WET FLOOR” sign a few meters down the hallway in both directions.
“Excuse me!” she knocked on the door.
“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 the 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 are 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.
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 get 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 messy 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 door to steady herself. The man that 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 turned to Sia and pointed a white-gloved hand into her face. Sia backed up and adjusted her safety glasses. She blinked at the two ExplorerTech employees.
“Do you even know what you’ve done?! Hours of work ruined. Why would you--,” the blonde woman fumed while gesturing 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? Just...,” 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 coats 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 the other side of her cart and unzipped a laundry bag attached to the side. She pulled out two folded lab coats in plastic wrap, and two protective sleeves for their shoes.
She braced herself before reentering the lab. The woman and man are huddled over a computer.
“Excuse me, Doctors. I need to retrieve your soiled coats and replace your shoe covers,” Sia placed the new lab coats and sleeves onto a clean surface then walked back out into the hallway.
She grabbed a biohazard plastic bag and returned back to the room. Neither of the scientists had even attempted to remove their contaminated clothing. One scientist’s eyes scanned the computer screens on the wall while the other labored over their surviving sample. Sia can’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 the area until I know that all contaminated materials have been removed and..” Sia announced to their backs.
“Yeah, yeah!” The woman exclaimed.
“Get away from us! You’ll taint the results even more!”
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 about her cleaning methods.
“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 that had been tossed to the floor. She stuffed the materials into biohazard bag that was on the counter, grabbed her mop, and tossed the stuff into their proper places. She cleaned her mop, retrieved the mats, then cleaned the entrance and hallway. The mats were placed into a plastic container with other dirty ones. Sia walked back over to the laboratory and knocked twice on the door.
“Excuse me, Doctors. Is there anything else you’d like removed from the--”
“That will be all, you!” the man yelled.
“Just go!” the woman shouted with her back to the door.
Sia tightly grasped the doorknob and gently closed the door. For several moments, she stood outside the door while taking slow breaths in and out.
“Who hires these fools? Do they expect us not to report their incompetence? F*cking 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 get farther away from the door for a moment and then return back to their previous area.
“--evolved past errors of this magnitude.”
“Well, we can’t expect much from someone that only qualifies for that 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 this. Sia didn't find the job to be difficult, but after three months of this, the time she had scheduled to work seemed to be a disadvantage. The scientists and researchers were so unfriendly.
A couple of hours later, Sia clocked out of her shift and stormed into the employee locker room.
"What is their problem?!" Sia whispered to herself as she 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 on 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 that was balanced inside. Her dark tanned 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 muttered and pulled a towel from her locker to wipe around her eyes. "At least…. I don't think I am."
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 grumbled at herself in a mocking tone. "I may have an average face, but this uniform doesn't cancel out my girlish figure. I'm obviously not a sir!" she yelled before bending down to grab her shoes and kicking the locker 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 said 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 than that. 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 hoped 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 that 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 is 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 she could just 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.
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