Martina’s dress as a homemaker is unflattering. Her red-brown skin is muted by the khaki cloth. The non-formfitting shape of the dress bunches at the bust and clings to her body only when she ties the starch white half apron around her ample waist. She no longer ponders if her body could be winsome in the day; she no longer looks to the floral island dresses of her youth to provide a welcoming nest for her body to reside. She is all khaki and white, khaki and white.
Martina arrives before Mr. and Mrs. awake. She is at work before the sun angles into the sky, when the morning birds squawk of the temptations of life; she arrives before New York City has the bravery to shine its lights again — the city still rests in quiet contemplation.
Mr. and Mrs. live in a building guarded by a doorman too formally dressed — polished hat lacking commendations, polished shoes as mirrors — to occupy any profession other than a Kafkaesque gatekeeper. The doorman and Martina leave their confidences aligned, do not dip into meaningless formalities, decode and undress each other with the kindness only shared by friends of equal worldly positioning.
“Missus, how yuh ah stay?” the doorman asks.
“Lord Jesus let me live for another day. Me can’t say anyting bahd. How yuh uno?” Martina says with an undemanding smile. The darkness of the morning hesitates to fade her face. Her black kinky, knotted hair, smoothed into a high set bun, opens up her face — cheekbones firm and naturally blushed, lashes fanning over glinting brown eyes. The doorman looks upon her, breathes in how effortlessly she carries being a person, communicates his acceptance of her loveliness with a sympathetic “Mmmhm.”
“Everyone is fine. Another day; the same old.”
“Work the night shift again?”
“All this week.”
“The missus must be mahd.”
“She nah fret when she look pon de check.”
“Me catch yah soon, yah hear? Time to head up.”
Martina walks across the tan marble of the lobby, observes the new plants, how the whole lobby gleams with sterility. She makes a sharp left at the concierge’s desk, eking out a smile to Carl as he nods in and out of sleep, and walks towards an unlabeled door leading to an unfinished freight elevator.
The metal doors of the freight elevator kiss into completion and she rests her body against the fabric lining the back wall of the elvator. Her white shoes are equipped with orthopedic inserts but she still feels the weight of standing. Slip on, slip off.
The metal doors disengage. She enters yet another vestibule where she removes her coat, pats down her apron and prepares the key in her fingers.