Fiction

Hormigas No Piensan by Daniel Barrios

Saturday morning. The 25-year-old Dominican did what she knew best. She got into uniform and cleaned rooms. In room 31 there was a lot of mess.
She wore black curls in a bun. A big grey shirt, black leggings, sneakers. She dressed this way six days a week. On Wednesdays she wore grey sweats and chanclas.
Room 31 did not have a do-not-disturb tag.
She opened the door.
“Hay dios mio, tantas toallas,” she said. “Nunca lo entenderé.”
She complained under her breath. No one listened. At the end, she cleaned. She had no choice.
“Hey Mendra.” Her jefe said, “You don’t knock?”
Only her father was allowed to call her that. She hated when people abbreviated her name. To her, it was a lack of respect.
“Sorry, Sandeep. No sign. I saw nothing.”
She saw everything.
The briefcase on the mattress.
The stacks of twenties laid out.
The half-naked woman who ran into the bathroom as soon as Almendra opened room 31.
Almendra Arias Matos didn’t enjoy her work. Sure, she knew how to sweep. Vacuum.
Mop. Scrub. Bleach. She knew those things. Got down on her knees with blue gloves. She hated getting on her knees. She didn’t mind the blue gloves.
She was tired.
Sad.
Not sad with the mess. A selfish sadness.
Sandeep called her Almendra the Alien sometimes.
She didn’t have green skin. She had brown skin. It looked just fine to her.
She’d worked for Sandeep for three years. All cash, no taxes. Her father had prostate
cancer back in her country. He was scheduled for surgery. Wait list, ya tu sabes. They needed money. Almendra wired him two hundred dollars every two Mondays. La Doña y el Don were happy. 14,400 bucks saved. They needed six hundred more.
La Doña always mailed her daughter a photo of the old couple smiling. Same pose, same features. Her hunched back, long dresses, blonde hair. El Don was no different. Hunched shoulders, long legs, blonde bigoté. La Doña said she couldn’t work. She felt nervous.
Olvídalo.
Who would take care of El Don?
She was happy when Almendra accepted her father’s medical bills.
Responsibilities didn’t have feelings.
Tears didn’t process payments.
Saturday morning shifts meant disinfectant crew. All of the Friday night hooks-ups happened here. Almendra had to clean things that she never cleaned in her country. Learn new words.
Ceiling fan. Lampshade. There was one word that always gave her a hard time;
comforter.
“Comfeltel,” she said.
She got used to it.
“Comforter,” Sandeep said. “Here, take them.”
He closed the briefcase. Removed it from the mattress. He looked at the bathroom door.
The lights were on under the crack. He gave Almendra a twenty.
Yellow stains on white sheets. Chicken bones on accent chairs. Used condoms in the wastebasket. And the beige towels.
Oh, the towels.
The towels got Almendra mad. She didn’t like how they were thrown on the floor. No regard. Five, six? Yes, Seven towels at once everywhere.
Sandeep said, “Almendra the Alien. You do a good job.” He said, “Better than the
others.” Almendra didn’t speak to the others.
They were bad news.
They talked about nothing. Sandeep’s personal life. His secrets. His women.
All rumors.
Almendra didn’t care about that stuff. She knew what she had to do.
“Hey Almendra,” a voice said.
He was wheeling a cart of supplies down the hall.
“Hola Andy,” she said. “Que lo que?”
“Aqui, ya tu sabe,” he said.
Andy was tall, he wore a thin moustache, long dark hair.
“What are you doing in 31 con el jefe?”
“Aqui, ya tu sabe,” she waved a bottle of clorox.
“You need any help?”
She said, “Estoy bien, gracias.”
Sandeep walked out of the room with the woman from the bathroom. She had decent
clothes on.
“Excuse me, Mendra,” he said, “Slim Jim, you gonna help her clean this shit?”
“Yeah, I was just asking her if she needed some help,” Andy said.
“You don’t do that.”
“What?” Andy asked.
“You don’t ask her about nothing here. You come to me. And to me alone. She got no
place giving orders here,” he said.
“So does that mean I help her with 31?”
Andy was already walking into the room.
“You keep an eye on her. She’s quiet.”
Sandeep slipped Andy a fifty.
Almendra saw it; she turned fast.
Sandeep walked away, to his office.
“Juntos,” Andy said with a smile.
Andy? He liked her. The curls, the way her big shirt fell over her big waist. Her dark
eyes. He liked those a lot.
It didn’t help that both their names began with the same letter. That gave the young
Dominican lover hope. She liked Andy. As a co-worker. That was it.
“Yo limpiaré la cama y el baño,” Almendra said, “tu limpia la toalla.”
“I’m not cleaning any towels,” Andy said.
She said, “No los tocaré. Todo menos eso.”
Almendra clenched her jaw.
She reached for a towel.
The beige towel hung on the big chair smeared with brown sauce.
Ants gathered like football players on a field.
Almendra jerked back.
She tried another towel. This towel draped over the lampshade. Red sauce.
She got real close this time, nose close enough to smell the red.
Her cold eyes saw another ant climbing the towel. This one was alone. She thought about crushing it with her thumb. Maybe her pointer finger would be faster.
The little ant walked away by the time she made her decision.
She stepped back and then decided to clean the bathroom.
Lots of towels there. The tiles, the toilet, the tub.
Almendra put her back on the wall, came down to the floor with her legs. She held her legs and buried her head.
Andy heard sniffles and pants.
“I’ll clean the towels,” Andy said.
He didn’t know why she was crying. He wanted her to stop.
She didn’t say anything.
He said, “but one condition.”
“Que?” she said.
“You and me on a date,” he said, “movies and dinner.”
“Hay Dios mio,” she said.
She wiped some tears.
“Me or the towels?” he asked.
She wanted to pick the towels.
“Pues, tu.”
“Asi es,” Andy said, “you saw that woman with Sandeep?”
“Si,” she said.
He said, “that’s one of his girls. His hoe. The man’s a pimp.”
She ignored his gossip.
Ants drowned.
She observed them, as she sprayed the wood floor.
“They have souls, you know,” Andy said.
“Blasfemia,” she said, “hormigas no piensan.”
“How do you think they were able to climb the towels? They knew. They are smarter than you think,” he said.
He never asked her why she was crying. She did stop.
He began to pick up the towels, shaking a bunch of ants off.
“Echalé cloro,” Andy said.
She smiled with the bottle of clorox in her hands. She sprayed some on room 31’s floor.
She felt happy the ants were dying.
It wasn’t all bad. She found a 10 dollar bill in room ten once. She kept that to herself.
A post-it note with some Spanish another time in room two. The person wrote the note fast, sloppy. She kept the note.
The yellow note said, “Mucha gracia. That’s all the Spanish I know. Sorry no tip this time.”
She called those clients ratas de los proyectos. The New York City Housing Projects were around the corner of the inn.
The ratas only cared about themselves. They came in all colours. Whites, blacks, even her own kind. Those clients always paid with a credit card decline. And they would leave the payment office with a key.
Shady stuff.
Sandeep always turned his shoulder.
“Yo come on San, gimme a room,” a local man said, “look at this girl, she tired.”
The local man had torn jeans. They sagged below his waste. He wore an expensive belt.
The girl wore a slim dress. She never yawned.
“Nah man, I need some cash,” Sandeep said.
He wore good clothes. Respectable. His long sleeves, his windsor knot, the expensive loafers. Sandeep thought he had class.
“I got like 17 Washingtons and this visa card.”
“Please,” the girl said.
Sandeep breathed. His wide nostrils, his grey goatee. He scratched the goatee. That was his signal. Scratches meant deals.
“Run the card through my machine,” he said. “I don’t usually do this. You’re lucky I like you.”
The card declined. The local man turned away from the girl.
“Aight, you all set, my man,” Sandeep said.
He slipped the card key under the cashier window. The girl took it, the local man was
busy.
He fed some quarters into a vending machine. A condom and a diet coke.
Business was business.
Mariner’s Harbor Inn.
Full service maid.
That’s how Almendra felt. She didn’t complain, oh God no. She was a quiet woman.
She knew that there was more to life than pampered pillows and toiletry displays.
She studied to become a vet. She never finished. El Don got sick. Her foreign studies were foreign. They didn’t help her much on Staten Island.
She could handle the flying roaches in La Romana, those were big.
The smallness of the ants bothered her.
The motel was a neighborhood landmark. It was part of the culture. Sandeep came from Sri Lanka in the 1980s. He came with some money and found a spot in the Harbour to build his motel. He was proud of his achievement but he never got married, never had kids. Sandeep was alone.
The motel was two floors. All beige walls, brown stairs, brown roof. Parking spots in
front of first floor rooms. Cameras everywhere.
Room 31 was almost cleaned.
“Last towel,” Andy said.
Almendra thought about El Don y La Doña. She was almost done with the payments. She thought about going back to become a vet in Villa Verde. That was a clean street.
“No puedo,” Almendra said.
She walked up to Andy and took his collection of towels. She threw them everywhere.
Then she picked them up herself.
One by one.
“Hey!” Andy said. “What the hell are you doing? I’m trying to help you.”
“Tengo metas,” she said.
“Like what?” he asked.
“No sabrías.”
He said, “Try me.” He said, “I won’t tell anyone.”
Sandeep walked into room 31. They were taking long to clean.
“It’s been half an hour, you should be done,” Sandeep said.
“Andy cen feenish,” Almendra said.
“Don’t be silly.”
Sandeep winked his eye at Andy.
Andy smiled.
“You will finish together,” Sandeep said.
Almendra rolled her eyes. She kept picking up her mess.
“I’ll never understand you women,” he said, “we try and make things as easy as
possible.” Sandeep left room 31.
Almendra couldn’t believe this was the first room of the day. She still had nine other
rooms to clean. At least she would be alone.
Andy didn’t know why Almendra made a mess of the towels. He agreed with Sandeep.
“Damn Mendra, you are too much,” Andy said.
“No me llamas así” Almendra said, “nunca.”
“What? Mendra?” Andy asked, “Mendra, Mendra, Mendra.”
Andy didn’t mean anything by it. He was only trying to help her.
“Porque?” she asked.
She was almost finished cleaning the towels.
A small ant began crawling on her brown wrist.
She jumped high.
Jumped low.

Jumped everywhere.
Andy stayed in the same place.


Follow Daniel on Instagram @danielblike.

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