Format: eBook, 208 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
ISBN: 978-0-385-66904-7 (0-385-66904-6)
Pub Date: September 7, 2010
Buy this eBook
The phone rang again, startling me so much that the nail polish brush jerked off my toenail and onto the white separator holding my toes apart. If any polish spilled on my new duvet, someone was going to have to pay!
“You’re awfully jumpy, Alexandria,” Olivia said, lounging at the end of my king-size bed.
“I’m not jumpy. I just don’t like the sound of ringing phones.”
The phone kept on ringing.
“Carmella!” I screamed.
“Just ignore it,” Olivia told me.
“I have been ignoring it,” I said.
This was the third time it had rung in the last ten minutes, and it was really starting to get on my nerves. Where was Carmella? It wasn’t like the call was going to be for me—anybody who knew me called on my cell—and it certainly wasn’t my job to be answering the home phone.
Four . . . fi ve . . . six . . . seven rings. You’d think the person on the other end would have fi gured out that nobody was going to answer. Couldn’t they just leave a message and move on? Were they deliberately trying to get on my nerves? And where was Carmella? She was supposed to get the phone. That was part of her job.
“Carmella!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
“Either she’s out or she’s ignoring you,” Olivia said. “We’ve had a couple of maids like that. Some of them pretended that they didn’t understand English.”
“Some of them probably didn’t understand English,” I argued.
The phone stopped ringing, and I let out a sigh of relief.
I took the brush and dipped it into the bottle of polish, careful to take just enough. The way to get great nails—aside from using the very best polish money could buy—was to apply many, many thin coats. Some people either didn’t know that or didn’t have the patience, but I knew how important it was to have the details just right.
The secret to a great look is in the details. Any fool with a little bit of money can buy the right clothes or designer accessories—and there certainly are enough fools in L.A. with money to do that—but there’s an art to putting them together the right way, to making the look work for you. It’s easy to tell the pretenders from the contenders—although I was no mere contender . . . more like the champ!
“My mother says that good help is almost impossible to get,” Olivia said. “Do you have any idea how many maids we’ve gone through in the past year?”
“You’re on your seventh,” I said.
“Yes . . . that’s right,” Olivia said. She looked surprised.
“Your mother told my mother,” I explained.
“We even caught one drinking on the job!” Olivia exclaimed.
“Really?” I tried to sound shocked, but if I’d worked for Olivia’s family I might have started drinking too.
“She was going right into the cabinet and drinking my father’s private stock.”
“Oh, really?” I said. “Does that remind you of anyone you know?”
“That was ages ago,” she protested. “And I was only fi fteen.”
“As opposed to the old woman of sixteen that you are now?” I asked.
“Sixteen is much older than fi fteen,” she argued. “You’d have to agree with that.”
Actually, I did agree. “Touché.”
“Besides, it was my father’s alcohol I was drinking,” she added. “It wasn’t like I was stealing from somebody else . . . but you’d know all about that.”
So she was fi ghting back! I tried not to react. There was no way I was going to let her know she was getting to me.
“We all make mistakes,” I said casually. “Some of us learn from them.”
“Not necessarily the fi rst time,” she said, and chuckled.
Again, I didn’t react, although I really had the urge to see how her face would look with nail polish all over it.
I’d been caught shoplifting once. And before that I’d dented a girl’s car to pay her back for her catty comments about my at-the-time boyfriend. They were mistakes, and I’d paid for them. But really, I wouldn’t change anything that happened to me as a result, even if I could. The whole thing worked out for the best. There was no doubt about that. None whatsoever.
I didn’t answer. I just kept my complete focus on my toenails.
“You’ve had Carmella for years, haven’t you?” Olivia said.
“She’s been with us forever. I think we hired her when I was, like, three.”
“Thirteen years is a long time. You know, that’s when you have to be careful,” Olivia said.
“Yes. Once they earn your trust, that’s when they start to slack off, or worse yet, things get up and walk away.”
“You’ve had maids who stole from you?” I asked.
“My mother had her favourite necklace, a very expensive necklace, go missing.”
“And the maid took it?”
“That’s why my father fi red her.”
“And did you call the police? Was she charged?”
“My father said it was too hard to prove anything. He said Manuela would just deny it and it would be her word against ours.”
“That’s too bad,” I said.
“My father said we could have made a claim through our insurance company.”
“Could have?” I asked.
“Well . . . ”
Olivia looked sheepish, and I knew there was more to this story, something she didn’t want to say. I might have let her off the hook if she hadn’t brought up my mistakes fi rst.
“Well, what?” I asked.
“Funny thing,” she said, although her expression wasn’t very amused. “It turns out it really wasn’t stolen. It had fallen behind the dresser . . . We found it a week or so after she was canned.”
“After you found the necklace, did you rehire Manuela?” I asked.
“Of course not!” Olivia protested. “That would have been too embarrassing. Besides, it’s not like it’s hard to fi nd another maid.”
“Or even six more,” I said.
The phone started ringing again. This time it set off my little Pomeranian, Sprout, who had been sleeping peacefully in his doggy bed but now was barking his yappy head off. As if the phone’s incessant ringing wasn’t bad enough by itself without the dog turning it into a duet.
“Carmella!” I screamed.
“At least our maids all answered the phone,” Olivia chuckled.
I’d had enough of the ringing—and of Olivia. I got to my feet.
“What are you doing?” she yelled. “You’ll ruin your nails!”
“I’ll take that chance.”
I hobbled forward, trying to walk on my heels, with the toe separators keeping my toes apart and up in the air.
“Carmella!” I screamed again. “The phone!”
That was a pretty stupid thing to yell because obviously if she’d heard it ringing she would have known it was the phone.
I went into my parents’—my mother’s—bedroom. There was a phone on her night table. Delicately I picked it up, trying not to smudge my fi ngernails.
“Yeah?” I snarled.
There was no answer. Had I stomped all this way for a hang-up? No, there was no dial tone, so there had to be somebody on the other end. Was it one of those stupid telemarketer calls where they make you wait for them? So rude!
“Hello? Is anybody there?” I demanded.
It was a male voice with a foreign accent. Was it Spanish? If this call was actually for Carmella I’d be so angry—
“Hello,” he said again. “Could I speak to Alexandria . . . Alexandria . . . I think the last name starts with an ‘H.’”
“This is Alexandria. Alexandria Hyatt.”
Stupid telemarketer. If he was going to harass people he should at least know their full names. I should just hang up on him right—
“Alexandria, I did not recognize your voice.”
And just why did he think he should? It had to be some stupid telemarketer—we got them all the time. At least some of them were slick enough to get your attention, but this guy was simply hopeless.
“I thought that you were not home, or that I had the incorrect telephone number,” he said. “I called many times and no one answered.”
“That was you calling?” Now I was really mad.
“It was me.”
“When we didn’t answer the fi rst three times, didn’t you understand that maybe there was nobody home?” I demanded.
“That is why I called back again and again.”
Strange, there was something about his voice that did sound familiar.
“So why are you calling?” I asked. I just wanted to get to his pitch so I could blow him off.
“You told me to call.”
“You said to call you. You gave me your telephone number.”
“Who is this?”
“It is Nebala.”
I was so shocked I almost dropped the telephone, grabbing it, smudging a nail as I caught it. “Nebala—my Nebala—from Africa?”
He laughed, and I recognized the laugh even more than I had the voice. “Do you have many other Nebalas in your California?”
“Of course not! I’m just so shocked, so surprised, so happy to hear your voice!”
“And your voice is very pleasant to listen to also,” he said.
I pictured Nebala in my head, in full Maasai costume—red blanket and dress, wearing sandals, a bow over his shoulder and a konga club under his blanket—standing there somewhere in Kenya with the phone in one hand and his spear in the other.
“I just can’t believe I’m talking to you!” I exclaimed.
“The elders in my village still think of phones as being magic, too.”
“I don’t mean the phone part. I mean talking to you. It’s unbelievable that we’re talking, that you called me!”
“Very believable. You gave me your telephone number and I just pushed the buttons. Very easy.”
“But it must be costing you a fortune to make this call.”
Long distance from Kenya would be incredibly expensive, and it wasn’t like he had a lot of money—like anybody in his village had a lot of money.
“Not too much, I do not think. I put in two of those silver coins. I think that is not much money.”
Silver coins? I tried to remember what the different Kenyan coins looked like, but it wasn’t coming.
“I wish to ask something of you,” Nebala said.
“Of course. What do you want to know?”
“Do you remember that when you left Kenya, you said that someday you would welcome me to come to your country, to your land?”
“Of course I remember!” I exclaimed. “That would be wonderful! I told my parents about everything in Kenya, but I especially told them all about you and Ruth! My mother and father said they’d be thrilled to meet you someday!”
“I would be honoured to meet them. They must be very wise people.”
“And I could show you around L.A. the way you showed me around Kenya.”
“That is so kind.”
“I owe you,” I said. “I don’t know what would have happened to me if you hadn’t been there for me in Kenya.” Because being “there for me” actually meant saving me from a herd of elephants—something not a lot of my friends could have helped with.
“You are strong without my help. You are so strong you could even be a Maasai.”
I laughed. “I don’t think anybody would ever mistake me for a Maasai. I think I sort of have the wrong skin colour.”
“You have the heart of a Maasai.”
I knew what a compliment he was giving me.
“Thanks, but I don’t think I could kill a lion.”
He laughed. “Of course not. You are a woman. Even Maasai women do not kill lions.”
“It would be wonderful if you could come to California. But it’s awfully far from Africa!”
I didn’t mention how expensive the plane fare would be—way more than he could ever afford.
“It is very far,” Nebala said. “Even your country is very big, and far from one place to another. It is a long way from New York to the other side in California,” he said.
“It would be a long walk.”
“It is a long airplane ride,” he said. “But a Maasai could walk from one side to the other of a country even as big as America.”
“I know, I know, because Maasai can walk without stopping,” I said.
“Never needing to stop from sunrise to sunset.”
It was something they prided themselves on. I could picture him with that long, bouncy stride. Given enough time, I was sure he could walk from New York to L.A., or even from Africa to L.A. if there wasn’t an ocean in the way. I imagined him moving along the interstate, and the shocked looks from the drivers of passing SUVs and cars and transport trucks.
“To walk across your country would take more than one hundred days,” he said.
“I don’t know,” I said. I guessed he must have been looking at a map. “I’m not sure if anybody has ever done that before, walked across the country.”
“A Maasai could walk that distance.”
I wasn’t about to argue with that. They were pretty stubborn and determined people.
“And if you did come here, you know I would insist that you stay at our house,” I said. “We have a big house with lots of extra rooms.”
“I was hoping you would allow that.”
“That would be wonderful, if you did come someday.” That sounded like I was blowing him off. “I’d like it if you could come someday soon.”
“Yes,” he said. “Soon, very soon. Alexandria, I am at the airport.”
“In Nairobi?” I exclaimed.
“LAX. I am in Los Angeles.”
That time I did drop the phone.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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