the penguin man

his flip-flops squeak as he waddles down the hall. before he reaches the end of the hall, where our floor’s shared bathrooms are, he peers at the staircase and watches me trudge up the steps.
“hiya!” he exclaims. he pauses at the top of the steps. i smile politely.
“how are you?” he asks. i haven’t seen him since i moved into the apartment building, which was five months ago. i respond with a generic, “i’m good. how are you doing?” he ignores my question. instead he replies, “you work, right?”
i nod.
“what is it that you do, exactly? the landlord told me you were a counselor.”
i am shocked by his abruptness. i vaguely tell him that i’m not a counselor–i’m actually an americorps volunteer.
i ask him, “how about you, what is it that you do?” i am still a little stunned by his forwardness.
“have a good night!” he answers, and waddles over to the restrooms.
*
i need to be the one doing the questioning.

inevitable tensions

the landlady and i don’t speak to each other.

she’s a plump, pale woman who always wears chunky, black sunglasses, even when the skies are cloudy. her hair is dyed with blonde highlights that accentuate her light brown hair, which is usually wrapped in a messy bun. the wrinkles oaround her mouth make her look like she’s frowning although her other facial features are inexpressive; i know this because that frown doesn’t leave her lips while she smokes. when she smokes, which is quite often, she sits under the white umbrella that is stuck in the middle of her round patio table. she puts her feet on a nearby chair while sitting on another, often staring at her two-story house or scrolling through her smart phone. i see her do this everyday. every other day, i’ve heard her blast old hip hop and r&b songs like 112’s “Peaches and Cream” and Sisqo’s “Thong Song”.

one evening, i was on Facebook. i saw that my older half sister had commented, “That’s not funny, that’s my dad :(” on the landlady’s status. her and i share the same father, so, out of curiosity, i clicked on her comment so that i would also see the post.

now, i had always disliked the landlady. when i was a tween, i heard her making jokes to her girlfriends about my father’s alcoholism, my mother’s inability to speak english well, and our financial struggles that my father had confided in her. it was a typical friday night for her and her friends, sipping vodka with limes, gossiping, howling with laughter. they all sat by the round patio table, under the white umbrella, toasting to their friendship.

i saw her post and my heartbeat sped so rapidly i felt my chest rise up, clogging my throat, clamming up my hands, tightening my mouth and deeply furrowing my eyebrows. on my computer screen was a picture of my drunken father and his large beer belly, without his shirt on, bending over, his reddish face oblivious to the camera. Underneath the picture, she had written a cruel joke, my father being the punchline. No one had commented on the photo yet, except my older half sister, who had commented a few hours ago.

the overwhelming mix of emotions fueled the long Facebook message i wrote to the landlady who was in her late 40s. even if she doesn’t like my family very much, it doesn’t allow her to publicly shame any of us, to mock us, to use us for her entertainment and the public’s. my message was a big Fuck You, except without those exact words because i wanted her to understand the reasons why what she did was wrong.

an hour later, Facebook indicated that she had read my message. she did not reply. she did, however, take down the post.

she has not acknowledged me since then. when i saw her after the incident, i waved. i waved, and still wave because, she is the landlady. i see her everyday, and i didn’t want too much tension between us—but i did figure that there might be some no matter what.

she did nothing but stare back behind those sunglasses, her frown more pronounced than ever. sometimes i still wave, and she still doesn’t.

mamá

i will hold onto the image of your nightly ritual and will cherish it for as long as i am remembering you. i sometimes watch you as your lay your back against our black suede sofa, the cheap older one. your dyed hair, black like a panther’s fur, is tied in a loose bun with a hair tie you’ve found on the floor—sometimes the hair tie is a lime green, a teal blue, or a glittery orange. your eyes are closed, your dark brown eyelids relaxed, and your toffee-colored hands rest on your lap, holding onto one of the many rosaries you collect. sometimes you use the bright pink rosary that has white glow-in the dark beads which was given to my sister at her first holy communion, other times you use the rosary with the wooden beads a vendor gifted to my brother because he figured that my brother needed god more than the vendor needed two dollars. as you murmur the hail mary prayer in spanish, you feel the softness of each rosary bead.

 

you look so snug and comfortable in that pale pink robe that you’ve had for as long as i could remember. the belt was lost in the laundromat, so you now use an incredibly long shoe lace that you tie into a bow at your side. on your feet, you have on those bright yellow sandals with the tiny red flowers and everest green leaves. at your feet lies our cat, basking in your peacefulness. our cat’s eyes are also closed, and her body is laying on one side, her head resting on your leg. you both are there for usually ten minutes. sometimes fifteen. afterwards, you play with our cat for a while. every creature needs a dose of affection, you’ve said to me. then, you come to our bedroom and turn off the lights.