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written by: Mehreen Ahmed
Juliet worked in a cafe up the road. Her pretty smile was something to see first thing in the morning. But she didn’t know that. She worked her shifts around the clock, being nice to the lovers of coffee, serving them, and taking orders. Juliet was stringent with her time, however, occasionally, she would spare a few moments to chat at the till. That would be generous on her part. No one knew what went on in her head. Nobody cared to find out, what her thoughts were. And that was how it was; strictly professional.
One morning a lady by the name of Rita Chowder, a regular at the cafe, came in and sat down in a corner. It was a quiet morning at the cafe that day. In fact, Rita was the only customer at the time. She finished her first cup of coffee. Then she waved at Juliet. And when she came by, Rita asked her for another shot. Juliet brought it over to her. As she took a sip, Juliet noticed tears. “What’s wrong?” she asked. A frown appeared on her smooth forehead.
“What do you mean?” Rita asked.
“You look really depressed,” Julia asked.
“Yes,” Rita said trying to hide morose expressions by lowering her head.
“Why would you be so sad?” Juliet asked.
“Oh, it is a long, long story. I think, I am about to lose my house to the bank?” she answered.
“That’s no good.”
“I have been frugal all my life. Worked hard and drove second-hand beat-up cars. I always dreamt of buying a new car one day. But that just never happened. I just couldn’t save up enough, always behind, no matter how hard I worked. I feel short-changed.”
“Turns out, that’s the way it was all going to be.” Rita concluded.
Juliet listened with a lot of interest. She felt like doing something for Rita. But what could she do? How was Rita, to fight the big banks, and the hiking interest rates? She moved away from her to serve another customer. By the time she came back, Rita was gone. But she noticed, she left something for her on the table. It was a card, with her phone number written on it. Juliet picked it up. She gazed outside through the cafe gates and saw Rita walking away. Juliet thought whether to keep the card or to get rid of it. Clients came and went every day, but who cared about their stories. Something told her to keep it. She tucked it away in her apron pocket. When she looked again, she saw the last of her floral dress at the vanishing point, behind the garden’s neat hedges.
After work, that night Juliet returned to her two-bed apartment, she shared with another girl. She went straight to shower, and wrapped herself with a dressing gown afterward. They ate some pasta together, which her room-mate cooked, and they both sat down in front of the television. Over dinner, Juliet muttered something which her roommate didn’t understand. Her name was Kate.
“Was there something you said?” she asked.
“Yes, I was speaking to a customer this morning and she was saying that she may lose her house to the bank.”
“Really? Can she not pay her mortgage anymore?”
“Yeah, something like that,” Juliet answered.
“That would be really awful.”
“Yeah, wouldn’t it?”
“Do you want to buy a house someday?” Kate asked.
“Me? Ha! Funny you ask. I’m even lucky to pay my rent.” Juliet smiled.
Kate noted sarcasm in her voice. She added, “Or get hitched with a rich guy.”
They both laughed and finished dinner. They watched the news and saw what the banks were doing and have been doing to their clients. After the news finished, they rose from their chairs, with the plates and dumped them in the sink. Juliet said goodnight to Kate and went to bed. She had an early shift the next day. In bed, she didn’t go to sleep right away. It bothered her that people like Rita had to suffer. She thought only people in the developing world suffered like this. She didn’t understand the economics of it at all. However, she took her diary out of the bedside table drawer and began to write. Most were her own ramblings. But she also penned down Rita’s predicament. It hadn’t dawned upon her entirely, until now how many people were out there, who tirelessly put uncountable hours into work, for negligible returns. What was it in the end, if they couldn’t even own one house in retirement or drive a brand new car? What was it? Was anything worth? That people had to pay back double, even triple with interest on the principle they borrowed from the banks? That it would take four generations if not more, to pay back. Was it even fair? Juliet contemplated on a lot of questions, but no answers. She didn’t know when she fell asleep.
In the morning, when she woke up, she had a new resolution. She wanted to smell the sweetness of spring in all its freshness. She wanted to make money, travel, purchase a house, drive brand new cars. Live it up! After all, she lived in a first world country, and she should be entitled to those world-class benefits. On her way to the cafe, she went to the newsagents to buy a copy of the Sydney Herald. She turned the pages to shares and bonds.
Investing in shares and bonds was the way to go. At twenty-five, she figured it out. She must tell Rita, too, if she were to save her house. Juliet thought of using her small savings to invest in shares. She was going to buy blue chips. On lunch-break, she went and researched some more to learn about long-term investments; the rises and the falls of share markets. Windfalls, make quick money, while improbable, was not impossible. She called her brokers and invested all her savings into a diversified portfolio. She felt almost jubilant that she was not going to end up like Rita. Where was Rita anyway? She didn’t come today. Thoughts about Rita distracted Juliet at work. She expected her to walk in through those gates.
After work, Juliet gave Rita a call. Her mobile was switched off. She was just a client in the cafe, who came for a regular caffeine shot. Juliet didn’t even know where she lived or anything about her. But she wanted her to know that there was a way out. If Juliet could sell and buy shares wisely, she could end up with a little pot of gold. That night, she came back from work. It was her turn to cook dinner. She turned on the TV, and took an onion to slice. She must follow the market closely. On the news, an accident was reported. A body was found washed up by the local river bank. Most likely, it was suicide. A name was also released, Rita Chowder. ‘What?’ Juliet was devastated. The knife fell from her hand, and the onion rolled off the cutting board. Rita was no relative, hardly even a friend. But Juliet felt she was so much more. There was almost a bonding.
Juliet was not sure now. This was puzzling. Her breathing, short and shallow, she struggled to accept this. She had to sit down. The perfect rainbow that she had been dreaming, suddenly took a bad turn and it transpired into something she didn’t think about. This other side of it, she wasn’t sure of. She saw the same rainbow, but in a different light. She saw its reflection on the water. Under wrinkled water, it didn’t look so perfect but broken along the edges of the arch. That night she could not eat dinner but went to bed straight away. A fresh start in the morning, this new day, should bring a refreshing new perspective, she hoped. And coffee shots to give those moods a false high.
It took her a good many months for a return on her investments. It wasn’t until the winter months two years on that Juliet was able to sell her shares and turn in a profit. Over the months of July and August, she sold all her shares. And was able to double her savings. Juliet wanted to travel. She wanted to visit the USA. What a lark! No broken wings! This lucky girl was a survivor.
The Midwest Book Review, has reviewed one of her books, The Pacifist. Two of her short stories, The Anomalous Duo has been translated in German, Familie (er)zählt: Selection of stories completed; Sammlung abgeschlossen, (In press) and The Black Coat, in Greek: ΤΟ ΜΑΥΡΟ ΠΑΛΤΟ, published in Nyctophilia.gr.
She has an MA in English Literature, Dhaka University and an MA in Applied Linguistics from the University of Queensland, Brisbane Australia.
She was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, but lives in Australia.