The plan involves Jose and Raul buying a second bodega somewhere downtown to keep the cash flowing back home where their parents and six younger brothers and sisters depend on it.
‘All I said is that she’s nice bro,’ says Raul admiring city lights flickering under a hazy blanket of night sky. ‘She’s a nice girl.’
Carmen loves to smoke although cigarettes make her sick. She prefers Garcia Vega Corona cigars on a budget, and whatever he’s buying on dates. She works as a receptionist on Wall Street.
‘Three Coronas Mommy?’ asks Raul forgetting any warning from Jose last night or during the six months prior. His brother has been warning him about the woman with waist-length burgundy locks for some time now.
‘Si Pappi,’ she says not quite there… not quite anywhere.
Carmen is a drug addict.
After five years of staying high she’s stopped expecting anyone to notice. There are routines she performs as naturally as brushing her teeth. Processes like eye drops every three hours and essential oils in all the right places to mask the trail of her habit.
Every morning she cracks three cigars and refills them with the fluffy green buds she buys from Malik who lives in St Marks Place. They meet every other Sunday for breakfast. Malik often wonders what a girl like Carmen does with an ounce of some of the city’s best every two weeks. He assumes she keeps a pinch for personal use and moves the rest.
He has no idea.
When Raul hands Carmen the cigars his rough fingertips brush the outside of her slender hand and they both slow down to extend the connection. It’s one of those unspoken human moments where a sort of innocence returns. Moments where history and habits disappear and offer up a sacred second to simply feel.
Carmen is twenty-five years old. She forced herself to stop feeling as a teenager, before her teeth were fixed and her face cleared up. When she was growing up, she wanted to be a singer. With a bit of training, she might have made it.
Carmen’s parents immigrated from Italy. She has three older brothers. While her brothers were training to be engineers and doctors, her parents enrolled her in a typing course. She can type nearly 150 words a minute. It’s an uncanny talent that keeps her jobs from asking questions and her parents nearly proud.
‘My daughter is big office worker in New York City,’ her mother tells people from the house in New Jersey where Carmen was raised. ‘She work in New York City helping those big men in suits.’
Carmen hates her job. She hands Raul $3.50 and looks him in the eyes just long enough to share her sadness. It’s something most people don’t notice.
Raul would recognize it anywhere.