Sport 37: Winter 2009
In the summer, in the East End of London, Drew's three housemates spontaneously turn Christian and leave. A new girl arrives and likes the place and comes from a small Mexican city called Queretaro. She has just blagged a job in a High Holborn store.
'I lied on my CV,' she tells Drew. 'Do you know anything about legal book systems and ordering?'
Drew shakes his head.
Her name is Samantha, and her uncompleted degree is in English language. 'I'm so pleased,' she says, about the job. 'I was desperate. Do you have a job too?'
Drew works in the post room of a government department on Millbank. With overtime, this provides enough money for rent and food.
'My father works in the government too, at home,' she says. 'He is very high up, but this job has made him crazy. I can't talk to him any more. But I adore him,' she says, displaying a photo she has taken from a suitcase. 'Papi. His first job was in a restaurant. He studied for a degree while he was working there. It was very hard. When he graduated I was three.'
She catches Drew staring. Delighted, she throws her head back to laugh, and he notices that her teeth are perfectly aligned. Her hair is black and long.
Samantha rings home often, using £5 phone-cards she buys from the off-licence. Afterwards, she reviews these calls in the bed with Drew. Although her father is evading her questions it is obvious he is having a bad time. She suspects a dirty senator is causing him difficulty. He has had trouble of this kind before—once, during school, Samantha was approached by a strange man in a suit who smiled and said, 'Tell your papi to behave.'page 48
'That's like a line from a film,' says Drew.
'This job is killing him,' she says. 'He is paying for house renovations—to take his mind away. He spent all phone call talking about those. He is busy cleaning, too. The maid doesn't clean thoroughly enough, he says.'
Samantha gets a promotion at the book store and Drew visits with croissants to congratulate her. It is a Saturday, and the bendy bus he takes to get to High Holborn is packed and reeking. The tube would be faster but hotter and in any case too expensive. At each stop more people press on. Someone is on Drew's foot. Another is pressing against his thigh.
Meeting Drew at Russell Street, Samantha is talkative all the way to the shop. In her new role, she will continue to man the tills but also work out the back. She will receive an increase of 75p.
'Come and see my desk,' she says, laughing, leading Drew through the shop to the storeroom. 'This is temporary.'
Out the back there are stacks of books and one computer on a table and a separate small office with a closed door and one desk in it. At the end of a short hallway there are three cardboard boxes piled up against a fire exit door. This is Samantha's desk. She shows Drew how, to write, she must sit with her legs going out to the side.
'How do you call this?' she says, looking up at Drew from the chair. 'Side-saddle?'
The sight of her sideways on the chair before the boxes makes Drew weak with a helpless rage. 'I can't believe this,' he says, looking around. 'They're exploiting you. Three boxes does not make a desk.'
But the door to her supervisor's office is dark and closed for the weekend, and anyway there is nothing the supervisor could do. Staff budgets are managed from the head office in another part of London.
'Don't worry about that now,' says Samantha. 'Look at this.'
She is processing an order for a set of legal volumes that costs £10,000 and is printed strictly on demand.
'And this book is one thousand pounds alone,' she says. 'Look at it. How can it be worth one thousand pounds?'
The book is thick and the print very small. Drew puts it down and page 49 brings the croissants from his bag.
'With my raise,' Samantha says, eating, 'I will be able to pay you back for all the groceries I owe you.'
For their second Christmas together, they travel to Queretaro. Samantha's father contributes money for the fares. Greeting them at the airport he is sharply dressed and hypertensive. A 4x4 is waiting outside. Sitting in the back seat, snarled in traffic while trying to leave Mexico City, Drew listens as Samantha's father rages in Spanish at the driver and at Samantha, who interprets.
'He is being unkind about my job,' says Samantha. 'He thinks I should never have abandoned my degree. He can't believe I am working for such a low wage. All of this upsets him. He calls me an arsehole who can't stick to anything. I am just like my mother, he says.'
Drew sneaks his arm around her as the car lurches forward. The father swears at his driver and continues talking to Samantha, in a different tone.
'He says he is honoured to meet you. You must make his home yours. Unfortunately he will be drawn away by the demands of his work. He is apologising—maybe the house will seem small or incomplete. The renovations are ongoing.'
Drew begins to respond but she stalls him. 'Don't try yet,' she says. 'He is mad with his work. This is why he swears at me.'
Turning to the window, Drew looks through another window into a bus, where a woman in business clothes is stooping to wipe a seat with a cloth. Rubbing at the seat in the bus, she spits on the cloth, then wipes again. At last, satisfied, she sits down. Then there is a break in traffic and the 4x4 lurches forward and the bus is left behind, out of view.
When they arrive at the father's house, every room smells hotel-clean and it is clear that his wife—Samantha's mother—has gone. The break-up has occurred since Samantha left for London.
'My father says make yourself at home. He has to make some calls.'
They watch as her father walks to a room that leads off the lounge.page 50
'This means,' Samantha says, 'that he is going to work for a time and then lift weights and cry.'
She takes Drew to the kitchen, and he stands against a bench while she makes food for him. He can't help because he doesn't know where things are stored. She is preparing totas, a meal she has promised a long time. Here at last she has the right brands of dried meat and beans; they have not been available in London.
Watching, Drew decides to make a drink for Samantha. Generally she prefers water, so he fills a glass from the tap but it's warm and she says no thank you so he tips it out again.
'Don't worry,' she says, 'I'll make something cold for us both in a moment.'
Resuming his position against the bench, Drew says, 'Okay,' and understands that on this trip he will feel even more ineffectual than before.
'Take your shoes and socks off,' she tells him. 'You'll feel better. Thank you for coming here, baby. It's important for you to see.'
The kitchen tiles are vast and cool under Drew's bare feet. Outside, he can see Samantha's father pacing in the garden, talking on a mobile phone. He is using a hand to emphasise the argument he is advancing. He looks so upset that Drew doesn't point him out to Samantha. Instead he says, 'I'm sorry about your mother. Where did she go?'
Samantha shrugs. 'To her family—in the city.' She flips the meat and scoops beans into the pan. 'She is insane. It's so stupid to go there. She won't survive.'
'Where, exactly?' says Drew. 'Which part?'
'I don't remember,' says Samantha. 'It's just the city. It's insane. They are poor. She won't survive.' And she shrugs again.