She didn’t like to think of her demise, but when she did, Martina Ramirez didn’t think it would come so quickly, so callously, and so randomly. She certainly did not imagine the last words she would ever hear would be “I see you” and yet as she choked on her own blood and spit they sounded like an ancient curse, for they were words she had never heard before. She could have never known that picking up the small, unassuming black notebook off that man’s table would have been the opening scene on the final act of her life.
It was an average day in her average life as Martina walked to her new job at the coffee shop. A quiet slip of a woman, Martina never found herself drawn to an ambitious calling. Her high school career assessment simply stated “Unable to determine” and she was perfectly fine with that. In all sense of the word, she was average. Average height, average looking, average….everything. Oftentimes she felt like a ghost in her own life, as if she could pack up one day and people would only distantly remember her. Like a fuzzy reverie they’d recall “that girl…Matilda something-or-other”. She had no parents, no siblings, and except for the mangey cat she fed routinely and the boisterous landlord she lived above, nobody that relied on her for anything.
And yet, she did not resent her life.
Martina Ramirez loved her demure life, her small apartment, and her mousy disposition. She enjoyed slipping quietly in and out of crowds, observing the world from a lens that few others got to see. Being invisible had its perks however, including the fact that when you blend into the background nobody notices you. Above all, they certainly don’t notice when you’ve taken something that belongs to them. Martina loved her ability to swipe pockets and found from a young age that she was quite fast-fingered and even faster-footed.
It had started when she was a child and had accidentally pocketed a candy bar from the grocery store. Horrified at her accident, she tried to rectify it only to have her mother passively mumble something and ignore her trepidation. When Martina tried to return the candy bar the next day, the clerk glanced at her once and shooed her away with a snarl. The next time she took something, it was to test her newfound ability to be utterly unassuming. She had been eyeballing some drug store lip gloss, a cheap brand that realistically only cost $1.25, but to Martina, it was the most valuable thing she could think of. As she walked home that day, licking the cherry paste off her lips and cherishing the sweet taste of success, Martina knew she had been blessed with the ultimate gift. She was invisible.
Now, 17 years later, Martina’s apartment was full of small unmissable trophies of her adventures. A wooden nickel from a museum exhibit she had visited on an 8th grade field trip. A chipped glass elephant, delicate and shimmering, that she had pocketed from a high-end curio shop off Lancaster Avenue. A warped pair of sunglasses from a boutique downtown. Her life was a non-stop adventure, like Robinhood but instead of robbing the rich to give to the poor, Martina pick-pocketed random items to inconvenience strangers.
That morning had started off as normally as any other, Martina had already managed to swipe a bookmark from a park bench where a would-be scholar pretended to read (while ogling college freshmen) and two dangly keychains from a sidewalk vendor. It was a good day and Martina felt that the compulsive itch in her soul to take things had been temporarily satiated. At least, it would be calm until a few hours into her shift when she managed to swipe items off tables while pretending to clear away debris.
Martina had never been able to keep a steady job but purely due to her own volition. She always felt the need to start fresh in a new environment, pick it clean, and then move on to the next mark. This month, she had found herself at a small coffee shop nestled between a boutique and a stationary store. The whole building smelled like coffee beans and paper. Martina was comforted by the warmth in the air and the sight of her name scrawled on the staff schedule chalkboard as “Mary”. She had had a good laugh when she noticed “Martina” on the first day and managed to change it without anyone correcting it or ever calling her by her real name. She had been known as “Mary” for the last 18 days and when the police came to question her co-workers after her death, their real concern wasn’t that she was dead but rather that they had called her by the wrong name for so long.
The day’s treasures included a battered fountain pen, a Hawaiian quarter (now she had the whole set! What luck!), and a small black notebook. She thought little of her prizes until she made it home after her shift and tossed them onto her bed, the black book falling open. As she stared at it from a distance, she remembered the man whose table she had taken it from. He was handsome, with a chiseled jaw line and a fresh haircut. He was the opposite of her; people surely always remembered his face or picked him out of a crowd, he was such a striking looking man. Martina had felt a little bad as she swatted the book into the pile of napkins and food scraps on her tray. He seemed like such a nice man and she had never taken anything so intimate or obvious before, but the itch needed to be scratched a little harder and he wasn’t paying her any attention. Surely he wouldn’t ever miss the battered little book, with its folded and worn corners and its loose papers. It, like Martina, was completely average and wholly replaceable.
“Hmmm…let’s see what secrets are scrawled on your pages” Martina wondered aloud as she flopped onto the bed. She absent-mindedly leafed through the pages, the handwriting was neat and sloped, an elegant cursive, and noted a bunch of numbers and addresses that had been crossed out. On the last page, there was one line of text that read “89 E 42nd Street, NY, NY 10017, Locker 2896, $20,000” with a combination written underneath. Martina’s blood turned to ice and her mouth fell open. She immediately jumped out of bed, her eyes bulging from her head at the words. She blinked once, twice, three times, surely she had read that wrong? And yet, as she opened her eyes the same words still sat on the paper in the same script, in the same spot.
Martina Ramirez had just inadvertently stolen $20,000.
She immediately threw the book into her waste bin and tried to forget what she had seen. For two days, the black notebook stayed at the bottom of the bin, covered up with scraps of paper and flecks of random food, but never far from Martina’s mind. On the third day, Martina fished it out, wiped it clean, and took a deep breath. Surely this was all some sort of joke, but what if…what if this was a swipe of a lifetime?
Adrenaline coursed through her veins and the itch in her soul screamed “GO!!” as her beat up converse slapped against the concrete as she ran to the address. She found herself in front of Grand Central Station where she quickly collected herself, flattened her windblown hair, and took a deep breath. To be invisible, she had to blend in, and a winded wild-eyed woman would surely stand out.
She matched the pace of the crowd and descended the stairs to the locker bay, making an indirect line to locker 2896. She was completely invisible as she turned the dial on the locker to 24-11-87 and pulled the lock down. The release of the mechanism was the sweetest sound she had ever heard. As she pulled the door open, she could smell the rich powerful smell of fresh money emanating from a small brown briefcase. Martina’s heart swelled and she could have jumped and screamed, that was of course, if discretion hadn’t been the name of the game. Was it really this easy? Were the fates smiling down on her? She looked around and noticed that nobody was paying attention, she was as invisible as she had ever been.
Martina reached in and grabbed the briefcase as if it had always been hers, closed the lock again and began to turn. The smile on her face immediately dissipated as she now found herself face-to-face with the handsome man from the coffee shop. His obsidian eyes pierced into her soul as sharp as the knife he had held, which now pierced into her lungs. He held her close as if she were a lover or an old friend and embraced her. Martina felt the briefcase slip from her grasp and blood begin to pool in her mouth as he whispered, “I see you”. His warm breath tickled her ear and smelt of day-old coffee and a whole pack of cigarettes.
He reared back and stared at her one last time before leaving her standing there, bleeding out silently and bewildered. As she began to slump to the floor, sliding down against the lockers, she watched the large crowd in Grand Central Station swallow the man whole as he disappeared forever. Martina chuckled inside and thought, “so that’s what it’s like?” as her breathing became labored and her head rolled to the side. She could feel herself dying and watched in abject horror as people passed her, paying no mind to what they assumed to be another homeless vagrant sitting on the ground of the terminal. The last thought that Martina Ramirez had was that she hoped God had a sense of humor and for the first time in her life, she wished she wasn’t invisible.