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SORAYA'S KEYS

A REALLY LONG SHORTCUT TO HOMEOWNERSHIP

She was holding the key so tightly in her hands, you would be surprised it didn’t cut her. Her hands were wrinkled and reflected an age much older than the number of years she journeyed this earth; her nails, perfectly manicured so as to not betray what she did for a living when she wasn’t at work. When she opened the door, she could feel the thickness of the dust and the mold but relished in them as they were all hers. There were still artifacts from previous owners-a few lamps, armchairs and a dusty black book engraved in gold with the name Soraya. If she were superstitious, it would be easy for her to believe her ancestors bequeathed this home to her.

Soraya had worked for this moment for over 20 years, so it was ironic that she ended up here with not much effort at all. Here was a dilapidated building that would need repairs to be fully habitable, but it was made of brick which made it American, and at least the roof was solid with no immediate visible signs of pests, which was more than she could say for most of the places her friends and family rented.

When she crossed the border over 20 years ago pursuing the American dream, she never anticipated that she would be forever trapped living in its shadow; she also never realized how much living in the shadows of a dream can shrink a person. Just a few months ago she had been resentful of the Mexican gardener for being able to take out a construction loan to repair a condemned building he spent 30 years saving for. The Soraya who crossed the border would have been happy that someone accomplished a dream, today’s Soraya was resentful of a man for being able to struggle 30 years in order to finally be able to take on debt. The last few decades gave Soraya grit, very thick skin and an overabundance of gratitude and resentment.

The old Soraya never disappeared altogether though. The dreaming and prideful Soraya would show up every once in a while, almost as a form of rebellion. When the owners of the house she worked for and lived with referred to her as a girl she would pretend she didn’t understand what they said, so they would have to repeat it over and over again until they realized how awful was the lesson they were teaching their children. She once opened the door in her maid uniform when a census worker, after looking at her, asked for the people who lived there, she answered “I clean this house, I live here and I am a person, so I think you are asking for me.” She kept her dream of owning a brick home held tightly in the same heart that held the hate she had towards being the cleaning lady…she dreamed of owning a home, of being an owner, the lady of the house, but was stuck being the lady who cleaned other people’s homes and there didn’t seem to be any path forward for someone like her; her wages were low, she still had to take care of her mom back home and without any immigration status, she had no access to what Americans called credit, but she still referred to as debt.

Her simple dream of homeownership was at this point in her life just a fantasy. In fact, it was so unreasonable, her friends and family thought she was insane, most days she agreed with them. Its not surprising then that the clash between her prideful-self and surviving-self almost made her lose out on her dream. The family she worked for gave her their customary Christmas gift as she was leaving to spend some time with her cousin for the holidays. She swallowed her pride and accepted it with subservient gratitude. To be ungrateful would cost her her job and she was rational enough to keep her pride in check, but as she headed to the train station, her blood started to boil.

She had worked for this family for over a decade, and predictably their Christmas present were some candles that she would burn in a room where she was not allowed to have guests and some scratch-off lottery tickets that in the early years seemed optimistic, but now felt like a taunt-“so you think you are lucky, huh?”- an annual reminder that as much as she might want to free herself from them, she was bonded to them by bad luck.

While her wages paid for her work, her sacrifices for the family had never been acknowledged by them. Her constant need to have manicured nails to save herself the indignities when running their errands- vendors and customers could tell by her unmanicured hands that she was just a maid. She had been spat on, forced to wait longer than other customers, and mocked for carrying Balenciaga shopping bags and unmanicured nails-were her hands clean enough to pick up that order? She would always have her nails manicured to avoid any confusion about the cleanliness and dignity of her weathered hands. She was not allowed to have guests, so when she was first hired she thought she could eventually figure out a way to build relationships, by now she knew that romantic love wasn’t possible -to the family she worked for these sacrifices went unnoticed most of the year and were rewarded with just a few scented candles and some lottery tickets at the end of each year. She was prideful and knew that she was worth more than that, to continue to accept these gifts would be a concession that was all she was worth-in a moment of rage she threw them away.

A homeless man living at the train station simply said “you should never throw away gifts that come your way, those gifts were meant for you.” It was almost as though he had been hearing the conversation going on in her brain, a sudden anxiety came over her when she realized she threw away gifts that she could find use for, maybe she could gift them to someone else.

She left the lottery tickets untouched during her visit and on her return to work she finally decided to scratch them. She couldn’t believe her eyes; between the three tickets she won $35,000.00. Before heading to the family she worked for, she stopped by the local gas station to have her luck confirmed. For the first time in decades, when she arrived to work after visiting her friends and family, her shoulders were not heavy, she was light and didn’t feel bonded to this family. She wasted no time and spoke to the Mexican gardener: How much did the house cost to buy? Repair? He told her all about foreclosed homes. She would spend her free time figuring out how all of these things worked and her old self was beginning to be restored again-she couldn’t have been more grateful for that gardener’s success, his success was now turning into hers.

When the moment came, she could pay for her home in its entirety. Aged, damaged, but still with a solid structure and remnants of its old beauty, it reminded her a lot of herself. She loved it unconditionally the moment the house became hers. She was ready to begin her journal about life as a homeowner, she looked over at the dusty black notebook with the gold engraving and knew right then the first thing she would buy to start her new life in this house.

fact or fiction
Shamaine Daniels
Shamaine Daniels
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