My Name Is Durjaya Chadhad.
You must login to vote
Ham and pineapple on thin. Extra cheese. I slide another pizza into the metal beast of an oven, and a rush of hot air, like breath of an iron devil, sweats my face.
“Durjaya,” my boss Mike shouts from his office, “are you going to fill those orders or am I going to have to come out there and hold your hand?”
I wipe my hands across a green apron and a stain, powdery and white, streaks across its surface. “No, Mike. You do not have to be worrying, because I am very near finished.”
The restaurant is quiet as I finish the final pizza of an office lunch order. Green peppers sting, like biting insects, on paper-cuts from folding boxes, and the temperature is at an uncomfortable height. When standing near the oven and toppings, it feels like a desert of garlic and spices. Business is slow today for Mario’s Pizzeria; the orange painted seats and cramped booths are empty. Red tiles that stripe white walls seem to radiate a heat, and the Italian flag that hangs from the counter appears tired as the red and green are covered in reflected light of the noon sun.
Jared, my friend and coworker, sits upon a tabletop, sighs, and waits for a customer or phone order.
Jared is a good man, works hard, and complains only sometimes. I do not know his age, but I would guess he is twenty-two to twenty-four years. He has cropped black hair and long side burns to match a stretched face. I think he looks like a camel. I often joke with him about this and he often becomes annoyed and threatens many violent actions against me, but we are friends and friends play.
“Jared…” I whisper and smile. I think he hears but ignores. “Jared…”
He turns and stares crookedly, almost as if past me, with bloodshot eyes. “What, man?”
“May I have some of your water?”
“Oh, did you not bring your hump today?”
He becomes angry. “Durjaya, I swear, man, if I hear one more camel joke, I’ma bust that mouth of yours somethin’ flat.”
I laugh. Jared has much lightness in his heart. He says he is a starving artist, but I think it must be another joke with all the food he eats when Mike is busy. Sometimes I see him shove a handful of pepperoni into his mouth or put a ball of cheese into his pocket before leaving.
I will confess to you, when I first began this job, I could not understand how people could eat the food of Italians. It is so pungent and stays on the breath for hours. Who would want their breath to smell of fire and death? I know not of anyone. But despite this, I have grown to enjoy the food of Italy and have learned many things in my time here. Did you know that expiration dates are to be ignored for pizza toppings? Once I was to throw away a can of olives that had an expiration date before I even began to work at Mario’s, but Mike informed me that these toppings are aging, like a wine or the cheese we use. I believe the craft of a pizza is something subtle.
I wipe sweat from my face and wish I were home. Let me say a thing. Only in America could I earn a place such as my apartment. India is too crowded, and there is not much you can do to advance, but in this country, there is space for everyone who tries. I could lay myself on the floor of my apartment and only have to bend my knees slightly to fit. And the walls, the walls have a beautiful blue-gray color and the areas not painted have the wonderful texture of wood and nail. Listen; there is a sink in my very bedroom, beside the toilet, where I may have water anytime. Yes, anytime. The water changes color, depending on the temperature, and is so good. My favorite is the slightly red; it tastes like stone and swims with minerals to make me strong. The mattress where I sleep is next to this sink; with the sound of all the brown pipes next to my bed it is like I own a little river.
If I were in my apartment now I would be staring through my window. I could rest many hours looking at the city of New York from behind that cracked glass. I think the city looks like a sculpture, the buildings rising and falling along the horizon. There is one building, one in the distance that rises above the others, like a palace for the prince of sky, which I hope to buy someday. I only must work hard and never waver. What does it say about a country where I can earn this apartment? I think I am very lucky. I swear, one day I will make enough pizzas to own that building. Mike says that I have the chance of a Jewish chef in a rib contest, but he forgets he said I would one day soon be an assistant manager.
“Mike…” Jared drawls as he puffs his sweat-dampened shirt. “Mike…”
Mike steps out of his office. “What, Jared?”
“Turn on the AC, man. I’m dyin’ out here and all.”
“Quit your bitchin’, Jared.”
“Man, how am I suppose to work if I’m passed out from some heat stroke or somethin’?”
“Harder, I guess.”
Jared shakes his head and leaves the counter to answer a call.
I remember first coming to this country. The ship was crowded and dark, like a floating cave. I was both frightened and excited. All of us had visas; it was not some illegal transport, but then I do not think anyone was going to return to India once his or her permit expired. None of us had visited America, and rumors and dreams floated along our voices like waves along the hull. In America, everyone is rich. In America, everyone helps each other. In America, you are as free as the open sky.
When we arrived and I first walked this city, I was changed. It was early morning and the sky had a dry, yellow tint, as if pollen clung to light. Colors, shapes, people; everything was brighter. The concrete seemed to glow. I still remember how my neck hurt from straining upward to see the buildings that crowded the sky, like gray, chiseled mountains.
I discovered soon after I came to New York that America was different than what I had believed. Not everyone was rich. I say to you, there are so much poor in this city that it is difficult to imagine. Almost all ask for money as they do nothing but stand on a street corner or sit in an air-conditioned subway train. I want to ask them: “How could someone beg when surrounded by so much opportunity? Why do you want to take from my dream?” All unfortunates must do is have ambition and never tire. Not everyone is rich, but anyone can be. Do you think the people who own skyscrapers ever received money for nothing or sit all the day and grow to be fat? Do you think the rich would ever want to take from me and slow my progress to be as successful as they?
Look at me; I have so much yet started with so little. I have been working at Mario’s for almost two years and am already almost assistant manager. In another two, I might become full manager, and in another five years I may have enough money saved to buy that pizzeria. Then, picture this, shops spread across the city where people wait on line for hours just to eat a slice of Famous Durjaya’s; then I will buy my building.
Jared finishes speaking to the phone and I watch him walk toward me with a smile spread neatly on his face.
“Durj, man, I just got off the phone with my girl, and I kinda need a favor.” He scratches his neck and begins to look at the ground. I already may guess that he is going to ask me to work in his place, there is only one time he calls me ‘Durj.’
“See, check this, ok? Like, my girlfriend is in the hospital right, cause she’s got this really bad infection from like, where some freak bug bit in her in the park two days ago. Ok?”
He shifts his feet and continues to stare at the linoleum. It must be hard on Jared to ask me this favor. The way he avoids looking at me makes me think that he must feel very shamed for always being forced to neglect his responsibilities here. I think he must be cursed with these types of events; he always, one way or another, must leave work early.
“Anyways, my girl is like, in dire need of my emotional support through this time of uh, hardship, see. It would be real cool of you man, if like, you covered for me. I mean I wouldn’t be askin’ you to do this type of thing if like…”
“No. Jared, I do not want to be hearing this thing come from your mouth. We are good friends, am I correct in saying this?”
“Uh, yeah, Durjaya, like real close.”
“Good. So do not worry about your duties here. Go to your girlfriend and help her return to health. Please tell her I send my wishes. I know you care much about your job, and I will be sure everything is done as you would have done it.”
“You sure that’s a good idea, Durjaya?”
“An excellent one! Now go, go now, goodbye.”
I watch as Jared takes off his apron, wads it into his fist, and leaves for the door. I smile and the grin feels bigger than it is. It is good to have friends such as Jared. I know if I were ever in his situation, he would not pause in whatever aid I needed. He will go far in life, this I am sure. I think I will skip dinner tonight and use the money to buy flowers for Jared’s girlfriend. It is the smallest I could do.
Time passes slowly on this long day and as it shifts into early evening, I see shadows wrap around shapes and doings on streets and sidewalks increase. The artificial lighting begins to give the pizzeria a greenish tint and the vibrant tiles become dulled. I see Mike leave his office the first time since early afternoon. After stretching his neck to look around, he walks toward me.
“Durjaya, did Jared leave?”
“Yes, did he not tell you I would be working for him?”
I hear Mike begin to mumble and watch him shake his head.
“That’s it. The guy is fired. Let me guess, one of his girlfriends called and she has a brain tumor?”
“No, bug infection.”
He makes strange gestures with his hands. “I’ve had it with his lame excuses. He’s gone. Durjaya, you’re just going to have to work twice as hard until I can find a replacement.”
“That is fine, but you cannot fire Jared. He is my friend and coworker, and it is not his fault the girlfriend is sick. I will not allow this to happen.”
“Very well. You’re both fired.”
“That is not what I was expecting.”
“I don’t care, Durjaya, there are a million people who would take this job tomorrow, and if I’m lucky, some who will take lower wage than minimum. Nobody tells me what decisions to make. Now take off your apron, mumble some apologies, and go.”
I feel shock and the air seems to leave my chest. If I lose this job, all my work to become assistant manager will be ruined. What will I do about Famous Durjaya’s? Who would wait on line for a restaurant that does not exist? What about my building? I try and say a plea, something to change his judgment.
“You were going to make me assistant manger and continue to teach me the craft of pizza.” The words trip over themselves as they leave my tongue. “I have always worked hard. I have…”
“Durjaya, do you want to know the secret of a good pizza?”
“A good pizza is like a dream; it’s made by someone else and sold for more than it’s worth. Now get out and don’t come back.”
I do not know what to say, but I think I murmur a thank you as I hand him my apron and leave in a daze. As I go home, people walk past as if they were objects more than persons. It is difficult to think and impossible to focus. What did Mike mean? Where will I start now?
I stand on a street corner and wait for the signal to walk. People push around me and I feel the breath of someone on my neck. It reminds me of my journey to America, but instead of hopes all I hear is cars, silence, breath. I see a beggar standing against a granite wall.
I think I did the moral thing, defending Jared, even if I did lose my job. How could I have done any less? My name is Durjaya Chadhad. I am not some bastard child who would betray a trusted friend. In America, everyone helps each other.
My focus was on voice, I wanted to create something unlike my own to force myself to speak differently in writing. I also wanted to combine something that was entertaining, but also have more substance than merely be entertaining (my view on the 'American dream.')
Thanks for reading