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Seven a.m. And my eyes snap open as a pounding on my apartment door rouses me from dreamland, accompanied by a loud authoritarian voice. "Police - Miss, Iím gonna have to ask you to evacuate your apartment - thereís been a bomb threat in your building!"
A split second spent wondering if Iím actually awake. Then I throw off the covers and tumble to the floor, still dressed from last night. Throw on sneakers, make sure I have my driverís license and identification stuff, snatch car keys off desk and grab my leather jacket. Next thing I know Iím at my front door. Wrenching it open, my bleary gaze meets that of a uniformed police officer with a military buzz cut. "You might want to take the stairs." He suggests in a placid tone, the look on his face slightly sympathetic for waking me up so early, or so it looks. Not the best way to wake up, for sure.
I nod and manage to sprint toward the stairwell, a dank musty corridor reeking of alcohol and stale cigarettes. In a zero to adrenalin span of a blink, my wiry frame vaults down flight after flight as if I have the energy of a little kid again. Senses steadily make their way online, I vaguely wonder whether Iíll be homeless before the day is out, and why I had to lease a studio on the sixth floor, as opposed to the third, or first. Bloody freakin hell. While HiddenGrove Lake Apartments are a far cry from Nirvana, rent is cheap and no one bothers you if you keep your door bolted securely enough. The Ghetto Chateau, its been termed. Still, itís home and a sanctuary. Or it was.
Racing down the final flight of stairs to ground level, my ears pick up the sound of mothers yelling at their kids to hurry up, local gang members calling to their peeps to flush things and Ďbounceí, international exchange students calling out franctically in Japanese, Italian, and Mexican. Ground floor, finally. Pumping my legs for all theyíre worth, my scrawny ass makes its way outside to the parking lot. Police cars everywhere. Ambulances, a fire truck or two. It occurs to me suddenly that my black Converse sneakers are getting holes on their sides as I head to my í94 Ford Escort, keys already in hand. Been a truly craptacular day so far, might as well go to work early, see if I can walk-on for a shift.
My name is Jenika Baibai, Jen for short. I drive a taxi for Citizen Cabs Inc., in the Templar City district, or wherever my fares take me distance wise. Flexible hours spent working as an independent contractor, with a daily/ nightly agenda including everything from assisting diasabled and senior citizen customers to the emergency room to picking up frat boys at the local university and hauling them to sports bars. Leasing the cab out for the day, paying off the mileage rate at the end of my shift then taking home whateverís left over for rent, bills, and amenities while paying off my student loans and pursuing studies of environmental sciences. Not the most high-paying job in the world, but it sure as hell ainít boring. Plus I love to drive, and welcome the chance to sharpen my skills on the road.
Turning the keys in the ignition of my baby, it roars to life like a ferocious tiger in need of defending its territory. With a mental note to get the muffler fixed, I shift into reverse and pull out, easing my way around a motley of emergency vehicles. With a glance in the rearview mirror, it occurs to me I look like a young medusa, dark mane of hair askew and unruly, classic Russian facial features tired and worn, black t-shirt stained and faded, jeans of the same color ripped slightly in the right knee.
Oh, well. Been in worse states, I think, shifting into drive and maneuvering out of the lot with practiced care. Didnít get my chauffeurís license out of a Cracker Jack box, after all. Canít say the same for some drivers Iíve shared the road with, but hey - lifeís a bitch sometimes and I was never one to run from a challenge.
Easing my beloved car onto the road, laden with heavy, early-morning traffic as I head for the highway, my brain sends out the suggestion that an Iced Chai would help to rev up my senses. My favorite caffinated beverage next to Red Bull and Sobe Adrenalin Rush energy drinks, I agree and point my vehicle toward Imanís Grocery and Deli, two blocks away on the right. Checking my pockets for cash, I scrounge up ten dollars. My tank is three-quarters full and Iíve got half a pack of American Spirit brand cigs. Weíre in business.
Luckily they know me at Imanís, Iím a regular to the Lebanese mom-and-pop type store. As I start to pull in, I suddenly recall the time, 7:45 to my vehicleís digital clock, and mentally slap my forehead. Imanís shouldnít open for another two hours or soÖas I pull in and jerk the steering wheel to make a U-turn I notice the lights in the shop arenít on. Cíest la vie, thereís a gas station nearby with energy drinks to amp me up for my workday. With a sharp right turn Iím out of the lot and headed for the highway, off to the races. Rays of pink-orange colour splay across the eastern skies with dazzling beauty. As jaded as I may be about the nuances of life in the twenty-first century, my breath still catches in my throat whenever I view the wonders of nature. As I snatch up my shades from the passenger seat and adjust the left windshield panel to lessen the glare. To be one step closer to a degree in Environmental Studies, thatís my goal. Six days a week I spend as a soldier of the proletariat workforce to achieve it. Time is money after all.
Flicking on the radio as I aim for the on ramp, the music of KMFDMís Juke Joint Jezebel blares, techno-industrial pulsing with a hearty bass backbeat. College stations, gotta love Ďem. Three minutes into the song, singing along with the verses when my alto belting is stopped short by a newsbrief interruption, as a nasal-toned WFAB announcerís voice interrupts the tune, to provide the latest developments our overseas efforts with the war between the United States and two-thirds of the Middle East, with talk of civil
unrest and uprisings in various parts of the Nation.
Freakiní spiffy, goes through my mind as I listen to the unfolding events. "White House Aides stated that today they are hopeful that by issuing an ultimatum to terrorist powers in the Gulf, such dictatorial regimes will be crushed with a minimum of lives lost to our soldiers. President Otto assures officials and the Amerikan people not to worry, but in case of civilian protests at home such will be dealt with in a calm, orderly fashion. The President went on to say it was the duty of each member of our nation to
do their part to make our country great and restore the pride of patriotism."
Can we say martial law, boys and girls? My hands grip the wheel as my foot hits
the accelerator, keeping pace with the early morning rush hour traffic. A sick wave of nausea strikes my gut. A decade into the twenty-first century, weíre well into a three year war termed ĎJihadí by the Shiite-lead factions in the middle east, unrest builds at home and gas prices skyrocket, as does the cost of auto, health, and housing insurance. Not to mention the anti-war protests are growing in number as anger-fueled idealists take to the streets - not that Iíve never attended a peace march or three, but the way things look to be going - I shake my head and drive on, eyes narrowing beneath my sunglasses. National leaders foretell the dawning of a new age, but I hope to Krishna itís
not the Kali-Yuga at hand, a new Iron Age, of struggle, of oppression, ofÖ
shake the thought from my mind. One too many mythology studies, all of which I aced with flying colours three years back in my university days down south. Then the cost of student loans and higher education proved too muchÖIím a Northerner by birth and with a few notable exceptions, I canít complain on the hand Fateís dealt me out.
Before I can place my next thought exit 166 toward Lincoln street rises up before me, my stop. With a reflexive switch my right turn signal flashes. Decelerating my car toward the exit, I wonder what the day will bring.