The envelope was ivory white, perfectly sealed so prying eyes won’t catch a glimpse. Its edges were sharp to touch, something I found a relevant circumstance to what I was about to find. A tap on one corner and ting!- a sound of a thousand needles rang through my ears. I felt being pricked not just in the skin but also into my arteries. Blood, I see a thin red streak from a small opening, a tear voluntarily snaked its way down from the tiny gash. But I was only imagining things. What was real was the envelope in my hands. Ivory white. Perfectly sealed.
“Open it when you’re alone,” I was told by my manager, “And count your earnings in private.”
But that was said to me as a half-meant joke, exactly a year ago when I received what was told to be my entry-level pay. I was happy, not that being a writer finally had given me a monetary value, but because I gave my dreams a solid start. I have been writing all my life, but never practiced it to benefit other people. On that day I received my first off white envelope, my smile almost stretched to my ears.
“What a dream to live,” my 22-year-old self used to say.
There was that slim packet again in my veiny hands, casing the familiar anxiety I detest whenever I tear it open. I was about to give it a go, but I stopped and looked around me. Perhaps, to catch a glimpse of other people’s compensations. Five figures, maybe a thousand or two more than what’s stated on my paycheck, written in consistent letters: Courier New in 9 points.
“Patience,” something only my mind whispered a lot.
“You have to start from the bottom,” my mom once said, “That’s where successful people begin.”
“I know, but do I deserve to be treated unfairly?”, I replied.
“That’s how the world spins my dear,” she said, raising her thin brows to reveal her prominent brown eyes.
We touched that topic when I found out why our paychecks were meant only for one pair of eyes. I was disgruntled, of course, and had a long-winded inner conversation with myself about the predicament.
No matter how talented you are, the fact that you are fresh in the workforce neither regards your capacity to write nor value what you have achieved when you were still in school. Yes, that reality stinks like piss but as a cub I had to suck that in. Every cub has to suck that in.
I thought of opening the envelope when I arrive home. I know that won’t change anything, but at least no one has to ever see me get internally steamed up again, or sulk in one corner for that matter. Either has happened and it earned me a good whooping during evaluations.
Like the desperate and disheartened young adult that I was, I walked out after my shift without looking back. The warmth of the setting sun cast an orange haze through the glass windows. The elevator doors had a tinge of soft tangerine and strong metallic grey. The inconsistent luminosity winked at me as the sallow orb of light was slowly sinking down the edge of the horizon outside. Heaving a sigh of what seems to be a lack of complaint, I stepped inside the elevator with a heavy heart.
I thought I might explode but the elevator suddenly shuddered before I could do so as it reached the 6th floor. The doors, however, smoothly glided to each side revealing wide-paneled glass doors. It was dark inside, the blinds were drawn and the only light emanating within glowed from huge Apple Mac screens on rows of long white tables. As far as I have observed, some men and perhaps women in hooded jackets turned their swivel chairs around to see the opening of the elevator doors.
“This must be so distracting,” I thought.
Two men slowly entered the elevator as one pushed a rolling cart full of empty water containers. I tried not to mind them as I tiptoed to savor the scene in front of me. More than the awe that struck me (because yes, those Mac screens), I was curious what the company was all about. Since I thought of Apple Mac as something graphic artists and web designers must have, I presumed they were the kind of people I also want to become. Those people who are capable of creating something visually appealing other than the descriptive gimmicks writers write.
Then I saw an expanse of greyness in front of me. The silver doors quickly closed faster than they had opened. Too soon for me to understand the sedentary view behind them.
“I wish I could…” I stopped mumbling as one of the men took a pen and a notepad to list the day’s remittance.
Wonder flooded my senses until the bellowing honk of the public bus killed it. The brakes screeched hard, sending the passengers forcefully forward right on their seats. The whir of the engine was somehow soft, like a gentle patter of rain on the roof. The bus door let out a loud hissed as it opened in front of me and a man past his prime nodded as if to mean that I were expected.
“You know what’s a good thing about getting a bus ride?” I remembered my high school best friend said one day as we skipped the bus home. We were walking a good distance under the red sky, the clouds melting away like sweet little pink puffs. We walked until the sun had sunk so low and the sky was the color of a bruise.
“They’re cheaper than cabs?” I answered, somehow expecting it wasn’t the thing she was about to say.
“No, no!” she waved her slender hands, her forearms shook like rigid stick figures.
“You see, whenever I take the bus, the people around me do not matter at all. Like I’m just all I alone, staring at blurred trees and buildings outside,” she said.
“Oh, you really think it’s like that?”
“C’mon! Don’t tell me you haven’t felt it yet. I know you have, you are not just aware of it,” her pursed lips slightly smirked.
“Oh, wait, so you mean I don’t matter to you when we’re on the bus?” the thought suddenly sprang up and I was waiting for her to blow her top over that kind of question, which she sometimes did. Instead Mary Ashley, my best friend, shrugged it off like it was not a big deal.
“Lisa Cobbler’s doing her thing again!” Mary swung her right arm around my shoulders and pressed me closer to her side, “How about we stop by Casey’s for an ice cream?”
I pushed a tongue out, then told her why Casey’s would not be a good option for two hungry growing teens.
Somehow, Mary Ashley was right.
I had deep thoughts that afternoon on the bus, where I only spoke to myself internally in spite of the people around me. The sea of heads wobbled and peaked like loose attachments to necks over the back of the seats. And although I had a 20/20 vision, the faces that surrounded me were blurry.
It’s true. The trees and buildings dashed before my eyes in split second, and all I could think about were my could-haves in life. Then the thought of Mary Ashley came. What has happened to that girl? Where did she go? Does she still have the same sentiment about getting on the bus?
The road was becoming wider as the bus entered the highway. Then, we were sent forward again as the driver stepped on the brakes. Only this time, my reflexes kicked in, launching my arms on top of the back seat in front of me. Just in time as my face was about to hit it.
I moaned but everyone else did not seem to care about it, as though it’s really a thing to be lurching every now and then on the bus.
A moment had passed and as I looked through the window, I saw a 2010 white mini cooper stopping in front of my sight. I like minis, they look so chic and efficient. I wondered how much they cost and if I could ever afford it one day.
Then I saw a young woman behind the wheels, her head rested on a beige leather seat. She was talking to the person behind her, who was busy arranging what appeared to be large canvases carelessly wrapped in brown paper. She was smiling whilst talking. An expensive gold watch clasped securely around her slim right wrist. Her frail fingers rhythmically tapped the black steering wheel as she waited for the red traffic light to turn green.
The watch, the mini, the paintings- the young woman in that car had everything I ever wanted. I felt envy boiling inside me, and I could have felt more resentful if I knew the young woman had painted those canvases. Until then, there’s nothing much I could do but to suppose and watch.
“Rich kids,” I muttered, apparently taking no notice of the middle-aged woman sitting beside me.
“I suppose you have a disdain for rich people?” the woman spoke.
I turned to face her, not quite sure if it was me she was talking to.
“Not at all. I do like to be one though. It is just at this moment that some people who are as young as me- apparently those born from rich parents- are now driving luxury cars and owning things only the rich buy,” I answered, sounding like an injured puppy.
“Maybe it’s true. Money is power.” She pouted her lower lip. Her soft auburn curls framed her aging face.
“Of course, it is.”
“I can’t tell you much about money. I, too, have a hitch with debts on my own. But you can use that thing in between your ears to help you,” the woman bitterly answered.
I was about to ask her if she also had used her head one time to solve her woes, but only looking at her sullen expression made me think otherwise.
“What I want right now is to be rightfully valued or appreciated for what I am doing or have done.” I looked at my shoes as I said that, a bit embarrassed by my impassioned response.
“You want to get that, yes. But all while yearning for wealth.”
I looked at her, puzzled. She smiled as she gave out a heavy, long sigh. “Of course, of course. You deserve better.”
The bus stopped without a warn and the woman got off slowly. She didn’t look back at her new acquaintance. She didn’t throw a single glance at me. I felt she could have said more but chose not to, letting her words trail off when she said I deserve better. Then I saw her walked in the street with her head down as the bus passed by her, and she never held it up until she was out of my sight.
A sudden wave of fear engulfed me. “What if I am about to turn like her? Apologetic yet vindictive, passing up shots that could have been my ticket to a good future,” I thought as soon as I recognized my anxiety.
There were many times I was offered good positions by well-established corporations, but I turned them down only to become a writer. Books pull me in as words haunt me. There’s no escape, there’s no intention of running away. But the now had me thinking if all of my choices were worth it. If being a word factory for others would ever quench my thirst for success. If enslaving myself would do me well in the end, most importantly to my soul that knows dissatisfaction is just around the corner. I was never satisfied. I am never easily satisfied.
I got my headphones on as I opened my apartment door. Bills posted on my corky board greeted me, a reminder that I still have obligations left to take care of. Mozart’s Symphony no. 25 in G minor, K. 183 blared through my ears in full volume. It’s melody leapt and the fierce unison of the violins descended, gripping my expectations hard, violent, and intense. The dotted rhythm stopped for a second and a short moment of peace and refinement consolidated my senses. Not long after, a menacing piano unison introduced a new sensation. Confidence suddenly, progressively grew inside me and overshadowed my fears and desolation.
A sly smirk curved my thin lips as I dropped everything on the floor. I gathered the oil and acrylic tubes strewn all over my working table and pulled a stained wooden box that kept my stiff brushes. I took out the single-mast easel underneath my bed, set it up, and mounted a large blank canvas on its frame. I stood there for quite some time, one hand pressed under my chin. Then, I remembered something…
I took the ivory white envelope from my bag one last time. My scrawny fingers ran over the paper’s smoothness. A tingle crept its way down my spine, spreading across my skin and sending a bolt of current on my fingertips. I shivered and pulled myself together after.
Without further ado, I tore the envelope open from one side- carefully and slowly- ensuring not to rip the crisp paper inside. I pulled my paycheck out and looked at the figures printed in Courier New, 9 points.
No words came in my mind. Not a single word formed on my lips. I pushed the paycheck back inside the envelope and looked at the blank canvas, feeling a bit hopeless yet somehow inspired to do something new.