Shifting Schedules

By: Raoul Simon Suarez

The alarm that was set on the mobile phone went blaring. It was five in the afternoon. It’s that time of the day in this tropical country when the sun gets ready to set so the moon and the stars can come in full view.

It was just another ordinary day. Nothing special. Work starts at seven in the evening and ends in the wee hours of the morning. She has been on the night shift for quite a while now. She is used to the grind. It has been a daily routine for years on end.

The lady had to make ends meet. She had bills to pay and a mouth to feed. She poured coffee in her cup and ate a little – just enough to fill her stomach. She took a warm bath, got dressed, and was ready to meet the demands of today’s work schedule.

She put on her makeup and looked at herself in the mirror. One day, maybe, she won’t be working the night shift anymore. It won’t be today but someday it will come. All the hard work will pay off. One day when she has already saved enough, she’d be able to sleep in the evening and wake up to see the sunrise again.

She picked up her bag and put it on the living room chair. It already had the things she needed. She sat down, lit a cancer stick, and said a little prayer while watching the small puffs of smoke rise up to her ceiling. It was almost time to go to work. Another day. Another penny made. Getting the job done means a lot of things. Food on the table. Clothes for cover. A shelter to ward off the rain. And a little extra for small indulgences.

Her line of work demanded a lot of things. A whole lot of things that a person who worked in a day job, running a nine to five shift, wouldn’t get to encounter. Sure, some of the policies were the same. No work, no pay. Salary deductions happen when you come in late. Tardiness can cost you a lot. It gets counted by the minute. A strict dress code. A timed break. Unpaid lunch. Rain or shine. Same old work policies. Different industry.

It can be tough. But life is like that. It always has been that way. We all encounter tough times and we all know they never really last. They come and go. Only tough people remain standing. Only tough people weather the storms.

Work was somewhat routinary now. She had been working in the industry for half a decade or more. She was already tenured. She already made a name for herself. She already knew what to do. She learned how to play the game. Tonight was not going to be any different.

She had to please the customers and they can be a rowdy bunch sometimes. It requires a lot of patience. They can be rude once in a while. She can’t complain. They happen to be the main reason why she has a job that pays for the bills. She had to smile even if it was already too toxic. She had to pretend. We all have to wear masks anyway.

Over the years, she developed soft skills. She mastered the art of doing small talk and establishing rapport. She learned how to reach out. Most of the time she would listen to the customers’ problems. Sometimes they would ask a lot of questions but, with experience, she always had answers on the ready. She knew what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. She listened most of the time.

Saturdays are usually busy. The last shift to cap the week. She would get off on a Sunday morning and come back again Tuesday evening. It isn’t so bad. It takes a little getting used to.

Today, she got off work a little early than usual. No overtime requests from the manager. It was payday after all.

She went out with a friend and they downed a few drinks. Her friend earned some incentives today – she was paying for the tab. A little vice never hurt anyone. So they went on with their indulgences.

They talked about the future; about their dreams and how they plan to fulfill them. They already know each other’s past; they lived a hard life. They laughed about the present; the turmoils of work and how people would look down on them. But it was nothing really new. The world has always been unfair. Later, they will both get to see their kids again – their ray of sunshine in the dark and desperate world they both live in. Two straight days of quality time and then it’s back to the grind. Good enough. Could be better. It will do in the meantime.

She got home a little tipsy and fumbled for the keys. She opened the lock to the door and then turned the lights on. She looked at herself in the mirror and removed her makeup. She sat down and bummed a cigarette. She took out some things from her bag and put it on the table.

She carefully opened the envelope that housed  the hard-earned cash that she worked for. She deserved it. She performed well. She always did. Night after night. For years on end. She was their star after all.

Her body was aching. She was getting old. One day, it will be over. One day, she won’t be a part of the queue. One day, she won’t get to dance and bare it all. Not with the same pay she is getting now. The attention she gets will soon start to fade. One day, somebody will steal the show. Someone younger. Someone better. She knows she won’t be able to keep this up forever. Time changes a lot of things. Time has always been the enemy of youth. Nobody wins against it.

This dreadful job. It wasn’t her dream. She never wanted to do this. But she had needs. It helps her to earn a living so she takes what she can. Maybe someday things will get better. Maybe it won’t. So many maybes about the future while she struggles to keep up with the now.

The sun was about to rise. There will be no alarms coming from her mobile phone today. She won’t be hearing any. Not today. It will go blaring again this coming Tuesday. She stared at the photograph of a smiling little girl; framed and situated in the center of the table near her bed. They will be together again later. Just a few hours from now.

In her heart, she hoped that she could keep that little girl smiling forever. She wished her all the happiness in the world. Untainted. Unscarred. In her mind, she was determined to work hard so that little girl won’t have to live a life like hers. No darkness. No gloom.

It was just another ordinary day. Nothing special. Another day. Another penny made. Food on the table. Clothes for cover. A shelter to ward off the rain. And a little extra for small indulgences. She turned the night lamp off, laid down in the comfort of her single bed, and hugged her pillow tight. She uttered a solemn prayer for her soul and cried herself to sleep.