An Opportune Time
Today would be the perfect day to catch a flight, Phoenix thought. She was daydreaming of an escape while trapped on 76 West, wishing she’d been heading east to the airport instead. The thought of escaping had taken command of her life. Seasonal work at Sephora in King of Prussia mall had become a sentence. What started as an interesting job selling make-up and cosmetics became an unholy ritual, helping mask the inner beauty that so many customers held, yearned for and were oblivious to. She thought of how she almost lost her job as a beauty consultant because she refused to sell a customer, all of twelve years old, concealer to cover her freckles.
But you don’t need concealer. Think of them as pixelated blush.
Regina, Phoenix’s manager, placed her at the cash register for the remainder of the week and cut her hours for the next three weeks. Phoenix was grateful and incredulous. Nonetheless, she was determined to make the best out of the rest of the month. Losing her job would mean pushing her dream further away.
Just two more checks.
And she’d have enough for Senegal.
Aunt Sam would ask. Phoenix never had an answer. Just that it was in Africa and that an old friend from third grade hailed from there. Phoenix figured she had to start somewhere if she wanted to make travel her occupation.
Lena and her family were the sweetest people I’ve ever encountered. Senegal is her homeland. It must be full of kindhearted people.
Phoenix thought to herself. She thought of her mother coming home from her day job as an IT consultant with just enough time to shower, change clothes and check Phoenix’s homework. Without a bite to eat, she’d be back out the door to ride the train an hour away to her second job, cleaning office buildings. On one such day, Lena’s mother, Mrs. Barry, greeted Phoenix at her front door with a tray full of tasty looking pastries.
Let’s let Mama work, she’d said with a wink.
So for six months Mrs. Barry kept after Phoenix which was Never a hassle, my Phoenix. My pleasure watching her rise up.
Until one day after school, Phoenix came to the front door of her mother’s house to discover Mrs. Barry wasn’t there to greet her as usual. She thought nothing of it. As she opened the door she heard sobbing. It faded as she approached the vestibule and slowly shut the door. She began to feel uneasy. With knots growing in her stomach, Phoenix removed her backpack and placed it on the coat hanger where her mother’s down coat hang. Strange. Her mother wasn’t due back home for another five hours. After hanging her coat and storing her shoes in a cubby, she retreated to the living room to find her mother.
Baby! Come here!
Moving slowly still, Phoenix approached her mother, not wanting to hear whatever news she had waiting for her.
Mama, where’s Ma Barry?
Phoenix was rattled out of her thoughts and plunged into the back bumper of the car sitting in front of her.
Her insurance had just lapsed four days prior and she was waiting on her check to obtain coverage in case what was happening happened. But it was happening, after all.
As she reluctantly approached the vehicle she hit, she noticed something odd. The driver, still in his seatbelt, was staring ahead, motionless. His hands still gripping the steering wheel, his eyes blinking rapidly and his mouth slightly agape.
Is he having a stroke? Phoenix asked herself.
Sir, sir! Can you hear me? Can you understand me? Do you need help?
Loud, rapid voices blared from the radio:
This is John Butterworth with your shadow traffic update. Bumper-to-bumper on the 42 freeway, bumper-to-bumper on 95 North and South, 76 east and west are tied up too, ALL ROADS LEAD TO JAM. Now back to you Joann.
-Thanks John, in tonight’s forecast, cloudy skies with a chance of showers. And talk about those routes! Everyone stay dry and calm out there! 15 after the hour, this is W-H-Y-Y.
All roads jammed?
Phoenix began looking around for helped. Surely someone in one of all the stalled cars saw her collide into the poor man’s station wagon. But as she looked across the stretch of lanes, that eerie feeling from the vestibule came back. For as far as she could see, all of the drivers were sitting upright, eyes blinking rapidly, with their hands gripping their steering wheels. Their mouths were agape like the gentleman she’d just rear-ended, but they closed and pursed their lips synchronically.
I can’t be the only one not zoned out, she thought.
She returned to her car, climbed into the backseat and began kicking the horn. She sounded Morse code three times and waited for a response.
She thought of her mother’s words, At the most opportune times, things once deemed obsolete prove their worth.
She waited, hanging onto her mother’s words.