They were not the least expensive steak knives at the store. Elise just finished washing them along with the other silverware and their 3 plates. No sense putting them in the dishwasher. She left them in the strainer to dry each in their own compartment, forks in one, spoons in an upturned coffee mug and knives all handle up of course in another. Elise liked things to be ordered and neat as much as possible on the outside. Not messy and gross like on the inside and in the spaces in between. So she organized everything in the parts of the house the Boyfriend allowed her to inhabit. Socks always matched, folded and neat in her sock drawer. Hand towels in the kitchen draped elegantly on the oven door handle. Her pair of shoes aligned with her sneakers at attention in front of her snow boots farther back in the closet. Dressers and shelves and drawers all organized by form and function and food type.
The forks and the spoons and the knives all ready to be picked up in one hand when they are dry and placed in the silverware drawer.
Organizing all the little things was a way to filter the disorder of the rest of the world. It could not silence the yelling and screaming. It could not pry the Boyfriend’s hands from around her mother’s doomed neck.
It was easy to grab a knife but difficult to grab just one as she jumped on him. The Boyfriend spun but could not shake her off. The centrifugal twist sent her knife-clenching fist wide. She felt but did not see the blades of the steak knives slice deep into her own mother’s neck.
She slipped and fell hard in an arcane pool of gushed blood. It splattered onto her lips and she could remember for a moment the taste of her own birth.
No one heard Amanda sigh. Her mic was off and her camera was muted. Just like everyone else’s, every day, in every class. What class was this even? She looked up at her screen and remembered, “Eita. Química.”
She didn’t understand a word the teacher was saying. It wasn’t just because no one really understood chemistry. She had been in the country three years and English was still often just ridiculous to her. Regular everyday English was strange and impossible. Then add the way these teachers talked, and the work they gave them to do... Impossible. More and more everyday. Just as she thought she was able to figure something out, she would get another assignment from another teacher in another class. She wanted to do well, but they just kept on giving her more and more work to do.
She wished again for the thousandth time her parents hadn’t sent her to live here with Tia and Vó. Tia Talita was the best - strict, but fun and always busy - and Vó was… just so fofa! But she missed her parents so much. Wouldn’t it be better for them to be together, even though things were so difficult there? Was it so hard to keep her with them there...
“...there? Amanda… Amanda, are you there?”
She looked back up at her screen. Only two squares, her blue one with an “A” in a green circle, and the teacher’s face, looking frustrated. All the other students had left the call. Class was over.
“Amanda, hello? You can log off if you don’t have any questions for me.”
She was too embarrassed to try to speak. Instead, she began typing quickly into the chat box, but then worried she would write something wrong. She tried to get her answer into a translator to make sure it was all in good English.
“Sim. Eu estou aqui. Sinto muito, professor.” Why was she taking time to try to translate that? She knew the English for it!
She started to type.
The teacher said something she could not understand but sounded angry and mean and then her blue square with the green “A” disappeared. He removed her from the meeting.
After her last class of the day, Amanda looked at the list of assignments she still had to do. She wanted to do well in school. In Brazil, she was one of the best students in her class. Now she struggled to pass science and history and math. Matemática! That was her favorite class in Catu. She was good at it and was always proud of her grades. But now… she had started to hate matemática. She struggled to understand the English, and the way the teachers wanted her to solve the problems. The list of assignments in all her classes was just too much…
She would never be able to get enough done before she had to leave for work. She wanted to cry. She closed the laptop, put her head down and closed her eyes.
“Amanda mozão! Meu linda! Amann-da!” She woke to her grandmother calling her from down the hall.
“Ah. Que horas são?” 4:30! She was going to miss the bus to work!
“Amanda! Amandinha?” Now her grandmother started to sound worried.
“Oi Vó! Bém. Estou bém.”
She ran to the bathroom, splashed cold water on her face and brushed her teeth quickly. She looked in the mirror at the sweater and sweatshirt she had fallen asleep in and shrugged. It would have to do. She ran for the door, shouting, “Tchau, Vovó, fofinha! Te amo!”
She ran-jumped down the entire flight of stairs, crashed through the front door and sprinted down the street. The bus stop was just around the corner. She did not slow down as she turned and crashed into someone going full speed. She tumbled and fell, almost rolling head over heels onto the sidewalk.
It all happened in slow motion for her. She turned her head as she fell, trying to see down the block to the next corner. Red lights in a blue and white city bus? Already? Did she miss it? How was she going to get to work? All these thoughts ran through her mind simultaneously before her head smacked the concrete.
Yes, the bus was there already.
By the time she started to stand up and brush the dirt off her clothes, it had driven off.
“Are you OK…? Hello, miss, I’m sorry, are you OK?”
She looked up at the man she had run into. He hadn’t fallen down like she had. He was tall and white. An American. He looked familiar, young, maybe her age.
“Uh, yes. I’m…” His eyes were green. So bright. How could green be so bright? “I am um… um… the bus...”
“You’re the bus?” He smiled then stopped when she mumbled, “Sím. Yeah.”
“Hey, you OK? Hit your head?” She did not understand.
“Hit my red?”
“Um, no, your head. Your head.” He tapped sharply on his head. “No, your head. Does your head hurt?”
She remembered that from her ESL class. “Does your _______ hurt?” Fill in the blank with a word that completes the question. “Head.” That is the only thing she said at first, “Head.”
Then he looked more worried. Then he looked shocked.
“Wait a minute. You go to East High, right? I’ve… seen you before. Listen, are you OK?” He took out his phone. She realized he might call an ambulance.
She stuttered, “No. No. Tudo bem. I’m OK. I am fine. Everything OK. You OK?”
She recognized him.
“You are Antonio?”
“Um, Anthony, yes. You are… I’m sorry. What’s your name?”
“Amanda. Nice to meet you…” He looked nervous and awkward. “I mean…”
She looked down the street at the bus lights now almost completely out-of-sight.
Anthony realized. “You missed your bus.”
“No problem. No is your fault.”
“Where were you going?”
Amanda looked back up at Anthony. She could see his eyes were also kind. Green and bright and kind.
“Work. Wow. Where do you work?”
Normally Amanda would be too shy and scared to answer this question. The accident changed her for a moment into a busy conversationalist.
“The restaurant? I thought that was closed because of quarantine…”
“Yes. Too many peoples think that. But no. We make meals by order. Phone. And delivery them. Or pick up.”
But now she might lose her job. She did not have a cell phone to call the boss there, an energetic, sometimes mean little man and head chef in the kitchen. For the second time that day, she started to cry. Just a single teardrop, threatening to turn into a deluge.
Anthony saw it.
“Hey. Don’t worry. I can take you. It’s legal, OK?”
“Legal?” she looked at him, confused. Normally she would never consider getting into a stranger’s car. Now she was considering it. Those green eyes were so bright after all and they went to the same high school and those eyes were so… green.
“Yeah. Legal. Isn’t that what you say in Portuguese. Legal?”
Amanda realized what he meant, and now it was her turn to smile.
“Yes. Legal. Lay-gahl. Dizemos ‘lay-gahl.’ No the way you say.”
He was right. It was legal. Cool. She smiled again.
The whole ride into work that afternoon was muito legal. Even with their masks on. She could still see his eyes.
The next day she saw his email on the computer the school had given her for remote classes.
“Hey. It’s Anthony. I didn’t know how to reach you so I hope you see this email. I never check my school email so you probably don’t either. Hope you see this though. You have a tik tok or can I text you? Let me know.”
She was afraid to write back. She was afraid to not write back.
Vó knew something was up as soon as she saw Amanda. “O que, meninha? E aí?”
Amanda told her everything. They had no secrets. Amanda asked what she should do.
Vó looked at her with eyes that said, “Escreva para ele.”
She was embarrassed to email him back. It was not legal. She had no phone, no Tik Tok or Instagram or text.
His response made it clear he did not care. They “talked” for days and not once did he correct her English and never seemed to be confused by anything she wrote. He asked her how to say things in Portuguese. They set up Zoom calls and talked with their cameras off at first, until he asked her to turn hers on. She said no. He turned his on without her asking him to and in the flash of moments when he looked directly into the camera, and she could see that green light, her skin tingled.
He asked her again and again to turn on her camera. She did not know many boys - even Brazilian ones from her home. Her parents insisted she focus on school and helping around their tiny house on Rua Lino Calmom, next to the swampy Rio Catu. She was happy then to spend most of her time reading, studying, and helping in the home. There was little to do in their neighborhood, anyway, and now she realized that when she lived there she never knew how much she would miss it. She missed it terribly and wanted nothing more than to hear the sound of the annoying boys screaming on the street and kicking a deflated bola back and forth until it eventually fell between the broken railings along the bridge and into the sluggish river when a fight would break out about who would go in to retrieve it.
Then his voice broke her from her reverie.
“I wish we could hang out.” She did not respond.
“‘Manda?” He called her ‘Manda. No one else did. She liked it.
“Yeah. Eu tambem.”
He said he never did that with anyone anymore. Hang out. Everyone had to stay home all the time.
She said she had to work again and that her aunt didn’t want her hanging around with anybody. “Quarentena, you know?” she asked, scared he would write back ‘nvm,’ or worse, say nothing at all.
Instead, he offered to give her a ride to work again.
She surprised herself by accepting. “Sure.”
He said he would pick her up at the same spot he knocked her down. She laughed. Actually laughed. She couldn’t remember the last time she laughed with a… friend.
He was at the spot on time just like he said he would be. She had thought that maybe he wouldn’t be there, that this might have all just been a joke.
It wasn’t. He even got out of the car and came around to open her door for her. This couldn’t be happening.
He smiled - she could tell even through his mask - and said, “Beauties.”
She looked at him with a look that said, “What?” She didn’t understand at all. “Byoodies?” Was that some American slang she hadn’t learned yet? She got very nervous and blushed.
“Um. Beauties. Isn’t that what you say? The Brazilians? I heard it. You guys say that when you see each other. Like ‘Hello’ or something.”
Amanda had no idea what he was saying. She suddenly began to think that this was a big mistake. They could not understand each other.
“Um. Byoodies? Um, no, I don’t know.”
He looked terribly embarrassed. She could see he thoughthe had said something wrong.
“Um. I looked it up. I thought… I’m sorry…”
Then she knew.
“Beleza. We say beleza sometimes. It’s like ‘What’s up?’” He had looked it up online. The Internet told him it meant “beauty” because it does. She had never really thought about it before. It was just a way to say hello, kind of.
“Yeah. Beleza.” Anthony laughed. She could tell he was laughing at himself. That was good.
Amanda laughed, too. Again. “I guess it’s like, ‘All good?’ Or like something like that.”
“But it means ‘beauties,’ right? Beleza?”
“Yes. I guess.”
“I like it. What a nice way to say hello. Beleza.”
Amanda’s doubts from a moment ago were forgotten forever. “Yes, beleza.”
Anthony’s green eyes were brighter than ever as he gazed directly into hers and said, with perfect pronunciation, “Legal, beleza.”
Anthony heard her sigh, “Legal.”
My squad and I work for you all. We are you. Regular folk. What do we do? We’re programmers. Boring, right? Works for us.
We never meet in person. We communicate within labyrinthine, infernal firewalls. We monitor the Internet in shifts with other GHOST Squads. My squad is special. Our focus isn’t espionage or cybercriminals. We guard against the dead who roam the ‘Net seeking… revenge.
Your search history haunting you? “Sexy secretaries licking envelopes…”? Sicko.
The spreadsheet you fudged to hide those funds?
Poor Tony’s “accident”? Tony’s back.
Don’t believe me? Go ahead. Click. Log in.