I’m at the Chinese nail salon with friends who I think don’t love me anymore. I know this because they are talking about the trip to England they are going on with our English teacher on Sunday and not looking me in the eye when I ask them questions. I’m not going anymore. I cancelled because I’m afraid of flying.
Carmen said to come at about five, so I get there ten minutes early because I’ve always been late everywhere I go and am sick of it.
I’m the first one there. All the other customers look up and at me standing in the entrance. The door has a cheap rusty bell attached to a left over mistletoe hanging above. Its chime sounds as a barking whine.
A voice says, “Hi hunee. Pick out yo colahs.” I can’t tell which nail technician it’s coming from.
I go over to the color rack and examine different shades by holding them up to the ceiling light. Mom specifically told me not to get yellow because it reminds her of jaundice.
Carmen, Lucille, Kali, and Sierra all file in at once. They were outside waiting in their cars — waiting for Carmen to park.
Indecisive, we eye different colors in silence. When we all find a shade we like, we sit down and wait for our names to be called. They start talking in whispers.
“Are you guys talking about the England trip?” I question.
“Yeah. We had a meeting yesterday.”
“Mr. Fredrick was wearing an American flag t-shirt and khaki shorts.”
“Oh. My. God.”
“Yeah, I know right. It get’s worse though.”
“He was wearing sandals.”
“I know right. It was so ew.”
“His toes looked so nasty! And his nails were yellow. Yel-low!”
The lady who always does my mom’s nails approaches me and asks if I’m the daughter of my mother. I nod yes and she fills up water in the tub. She puts my feet in along with some blue gel that smells like toothpaste.
Keep feet inside and relax.
She knows me. I came here to get my nails done for prom. It’s me who always forgets faces and names. Nancy, that’s her name. Her American name. I have no idea what her Chinese name is.
I try to estimate how far along she is. It’s hard to tell because she’s so skinny and her stomach is a giant tumor. Six months. She shouldn’t be working at the nail salon.
When Nancy is massaging my feet I notice she has a Pandora bracelet.
“Is that a Pandora bracelet?”
“I have one too!” I gesture to the silver band on my right hand. “My mom got it for me.”
“Yeah. I only have three so far. A music note, a book, and a guitar. All my hobbies.”
She nods and keeps buffing at my feet.
I can’t figure out how to work the massaging chair. The buttons are labeled in Chinese. I press a random one and get the wind knocked out of me. Shiatsu. The lady next to me laughs and tells me she can’t figure out how to work the chair either.
I picked out a dark blue polish for my hands and a plum one for my feet. My friends are still sitting in a line, waiting for a manicurist to call them over. They are still talking about the England trip.
Nancy starts clipping my toenails.
“Why yo mommy no come?”
“She’s still at the hospital…working.”
“Yo mommy very busy.”
“Yeah, she is.”
“What yo daddy do?”
“You mean what does he do for a job?”
“He’s uhm… a businessman. But he’s not really working now. He stays home and takes care of us. So I guess he’s a stay at home dad.”
“That’s nice. Good fo you and yo sista.”
Carmen is the first one to get her manicure, even though she was the last to arrive. The rest of the girls don’t mind that she goes first because they’re all her puppies. They listen to her. She doesn’t listen to them.
Carmen is arguing with the manicurist because she doesn’t understand what Carmen is saying. It’s funny because Carmen is Chinese as well. She doesn’t know the language because she was adopted from China when she was a baby. Carmen wants gel nail polish. She cusses under her breath.
“Listen, I just want to get gel nail polish.”
“Ok, ok, come sit. I first massage you then put gel.”
“I don’t want a massage! I just want you to paint my nails!”
Carmen looks over at the line of girls that are now laughing and recording her tantrum on their phones. Quick clips that they upload to their Snapchat stories so that everybody could see. Nothing is kept private anymore. Nothing goes unnoticed. A bored moment can’t possibly be passed without the internet — even when real people are sitting next to you.
I’m isolated in my little island to the far right corner of the salon with Nancy. She’s almost done painting my toes dark plum.
“Colah look nice on you.”
Kali is getting acrylic nails like always because her nail beds are too short. She’s wearing jeans today even though it’s ninety degrees and heavy heat outside. It’s supposed to start storming in an hour. Slight possibility of tornados. The storm two days ago knocked out the town’s power for four hours. It is supposed do the same again today.
Nancy helps me up even though she is pregnant and tiny. The first time I met her, I mistook her for my English teacher’s wife. They were both young and Chinese and I swore she was Mrs. Fredrickson. A couple of the boys told a story during lunch one school day about the time they saw Mrs. Fredrickson during a football game in October. She came after school ended that day, waiting for Mr. Fredrickson. The Spanish teacher and computer teacher were talking to her in the hallway while she waited for class to end.
“You look awfully young.”
“You’ve got to tell me how old Mr. Frerickson is though. He never tells anyone. Not even his students.”
She didn’t know. Nobody did.
“I think he’s foty.”
In actuality Mr. Fredrickson was forty-seven.
Lucille is the last one up. She is the one that looks like her old mother. Her face is weathered and her hair is fried from straightening it all the time. She was my best friend until seven months ago when she started to think that I was too boring. In my imagination, we officially broke up over text messages.
Y don’t u talk to me anymore?
What r u talking about?
U seem like u don’t like me anymore.
I bought u Pandora earrings for ur bday. They were 60 bucks. U forgot my bday. I’m always the 1st one to text u. U never text me anymore. I care about u, but it seems like u don’t care about me anymore.
Stop the drama. Jeez.
I’m just telling u what I feel Luc. C’mon what happened to us being besties?
We still are.
I don’t think so.
It’s not my fault u don’t have social media.
U don’t like me bc I don’t have social media?
I guess so. I mean, face it, ur out of the loop all the time. U always have a blank face whenevs we talk about that kinda stuff. Tbh u don’t rlly know anything … so ur not very fun anymore.
I know she’s been hanging out with Kali because they whisper whenever I look at them. Kali has a boyfriend and that makes her interesting. Kali has a life. Kali and Lucille have a Snap Streak of 300.
Nancy is massaging my picked at fingernails with cuticle oil.
“Erm… can you not do my left hand please? I play guitar.”
“I need my calluses to be hard. So it doesn’t hurt when I play.”
“Oil only make cuticle soft, not callus.”
I breathe. “Ok, good.”
The massage hurts my veins.
“You play guitar?”
“Yeah. And piano.”
“Thas good. My daughtah only play da violin, but I try to tell her play piano too.”
“How old are you?”
“You a junior?”
“My boy a senior too. You know, he very cute.”
“You very cute too.”
I laugh because I see where she’s going. “Thanks. But my parents prefer I focus on school right now.”
“I see.” She laughs under her mask even though she is tired. It sounds like a wheeze.
Nancy mumbles something in Chinese. She’s talking to her baby. Don’t breathe until we get home. You don’t have to smell the fumes. They aren’t good for you. Don’t worry, I will pray for your lungs. Her face says pain and I need to work even though I’m not supposed to be because I need money to keep the house and buy the food and to raise the new baby.
Sierra is the first one at the drying station. She usually never gets her nails done because she is a feminist and likes her body the way it is. But she is at the nail salon today. She’s discussing the upcoming school play with Carmen and Lucille.
“Minnie said if her and Leon get the leads, they wouldn’t have to fall in stage love.”
“Cause they’re already in real love, you idiot.”
“They’re not getting the leads.”
“Yeah, I know. They have no chance.”
My nails are done. Nancy sends me to the drying station.
“I can’t believe they’re actually a real couple.”
“Who?” I ask.
“Leon and Minnie.”
“Ohhh.” I don’t tell them I saw the two lovers three weeks ago at band practice. I didn’t even tell any of them that I’m in an indie rock band with the freshmen boys. Minnie and Leon came to spectate our songs, but really, they used the three hours as an excuse to make out on Reid’s couch.
I tell them, “Leon got a concussion.”
“What the heck? How?”
“He slipped and fell at work. Now he has a cane.” Leon works at an ice cream shop downtown. I imagined the incident happening like a cartoon; him slipping on a banana peel then growing a mountainous lump on his head.
“Where’d you hear this from?”
If I told them, they would question me to shreds. “Uhh, I just heard it somewhere. I think it’s just a rumor though.” I don’t tell them Leon told me himself at band practice.
Kali is finally done. She doesn’t need her acrylics to dry under the drying station.
“Ready guys? Her keys are in hand.”
Everybody gets up.
“Do you need a ride?” Lucille asks me.
“No, my dad’s coming to pick me up.”
“Are you sure? Because if you didn’t call him already I can drop you off.” Her voice is sorry because she always the one who has to take me home. I don’t want her to feel sorry for me anymore.
“Yeah,” I lie.
After my friends leave the nail salon I call my dad and pay at the cash register. One of the manicurists is a Chinese man that looks like a punk. I wonder if he’s Nancy’s husband or lover. His skin is burnt sienna, a separate shade from the rest of the pearly manicurists. I question if he’s even Chinese at all. He was talking to Nancy when she was doing my nails and he was doing another customer’s. They were exchanging foreign words that sounded like Nancy was in pain. I see her outline in the back room behind the cash register. She’s lounging back on a chair. Her eyes are closed and her hands rest on her stomach. She cries for the thing growing inside her because she is poor and doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t want the thing growing inside her to suffer.
The storm is rolling south in tumors of clouds. A squall line of grayed lumps that look like they could collapse any minute. Veins of purple lightning run through the sky and deliver howling thunder. The earth is begging the sky for mercy.
My dad is on the way so I sit down on one of the waiting chairs. The salon is closing early because of the storm. The other lady manicurist is sweeping hangnails and dust off the floor.
I give the male manicurist at the cash register three dollars and tell him it’s a tip for Nancy. There is no one left in the salon except the three manicurists, a lady in exercise clothes, and me.
The lady in exercise clothes texts her teenage son on her cell phone.
Honey, can u plz take the chicken out of the freezer? I’m running a little late.
Tell your sister to take a bath too.
A picture of her pedicure.
Nancy comes out of the back room to thank me for the tip. The lady in the exercise clothes is gone now. Now, I can say it.
“Please don’t work here anymore.”
“What ah you saying hunee? I have to wohk heyah.” She laughs and thinks I’m crazy.
“It’s not good for your baby. I hear it howling inside of you. It’s begging you to stop working.”
She is confused. I leave her that way and walk towards my dad’s car.
Arja Kumar is seventeen and is a senior at Aquin High School. She lives in a bucolic wasteland in the Middle of Nowhere, IL. Aside from writing, she likes filmmaking, punning, and playing music in an indie rock band with her friends.