Hector stared at his reflection in the mirror, not sure what to think. Truthfully, the barber took off a bit more hair than he wanted. His ears stuck out prominently and he always hated that.
It was stupid of him to think of it now but as a boy, people always had mocked his ears. Tìo Rogelio always called him Dumbo, after that weird ass elephant that flapped his ears around and somehow flew in the air. Whoever those pendejos were that made that movie, they were high as shit.
Hector blinked rapidly, pulled abruptly out of his thoughts and back to where he was in the barber’s chair.
“Sì. Esta bien.” He muttered quietly. Were there actually people who told a barber that he did a bad job? Hector had his share of awful haircuts but he never said anything. Then again, the guys cutting his hair weren’t always barbers and probably could slug him clear across the city. Or, it was a little old abuela whom he didn’t have the heart to tell the truth to. Hector wasn’t a complete bastard to tell an old woman with diminishing eye sight and shaking hands that she sucked at what she was doing. Let them feel good they were helping.
The back of his neck felt oddly exposed and he kept rubbing the back of it. He paid the barber and proceeded out of the shop, tugging his old denim jacket tighter against his frame.
Hector walked down the street, not really looking at anyone. His mind was in a total scramble. Well, more than usual but at least it was on the same subject.
It was his first day of work tomorrow. His first job. His first real, normal job. No more hustling or stealing, just a regular job where he got paid and would be home in time for dinner. Hector had been so excited at first. As soon as Señor Ruìz told him that the job was his, he instantly began planning what to do next. For once, he’d have a consistently paying job! He could buy a house for them all to live in, Adela could go to a good school, he could buy Sibila anything she wanted. They could get a better car, maybe even two!
Sibila kept telling Hector on that night that he needed to show up on that first day. Stay out of trouble and just go to work on time. Do what he was asked and do it without complaint. It rankled him that she kept telling him to do things he already knew to do. This was his last chance. This was his last opportunity to start over again. If he fucked up this one, then God knew when he would be able to try again.
The interview was two weeks ago and his first day was tomorrow. Sibila brought him a new shirt and a tie. Yes, he was going to be on the phone and his customers wouldn’t be seeing him but his new co-workers would. Señor Ruìz would be seeing him and he was the one who really counted.
They shook hands after the interview. After he gave Hector the job. It was a good handshake, a firm one but Hector could detect a little bit of an unnecessary hardness.
“I really hope this works out, Hector.” Se ñor Ru ìz said, staring him right in the eye. To anyone else, it would have sounded congratulatory but Hector heard something else. He heard, “Don’t make me look like an idiot for taking you on. One strike and you’re out.”
How strange, Hector thought as he continued walking. He had been so excited for days! Now, a seed of nervousness grew in his belly, spreading upward. He could taste a bitterness in his mouth and a sour bile on his tongue. What if he was late? What if he wasn’t able to do a good job? What if he got fired on the first day? What if, what if, what if?
Hector knew those words were going to keep messing him up. He did his best to not think about it. He got the job. He just had to show up and try his best. Sibila made it sound so easy. “Just show up on time. Do your best. They’ll go easy on you on the first day. They’re going to train you first before you get on the phone. You’ll be fine.”
Easy for Sibila to say. This was not new for her. She had been working since she was eleven in her parents’ shop. From there she became a waitress at a local coffee shop, and now she was a salesgirl at some woman’s clothing store. He kept forgetting what it was called but it was in La Gran Plaza. Sibila was used to working a regular job. She knew what to do and was sharp as a knife. Hell, she’d do great at the job he just got if she worked there. She’d probably be his boss in a few months of working.
Before he crossed the street, he saw halcones having coffee outside of a café. It wasn’t always easy to tell who was in a cartel but Hector could tell things about people quickly. They weren’t doing anything illegal or dangerous. He could see they were watching and waiting for anything interesting. They weren’t talking to one another like regular men enjoying a break from work. He could see the way they were looking around, the way they were sitting and just staring.
One of them looked directly at Hector and stared hard at him. Almost as if he could see inside of him. Hector flinched a little, defenses immediately on the rise. He clenched his fist but did nothing, staring just as intently right back. Come on, motherfucker…just try me. Just fucking try to come over here.
The halcone broke first. He lowered his eyes and began typing into his phone. Hector continued to watch him and he could see that the other man was waiting for him to stop staring. Good. Lower your head like a bitch.
He walked when the signal sounded for pedestrians to cross the street. He may not be part of that life anymore but goddamn it if he was going to be intimidated and defenseless against those cabrones.
Hector arrived to work an hour early. No one was there but cleaning staff. Not even Señor Ruìz had arrived. He waited in the lobby, feeling exhausted. Hector hadn’t got much sleep the night before, even though he went to bed at an unnaturally early time. He went to bed around the same time Adela did! It felt he was just dozing off before the alarm on his phone began to go off. Sibila grumbled that he set his alarm too early. It was five in the morning! He didn’t have to be at work until 8:30 and it was only an twelve minute drive. Still, he got up anyway. The trouble was he got ready in less than half an hour. His clothes were already set out the night before, his lunch packed, and some of his new office supplies tucked into a work bag.
Years ago, he used to scoff at those lawyer-types or bankers that carried around these bags strapped across their chest. They looked like oversized purses! Those guys thought they were so busy when they were literally only crossing the street! Chatting away on phones, checking watches…they looked fucking stupid. Or maybe Hector only thought that because he was privately jealous that people treated them so much better than they treated him. When they were buying his shirt and tie, he found himself wandering over and looking at those leather bags. Sibila laughed when he brought one over to the checkout but she didn’t tell him to put it back.
Hector could hardly eat his breakfast. He only could slowly sip on his coffee and it was cold by the time he got halfway through it. If he ate, he was going to puke. Besides, he was never much of a breakfast guy to begin with. Scratch that, he was never much of a morning person. Hector used to wake up in the afternoon but he stayed up till two or three in the morning. That was going to have to change if he wanted to go to work on time.
Now, he was much too early for work. Sibila took Adela to school, leaving him to go to work on his own. It was a stupid thing but he kind of wished that Sibila drove him to work. His stomach was going crazy and it would have helped a little if she was with him at least until he made it to the office. Come on, pendejo! You aren’t a fucking five year old! You don’t need your mami to take you to work! Be a man! Just go already!
“¿Hector? Buenos dias. ¿Listo?”
Hector’s head snapped up. “Ah, sì. Buenos dias, Señor.”
Señor Ruìz gave him a tight lipped smile but he didn’t look hostile. “¿Como se dice buenos dias en ingles?
What kind of question was that, Hector thought. “It’s good morning.”
The other man nodded in approval. “Good! Just trying to make sure you’re practicing that English.”
Hector wanted to roll his eyes. Even Adela knew what good morning was! She was five and she knew that already! However, he only smiled weakly and proceeded to follow his new boss.
Señor Ruìz was saying a lot of things and he was saying it very fast. He was showing Hector what offices were what but his voice sounded like the way a broken TV sounded like. It was too much information too fast! How was Hector going to remember all of this? He was being introduced to a bunch of people but nobody’s name was sticking to his memory. However, what he did notice was how some people’s eyes fell on the tattoos that decorated his neck. Even with a full sleeve shirt and with a normal collar, the tattoos were still visible. Hector could see the way people’s eyes changed, the minute clenching of the jaw, the tiniest (but detectable) waver in someone’s voice, the little swallow of nervousness.
In their eyes, he instantly was out of place. This was a good place of employment, where honest and hardworking people were. Someone like him, with his thick scar and tattooed body, had no business in. He could be a halcone or worse, a sicario looking for his potential kill in this building. Some men and women lowered their eyes and hurriedly walked away after their introduction. Some men and women gave him looks of undisguised disdain and judgment. He didn’t fit in here. Hector wasn’t going to belong here ever.
It was these looks, these whispers…the clenching of the purses, the avoiding his eyes, and pretending he wasn’t there...this is what kept him from getting work. It wasn’t as though Hector never tried but no one wanted him. He wasn’t a man to them but it almost felt like they weren’t going to let him be one either. How could they if no one wanted to give him a chance to prove his worth, prove that he wasn’t just some wasted up member of the cartel who would kill them for looking at him?
By the time Hector made it back to his desk after meeting his new coworkers, he just wanted to walk out the door. His brain was fried and he felt stressed and unhappy. What the hell did he just get himself into? Hector already knew that he didn’t like anyone of the people he had been introduced to so far. Even if he wasn’t going to spend much time talking to them, just having to see them and share a space with them was unbearable.
This was so fucking hard! How was he supposed to come into this place where nothing made sense to him and work with people who obviously didn’t like him? Obviously, he didn’t like them either but that was beside the point? Not that people particularly loved him when he was hustling, but at least he was respected enough for people to look him in the eyes and talk to him straight.
Was it too late to quit? He looked around his surroundings and felt grossly out of place. Everyone was typing so fast, talking at breakneck speed and…he was all alone. Even in this ocean of people, no one could see him or hear him. Nobody wanted to see or hear him.
With a sigh, Hector saw it was only 9:25 AM. God damn it! Was this day never going to end? He tried to unpack his things as slowly as possible but he didn’t have much to put into his desk. Only 9:32 now.
Inside his desk was the training manual that told him how to set up his employee account and his microphone and headset. Getting the employee account was simple enough but getting his audio to connect with the headset was not. He checked the volume on his screen and it was on normal volume. Furrowing his brow, he got down on his knees and checked the hard drive to see if something was unplugged. Nope, everything in place. He got back up and sat at his seat for a few minutes, thinking about what to do next. He thought to ask Señor Ruìz what to do but he decided against it. He already knew that his boss didn’t think much of him in terms of intelligence so Hector had a lot to prove. He wasn’t going to be a whiny bitch who asked for help every few seconds.
Hector closed his eyes to think for a second. This was a simple problem. There was a fix to this.
He hated school because most of his teachers were checked out, the class usually had nothing to do, and no one gave a shit about anything. Except for Señora Padilla. She taught the Computer class. There weren’t many computers and most of them were old but she knew a lot and used to let each student have a turn showing her what they just learned.
His eyes opened. Oh yes…now he knew where to look. Hector began to hastily type into the search bar the word “sound”. He clicked on the tab and saw that the wrong audio option had been set as the default sound. He knew his speakers and the audio option selected was obviously not high definition speaker. After choosing the right option and restarting the computer, the welcome sound rang cheerily through his headphones. He smiled to himself. There, that solved that. It was easy to think he was stupid because of his incomplete education and his choice of previous “jobs” but Hector knew a lot more than people thought and he had an excellent memory. It was just a matter of being given a chance.
It had been one month since Hector had started working. If he was completely honest, the job was not what he expected and he still wasn’t sure what to make of it. He was terrible over the phone with the customers. It wasn’t his fault that they were dumb as shit or asked moronic questions! He had very little patience for stupidity and most of the time, their answers could be found if they read the FAQ page. It was painfully annoying to be on the phone with people like that and to be as patient as possible with them. The patience wasn’t there and many times he was accused of having a “tone”.
However, Hector did like working with the computers. He became, of sorts, the unofficial IT guy on his floor. On his first day of work, several people were complaining about the audio or image problems. Hector fixed all of it. The IT guys took forever to come up and so Hector would be called over by several people throughout the day to help them fix their computer issues. During his lunch breaks, Hector spent time getting to know the site and was getting to know it inside and out. If it froze, Hector could figure out how to restart the system without losing orders. Now, if Hector could have a job just working on computers, he’d like that a lot more. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the education to work in IT and it wasn’t as though he had time to do so.
Now it was his monthly review and Hector was feeling nervous. Hector just wasn’t a people person and that was going to cause problems. He didn’t make any new friends nor have particularly warm relations with his colleagues. He knew these would all be factored against him and three quarters of his job needed him to be good with people! Fuck, what was he going to tell Sibila when he got fired?
She cried with joy when he brought home his first paycheck. Truthfully he wanted to cry too but he just felt like he was floating the whole night and everything else felt far away but in a way that made him happy. This paycheck meant he could be different. He could live another life, the one he always wanted. He could really begin to dream now and those dreams weren’t so far away. He could finally afford to want something real.
Now he was sitting before his boss, nervously drumming his fingers against his thighs. He may as well just get up and pack up. He was barely listening to what Señor Ruìz was saying.
“As you know, Hector, it has been one month since you’ve begun working with us. I have to say, you have surprised me but not in the way most would think.”
Hector looked up, confused at his boss’s wording. “What do you mean, Señor?”
“I will be frank with you, Hector. A great part of your job is interacting with clients and I have, unfortunately, received complaints about your service. Your customers have said you were impatient, you gave them answers they did not want, and they felt you were not polite or courteous. I have received more of these calls then acceptable.”
Hector opened his mouth to protest. “Señor, I promise I will be better. I really, really will be more patient from now on. I promise I won’t give any attitude and I’ll be the nicest-“
“Your colleagues also have said you are not very social or friendly as well.”
Hector closed his mouth. He would be if they didn’t look at him like he was a criminal all the time! If they didn’t think of him as garbage, he’d chat with them.
“I’ll pack my things. Thank you for hiring me.” Hector said quietly.
Señor Ruìz held up his hand. “Oh, I am not firing you, Hector. Many of these colleagues of yours say that you are very handy with computers and have been able to solve many technical problems. You didn’t tell me you were good with technology.”
Hector shrugged and stared at his lap. “I don’t have the education but I like working with them. Computers are interesting to me.”
Señor Ruìz nodded thoughtfully. “We all have skills in different areas but maybe if you work with the IT department, your skills might be better used there.”
“Wait, you aren’t going to fire me? I thought I was messing up too much. I am trying really hard, Señor! I promise you I am trying and I will keep trying my hardest but-
“It is because you are trying. I know you are the first one to get here and the last to leave. I know that you are trying for your family but I must be honest, not everyone is good at everything. Your talents and strengths are somewhere else and we can use some more IT people.”
“I can’t afford to go to school yet.”
The other man nodded slowly. “Let me see if I can talk to a friend of mine.”
Hector had been enrolled into night classes. During the day, he would get job-training with the IT group (whom he liked a lot more than his colleagues upstairs) and at night, he would take classes to become a certified technician. Sibelia stayed up with him all night when he told her what happened, holding him close and telling him again and again she was proud of him. He almost wept but he just let her words wash over him. When he left Señor Ruìz’s office, the older man shook his hand and said, “I am proud of your hard work and we were able to find a better place for you. I think this will work better for both of us.”
He made two people proud that he knew of. It was more than he ever did in all twenty-seven years of his life. Now he was getting an education, he had a job, a woman, and a child! Maybe…maybe God felt he was ready at last to be better. Maybe God saw how Hector used to cry alone at night, wishing he was dead. God loved him and now, he was giving Hector something very few ever gave him. Opportunity.
The instructor walked in and introduced herself to the class. “Since there just enough of us, why don’t we all introduce ourselves and tell us all what you are feeling right now to be here.”
It came to Hector’s turn. He swallowed nervously and stood up, like the other people in his class did.
“M-my name is Hector Tontz.”
He was about to sit back down but the instructor stopped him.
“How do you feel?”
He thought back to the day he got his job, when Sibila had asked him. He felt so many things but there was something very, very clear in his mind and heart. He felt…
He looked up at the smiling professor. “I feel new.”
This was only meant to be a writing exercise to get my writing brain back. I thoroughly enjoyed the Hector Tontz story line and really hoped he was able to stay happy by the end of the first season. I hope this was a good ending for him.