When people ask me why I write, I often tell them about how my stories always start from questions I encounter and that as those stories grow, they give me some semblance of an answer. Fiction being the lie that contains the truth, so to speak. Equity is definitely one of those slippery questions for me that I feel I’ll be chasing for a long time. As a brown queer woman and daughter of immigrants, I learned pretty quick that my position at the starting line was never going to be the same as my peers. Helping hands got me to where I am today but tensions still exist even within our modern solutions. It’s in that tension, that grey area of so-called-good-intentions, that my short story “More Water” exists.
More Water by Manjinder Sidhu
Rajni’s favourite part of interviewing was when the candidates were invited to share something about themselves. Right at the beginning, when they were freshly nervous, like new bunnies twitching in the springtime, backs ramrod straight. And it was a softball question, one that could be answered in any way, with no right answer.
But it always amazed her at how it flustered so many – as if some of them had never been asked this question before, as if some of them didn’t know themselves enough to be able to answer it with comfort. Though perhaps, shrinking the understanding your sense of self and your identity into something bite size was something extraordinary to be asking in a thirty-minute interview. But, no one ever truly objected. Who are you? That was the real deal, floating under the iceberg. Guised under the soft, easygoing nature of, tell us who you are.
Most people rambled about their dog, their children, their hobbies. Some people would get tears in their eyes, struggle to hold them in, and then talk about their quest to find themselves and the answers they did not have. Today’s candidates seemed to fall into the earlier category and Rajni struggled not to yawn.
Mercedes was the first one. She painted a pretty picture: gleaming black patent heels, a beige power suit with stiff shoulder pads. Her clothes created a highlighter effect against her black skin and Rajni was captivated. The way this candidate’s fingernails were polished and so evenly shaped, the way her toenails matched. Of course, it was a nude tone with a glass sheen. It was classy. The other details were smaller, the interlocking letters on her handbag. GG? CC? She couldn’t quite make it out before it was tucked under the table, but its leather looked expensive, even to her eyes. What was it about people in interviews that made them want to bring expensive items with them? At the heart of it, if one had money, then they wouldn’t be applying for her boring, administrative role, which was only a leave replacement. She rubbed her hand over her bump: only another month, little one.
When the question was asked, Mercedes talked about her family. She talked about how her parents had immigrated to Canada and had worked hard to raise her and her siblings. How her name was something that they hoped for one day and now she could tease them about who they loved more: their daughter or their car. And, of course, how they were so proud of her graduate degree and her engagement. She flashed her fingers and light bounced around the room in response. A bright cluster the size of a small moon on her finger.
“When is the wedding?”
“Next year,” she replied. She grinned a row of perfect, white, square teeth and continued, “We had our heart set on a big venue for all our friends and family. But next year was the earliest we could book anything.” And then, she shifted in her seat.
Interesting, Rajni thought. Why is she fidgeting at that comment? Rajni made a question mark on her paper. Body language never lies. You could say one thing, but your body always told the truth. One just had to look for it.
Mercedes sailed through the rest of the questions. A solid interview and everyone was cheerful at its conclusion, which went over the allotted time by at least twenty minutes.
“She’s a good one.” Of course, her boss Larry would say that. He was nothing if not predictable.
“Except for her lack of work experience,” Andrew commented. “How does one go through two decades and never work a single job?”
Rajni tapped her pen on the paper and blew out a breath. It was true: Mercedes had stumbled on that question too. She had explained about wanting a 4.0 GPA and how that left very little time except for a few extracurricular activities. That her scholarships were what had paid for her schooling all the way through. And that even when her parents had offered to help, she had told them she would do it on her own.
“Well, some families don’t like their children working,” Mona, the other assistant, said.
“I don’t buy the too-busy-studying-to-work excuse. It’s called privilege, Mona. She has had it her whole life. Scholarships don’t cover everything anymore. They may cover some tuition. But food? Or clothes? Or movies? Or the type of purse she’s carrying? I think this job is just for spending money. She isn’t serious and is going to quit, just before her wedding.” Andrew fired back.
There was a silence in the room at that remark, everyone looking down.
About the author: Manjinder Sidhu is a settler who lives and creates on traditional and unceded Syilx Okanagan Nation territory. As an emerging writer, she has recently completed her studies in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. She remains hopeful that one day, she will understand the concept of balance.
Photo by Victor Serban on Unsplash