Philadelphia looks busy through the window glass. It is a strange thing, she thinks, to be in a city with nowhere to go. There would be commuters and students and officers patrolling the streets at this early hour, no doubt on their way to someplace. She decides to wait, an hour or two, until they are completely gone.
She sips coffee slowly from a ceramic mug with the hotel name on its side. She considers. If she had a job, she would be walking through a marble atrium, heels clacking on the floor. There’d be a security turnstile and a guard, nodding her through with the simple flash of a badge. She’d done an internship once, and she had worn deep maroon jeans and tops with v-necks.
“What do you want to do?” A driven person had asked her this question, many years ago.
“I want to be a teacher.” She had answered too quickly. Too quickly to reconsider, too quickly to ask why.
They were standing in a marble atrium of a New York City news corporation. She did not know where the nearest public school was or that she would ever care to find out. She held a spiral notebook with scribbled notes and had just filed her college major as “journalism.” But even then, it seemed to her in retrospect, even then she knew.
She knew by the shine of the marble and the smoothness of the escalators and the golden elevator doors. She knew by the TV personalities and the live cameras: the view was too blinding. There were moments late at night, post-show production, when she would lean her forehead against the glass, breathing deeply at the lights in the skyscrapers and the taxi cabs below. “It’ll all be over soon,” she whispered. Her breath came in spurts, and her heartbeat was fast.
Here in Philadelphia, she sits in a terry cloth robe for several hours. She sips more coffee and types keywords into his computer. His computer is the latest model, and she is his wife. She is the wife of a man with the latest model computer. The corners of her mouth turn upward at the thought. There are six hours to go until he returns.
“Just enough time,” she says aloud, to no one in particular. She looks for jobs at the Philadelphia museums. She looks for jobs at the libraries. She dares to glance through a list of reporting jobs, all of which require late hours and derring-do.
By the third hour of terrycloth and coffee, she has three potential jobs. All are to do with children, and none require late-night work. She imagines a 19-year-old version of herself sucking in her cheeks, pursing her lips, flapping her arms and making chicken noises.
“You don’t understand,” she whispers fervently at the 19-year-old, “I don’t want to be a reporter anymore.”
“What do you want to do?” The 19-year-old asks, dropping her imaginary chicken arms.
“I want to be a teacher.” Again, without thinking.
New York CIty rises like a mirage from the reflections on the Philadelphia skyscraper glass. In New York, there are more people and more buildings. She watches the multitudes rush to catch the trains, honk their horns and shout at pedestrians. The Philadelphians below try to do the same, but are more polite about it.
“Someone should write about that,” she thinks.
She imagines herself in front of a classroom. “You know,” she tells her future students, “you should write about that.” She twirls the belt of the robe, and glances down into an empty cup. Leaning her head back and counting the minutes, her breath comes in steady streams, and her heartbeat is slow. “You should write about that,” she murmurs.
Sally Choueka is a master’s student in humanities at Penn State Harrisburg.