The late-night cashier Claudette Samuels was caught stealing. I was shocked. She was Jamaican. Claudette was one of the hardest workers at the store. She never complained about the late-night hours and always had an infectious smile. The customers loved her. The store managers could always depend on her. She would be the first person they would call if another cashier was sick. She always got overtime. The other cashiers hated her as they thought she was the “favorite”. She knew everything about the store and what isles items were stocked. It seemed she was employee of the month every other month. Steven and I were proud of her. We would “beat our chests” and say only a “yardie” could win employee of the month so many times.
She did not talk much about her personal life but from what I was able to gather she came from Jamaica six years ago. She was from St. Elizabeth. Most of her family was still in Jamaica and she sent them a barrel and money all the time.
How was Claudette stealing?
She had friends who would visit the store on the days she worked. They would pick up items and go directly to her check-out line. She would ring-up a portion of their items on the cash register. The rest she did not. Apparently she had been doing it for months. No one suspected anything until we had a big sale in the store and people came in after midnight to beat “rush”, being we were a 24-hour pharmacy/store. One of Colette’s friends created a scene in the store when she was asked to go to another cash register line. She insisted that she wanted Claudette to check her out. She cussed some “dutty” Jamaican bad words at the store manager and left. That same night another friend of Claudette came to the store. She also insisted that she wanted Claudette to check her out. The manager became suspicious. They set up a trap and caught her in the act on video surveillance.
He was gracious and did not turn her into the police. He asked her to pay for what she had stolen. She was a hard worker and I think he recognized that. I was not there on the day she was fired but heard from Steven that she was “cow” bawling and was very remorseful.
Steven also said most of the items she stole from the store were put in the barrels she sent to Jamaica. She was only trying to help her family in Jamaica. I felt bad for her but was also disappointed. The image of Jamaicans was “tarnished”. Steven and I felt we would be scrutinized more because we were Jamaicans.
Donesha Rasmala was the new late-night cashier in the store. She was East Indian from Guyana. She wore a traditional Indian saree to work. She was small in stature. She was “cute” like a little doll . She had an earring in her nose. She was very friendly. She surprised me when she told me she loved reggae music especially dancehall. She knew the names of the famous Jamaican dancehall artists. Her favorite artist was Buju Banton.
Claudette used to go around the store picking up things to put back on the shelves when it was slow. Donesha did not do this. She would seek out Steven and I to talk about Jamaica. After her first week we became good friends. There was a connection. It was not romantic. She was just someone you liked to be around because she was frank in her discussion. She told us about Guyana. She laughed when I told her how I learned that “coolie” was a derogatory term. She told me that her family in Guyana used the word as a sense of pride. There was even food they called “coolie” food. She did say that outside the East Indian community they did not want anyone to call them a “coolie”. It was very similar to the use of the “N-word” by people in the black community.
The second week my relationship with Donesha changed. I was leaving work at 6:00 am when I saw Donesha walking along the road. I pulled over and offered her a ride. She declined.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Home,” she replied.
“How far are you going”, I asked.
“It is just 5 minutes away” she replied “I am fine”
“Okay”, I replied and I left.
The next day I saw her walking again. This time it was mile away from where I saw her the last time. She was lying about where she lived. I pulled up beside her.
“Get in”, I ordered her.
“Get in now. It is not safe for you to be walking around in the dark” I replied cutting her off.
She got in the car.
“I’ll take you home”
We drove in silence for another 20 minutes to the apartment complex she lived in.
“Thanks, see you tomorrow”, she hurried off.
I watched her walk into the building before I drove off.
The next day the same thing happened again. This time it was a little different. When I pulled up to her apartment we sat in the car and talked. She had a lot on her mind.
“You must be wondering why I walk home?”
“I don’t have a driver’s license and the bus does not operate this early in the morning”
From there she opened up. She was an international student who went to Florida International University (FIU). Her parents ran out of money to pay for her schooling. They had a shop in Guyana and had to close it. She had a student’s visa but it was now out of status. Her parents told her to come back to Guyana but she did not want to go home. The Guyanese economy was not that great and she would not be able to find work. She was fortunate to get a social security card when she worked on campus. She was able to find work using it and her student ID. She had a friend on campus that worked in the office that distributed the student ID card. He got her a new card when her old one expired. She was an illegal alien.
“I feel so good to get that off my chest” she declared. “You are the first person to hear about my situation. I feel so helpless. I don’t know how I am going to change my status to be legal in this country”
I was not sure what to do. I wanted to tell her, that I was in the same situation but could not.
“Don’t worry, I am sure things will work out” I encouraged her.
She smiled as she exited the car, and I drove off.
I felt bad for her. The thought of someone going through my situation was not comforting.
I would take Donesha home every day and we would talk. I think she felt a special connection to me because I knew her secret. I felt the same way when I told Rosa everything after my mother “slipped up”. I was able to get all the feelings I had bottled up inside of me out. Donesha was doing the same thing to me. She was upset that she was now an illegal alien. She was the type of person who always followed the law. The situation was distressing for her. She was worried that they would find her and deport her back to Guyana. She hated having this hanging over her head. She felt uneasy looking behind her back and always lying. All she wanted to do was finish school. She was studying medicine to become a doctor.
I knew exactly how she felt.
I had to catch myself a few times from saying something that would let her know I was illegal also. I wanted tell her so badly that it would get easier as the years go by.
Then she asked the question I knew was coming.
How did you get your green card?
I made up a story. I told her that my parents lived in the USA in the 1970’s when it was easy to get a green card. They had filed for me and moved back to Jamaica.
I knew the next question she would ask.
“Are you a US citizen?” she asked.
“No,” I replied.
It was my standard answer. I still had the fake stamp in my passport from my trip to the Bahamas.
For the next 2 weeks it seems things were okay with Donesha. My words of encouragement seemed to help. She was back to talking about everything except her situation.
Then she was back to being an illegal alien.
“My only hope is to get married. I need to find someone.”
“Are you sure you want to do that?” I asked her
“Yes. I am sure,” she replied with confidence.
I admired her determination to change her situation. I was also very determined when I first came to the USA.
“Be very careful as I have heard stories of abuse and men wanting sex as part of the arrangement.” I was being frank with her. I was thinking of all the nightmare stories I had heard about with business marriages. I could see someone taking advantage of her. In the short time I knew her I felt I had to protect her. She was like a little sister who was going through the same thing I was.
“Do you know anyone I could marry for a green card?” she asked.
I thought she was kidding but the look on her face told me she was serious.
“No, can’t think of anyone,” I replied.
“If you do let me know,” She said as she existed the car in front of her apartment.
Her question brought back memories of my near marriage to Rosa. If we had gotten married I would have had a green card by now. Like Donesha I had no hope.
The next day we drove in silence. Donesha was not her bubbly talkative self. I could see she was in deep thought.
“Is everything okay?” I asked.
“Yes” she replied
“Come on. Something is going on” I replied.
“Okay, there is something on my mind,” she admitted.
“What is it,” I asked.
“I will tell you if you promise not to laugh” she asked.
“I will try not to laugh” I smiled.
“It’s serious so please don’t laugh,” she pleaded with me.
I was thinking she was going to say she liked Steven.
“I won’t laugh,” I promised.
“Okay ,” she paused.
“You know my situation”
I nodded. She continued.
“I want to fix it and the only way is marriage as I have no relatives here”
She paused. I thought to myself “don’t tell me she found someone to marry already?”
She continued. “I have been thinking about it and what you said about being careful. I don’t want to make a mistake so would you consider marrying me to help me get a green card. I would pay you back when I become a doctor.”
I almost drove off the road. I glanced at her face as I continued driving. She was serious.
I was speechless.
Donesha was staring at me awaiting a response.
I have a girlfriend. She would not approve of it.
No you don’t. I never heard you mention one before.
I do. she lives in New York’
What’s her name
“Dionne,” I replied. I was going to use Sue’s friend Dionne as my imaginary girlfriend. She lived in New York so it was a believable story.
“Ooh” she said deflated, “Forget I ever asked”.
She exited the car with her shoulders slouched. She looked sad as I watched her walk to her apartment building.
I knew exactly how she felt. It was the feeling of hopelessness. It was the feeling of being an illegal alien.