I was embarrassed to tell my boyfriend’s parents I was out of work again. It had been a year and I was on welfare, but at least I had love in my life. Richie, my boyfriend, just got a job as a public relations officer at the University of Toronto. He had been looking for a long time and was feeling lucky. When his parents came into town one mild January weekend for his birthday, we all decided to go down to Niagara Falls to the casinos. Gambling had never been my thing, but going was the only present I could afford for him.
The line into the casino was long, even for January. With my laugh lines no longer coming out just when I laughed, I figured I would have no problem getting in.
“You’re ID, please,” a man with arms as big as my legs asked me.
“I forgot it in the car.”
“You have to be 18 to get in, miss.”
“I’m more than 18. I’m 32.”
“I need to see ID.”
Richie and his parents whispered to me it was no problem for us to go back to the car, but I shook my head.
“Look, I don’t even want to gamble. I don’t even have any money on me,” I showed him my empty wallet. “Plus, I am 32, turning 33 April 19th. My name is Afro and my parents called me that because Cornell University’s Afro-American society seized the Student Union that day. Plus, I remember just turning 10 and watching the volcano Soufriere in St. Vincent erupting on CBC, the only channel we could get.”
The other bouncer at the door, who happened to be a black woman, came up and looked at me closely.
“I remember both those things. Oh yeah, Steve, let her in.”
“I’ve never even heard about that.” He smiled at me and stepped aside.
We all went into a colourful and smoky wonderland, the casino.
“Af, I’m going to win big, I can feel it,” Richie said as we stood in line to get our coins. His parents already got their coins and were off to gamble.
“Just calm down, Rich. These places are money pits. My mother has always said there’s nothing like good, honest work to gain money, and you have that now.”
“I know baby, but I want to win big. God, let me be lucky tonight,” he said looking up at the chandeliered ceiling.
Richie was going to spend a $100 on those silly coins and I convinced him to only start with $20.
We walked around the casino trying to find an empty slot machine. Neither of us knew the card games well enough to play at those tables. I could not help but think how pathetic these people looked. Some people had two buckets of coins and their leg draped over the chair beside them so they could play two slot machines at once. At the same time, they would have a cigarette perched on their watering lips.
Richie and I finally found a slot machine and he plugged in three coins with no success, then he moved on to the next one. We kept doing this for about 10 minutes before I told him I was tired of flitting around this crowded place like a leaf in the wind.
We rested beside this old black woman who I noticed had American quarters in her bucket. As Richie played, I watched. I wondered where the black woman found the money to waste. I hoped she was not using her social security to pay for her gambling habit. I believed if I stripped down naked, this older woman or even Richie would notice at this moment. The focus people had while playing their games amazed me.
“Damn, baby. I lost everything.”
I started to laugh. “I told you not to gamble.
Well, don’t cry. At least it’s only $20 and not a $100.”
Richie and I met up with his parents at the exit, had dinner at a diner since no one had money for anything more than that, and we drove back home.
My first thought when I woke up in the morning was I could not wait to get out of the room I was renting in Little India, east of Toronto, so I could move in with Richie like we had planned. I would need a job first. Then the phone rang.
“Hello, Afro speaking.” I was so used to working in offices I still answered the phone like that.
“Hi Afro, it’s John.”
“John?” I was trying to place the voice.
“John, from the temp agency.”
“Oh, John, how are you?”
“Fine, Afro. Do you have a job, yet?” Just like John to get down to business.
“Well, I have good news. There’s an assignment in Yorkville that starts tomorrow with a property management firm.”
“Really?” I was grinning now.
“Yes. Can you start tomorrow?”
“Yes, what time?”
He hesitated and I could hear him shuffling papers. “Be there by nine o’clock sharp. They need you for a week, but the last time they took a girl from this agency a week turned into three years and she left because she found a better job.”
John told me about the money and reminded me to fill out my timecards that were gathering dust in my desk. I hung up the phone excited. I would be making $500 a week, almost as much as I made on welfare in a month. I spent the day doing laundry for my good clothes, shining my shoes, dusting off my office purse, making my lunch for tomorrow and Richie treated me to dinner.
The next day I showed up at the office 15 minutes before nine. I could have been there earlier, but there was a 20 minute delay on the subway. I lived in the east end and it took almost an hour to get to Yorkville. I did not mind, I had a job now.
I walked into the office knowing I looked great. I had on a navy dress with a matching blazer. The outfit was a graduation gift from my mother years ago and still fit. My legs were itching from the pantyhose, but I still grinned at the receptionist.
“Hello, my name is Afro Kingston. I’m here to see Mr. Dirch. I’m from the temp agency.”
The receptionist gave me a cold stare. “Afro? You were supposed to be here at eight.”
“Don’t look so surprised. The agency must have told you. John is completely reliable.”
“I was getting irritated with this bitch’s attitude. “Look, John must have been smoking crack or something, because he told me to come at nine.”
Before the bitch could pick up the phone that was ringing she said I could leave, now.
I walked around Yorkville looking at all the things I could not afford, and looking like I could afford them. Close to the shopping mall, Hazelton Lanes, I passed by a sign for a fortuneteller. Satisfaction guaranteed it read.
I took a deep breath and let it out heavily. I needed to know where my life was going. It had been almost a year now I had been on welfare since I lost my job as a sales associate at The Bay. I left to follow my ex-boyfriend to Thailand and blew all my money on that trip. He lost the job promised to him there, and we broke up soon after that. I came back to Canada with my tail between my legs and a sexual disease that is not fatal but would rather not mention. The dog was playing around all along.
I walked into the psychic’s place without even realizing what I was doing.
This beautiful tall blonde woman greeted me. “I’m Brenda.”
“Are you the psychic?”
“Yes, my dear. What are you looking for? Crystal ball, tarot cards, palm reading, runes…I can help with anything you prefer.”
“What’s the cheapest thing?” I asked by reflex.
“We have a $40 special on our full tarot readings. You can ask any questions you want. It lasts about an hour.”
Well, I had nowhere to rush off to, except a cramped room and roaches to feed.
“I’ll take that.”
“Fine, let’s go back to this private room here.”
We went behind a curtain and Brenda spent the next hour talking to me more than me asking questions. She knew about my ex-boyfriend, and my trip abroad. She knew I was having financial problems and was on social assistance. She also knew I had another love in my life and was struggling to get a job so we could get property together.
“I wanted to tell you stuff in your past and present so you know I’m for real,” said Brenda. “But, you must understand, it’s difficult to see your future because there is such a dark cloud around you. There is a lot of negativity around you and jealousy. God has guided me to you today to improve your life.”
I got chills when she said the word God. “You can improve my life?”
“We can do it together. You try to do everything yourself. You need help, Afro. And I believe in karma. The good I do for you will come back to me three-fold. And the good you will be able to do for others in the future, which I do see, will come back to you three-fold.”
“Is this going to cost me anything?”
“Well,” said Brenda while punching on a calculator. “I need to buy the materials and give you a special bath and candle burning to do for three days to clear you’re aura.”
I sat silent thinking about how much I could afford. I only had $350 in my bank account. I needed that for rent. But I was getting another cheque coming soon.
“It would cost $350.”
“I don’t have that kind of money,” I said in shock. “Well, I do, but I need it for rent.”
“Well, how much do you think you can afford?”
“Well I have to have some money in the bank for emergencies. I am getting another welfare cheque in a week.”
Brenda smiled. “Well, how about I make it $350 for the reading and for the psychic work and materials I will have to do for you. I guarantee you, you will get results. You’re life will turn around. It will be like having money in the bank.”
“Well, I don’t have that kind of money on me. Do you have an Interac machine”
“No, but I’ll wait for you, there are banks around here.”
I left Brenda’s place and walked to my bank on Bloor. The man in front of me was taking a long time and I was thinking about changing my mind before I was stunned when the man turned around.
“Afro! You’re back from Thailand?”
“Things didn’t work out there.”
“That’s too bad, Afro.”
Mark was my ex-boss at The Bay.
“How are things at The Bay?”
“Great. We’re really expanding. We have a new home decorating section you would be perfect in, but it looks like you already have a job.”
My eyes bugged. “No, Mark, I don’t have a job.”
“Really, Afro. We have an orientation for new workers in the decorating section tomorrow, and we’re short one person who didn’t show up for the interview. Are you interested?”
“I’ll be there as long as you care.”
Mark laughed. “I do care, Af.” He patted me on the arm. “Good to have you back.”
I went to the bank machine any ways and took out $20 so I could treat myself to lunch.
Later that day, I called my mother who had retired in St. Vincent. I told her about my experience with the psychic and how it made me blush to think I chastised Richie for gambling $20 after almost gambling with tarot for $350 myself.
“You know, Afro-sheen, there are no quick fixes, only ups and downs you can’t avoid. Even the true fool knows that.”