Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve

“Go talk to your professors, do something. The entire

summer you worked for the university and they paid you

nothing,” she wiped her tears.


“I owe them for the tuition of the last two semesters.”


“Talk to the Foreign Students Advisor. Tell her we’ve

two small kids, they need food. How could we pay for the

formula?”


“I already talked to her. She said that’s the university

policy. If there is a balance, they garnish my income.”


“They do what to your income?”


“Garnish, I looked it up in dictionary. It means they

decorate my paycheck. She said I wouldn’t graduate if all

debts are not paid in full.”


“So, why are they holding your paychecks? You’re not

skipping town. Where do you go without your diploma?

Did you tell her this summer you’ll go to Chicago to drive a

cab? Tell her you’ll save two thousand dollars and pay off

your debts.” she was carving out the rotten parts of the

potatoes.


“Listen honey. They don’t care about our problems.

We’ll be lucky if they don’t increase the foreign students’

tuition before I graduate. They’re planning to have three

different types, In-State, Out-of-State and Out-of- Country

tuition.”


“I’m not worried about two years from now. How can we

survive this winter?” she shrieked.


He took a deep breath, “Well, don’t keep your hopes

high but maybe I can get a job during this Christmas

break,” he restrained his excitement.


“Doing what? How much do they pay?” Her eyes shone.


“The minimum wage is $1.60 per hour. This guy has

work for two full weeks. He got a contract from the

university to clean up the brushes and broken trees on

campus roads. The heavy snow knocked down so many. ”


“Oh, that’s perfect. If you work eight hours a day for

two weeks, you’ll make $128.” she was punching numbers

on the calculator.


“Before school starts, I can make enough to pay for

the next month’s rent.”


“We’ll still have $38 left,” she said. “You know that Aida’

s birthday is on Christmas day, don’t you?” she added.


“How can I forget? Everyone in this country celebrates

our daughter’s birthday.” he grinned.


“Who is this guy? I hope he doesn’t change his mind

the last minute like the last guy who wanted to hire you.

We need this money. ” her words blended with the steam

coming out of the boiling pot.


“He lives here in our complex, in building K. Do you

remember the blonde girl you were talking to in the

laundry room the other day?”


“The one who was asking about our kids?”


“Yes, that’s his wife. Her husband’s name is Bruce.

They’re both from Topeka. He said they were High School

sweethearts. Whatever the heck that means. Americans

have names for everything.” he said.


“They got married last year. She loves to have children

but her husband wants them to wait for both to finish

school first. She’s just a junior,” she pensively added.


“When he told me about this job, he once mentioned

the work permit. But I don’t think it’s a big deal.”


“Is he in your class?”


“Yeah, in my Fluid Mechanics class. He’s graduating

next semester though. I can’t believe this guy. He’s too

prudent, always nervous about something. He pays in-

state tuition which is almost half of what I pay per

semester and he receives federal grants and a student

loan. He has no expenses until he graduates, already

had a few job interviews and received two job offers so

far. He’s still worried about his future. Life is so easy for

American students,” his gaze was fixated on their sleeping

children.


“What do we do for a Christmas tree? Kids love to

have one decorated,” she asked.


“Look! Look out the window woman. Why do you think

God has planted so many trees right in our backyard?

Tonight I’ll cut a nice small one,” he said.


“Didn’t you see the notice in the laundry about

destruction of university properties? There’s a $50 fine if

they catch you,” she sighed.


“Don’t worry my dear. Law does not apply to us, we’re

not from Kansas. Why do you think I’m paying Out-Of-

Sate rate for my education? The penalty for cutting trees

is already included in my tuition,” he grinned.


“Just be careful please.”


“Where is the Christmas box full of ornaments we

bought from the garage sale in summer?” he asked.


“I can’t believe we paid only fifty cents for the whole

box. It’s under the bed. I looked inside it the other day. It

has everything, lights, candy canes, frosted balls, a

chubby Santa figurine and a shiny gold star for the top.”

She was excited.

“The kids will be so surprised in the morning to see the

blinking lights on the tree,” she continued.


“You see. There’s always hope,” he said.


“We’re running out of milk,” her voice suddenly

muffled.


“Tomorrow, after the exam, I’ll walk to the Safe-Way to

get milk. The car broke again.”


“How far is it?” she asked.


“It should be about five miles to get there and come

back. It’s on the other side of campus. The walk is not

long but the damn wind is intolerable. Oh, I hate Kansas

winters.”


“How much does it cost to fix the car?” she wanted to

subtract this expense from his paycheck.


“If I take it to this mechanic shop at five in the morning

before his boss shows up, he will do it for $25. The timing

belt is out.”


“It’s leaking oil too,” she said.


“That’s too expensive to fix.”


“But It’s so embarrassing, oil is dripping everywhere in

the parking lot.”


“Yes, but the mess is covered by fresh snow every

day, isn’t it? God is on our side. You see, usually drivers

pull into a gas station and ask the attendant to fill up the

gas tank and check the oil. We just need to say the

opposite, please fill up the oil and check the gas.” They

burst in laughter.


“We don’t have much cheese and cereal either,” she

sighed.


“For cheese, juice and cereal, we have to wait until the

first of the month to get our WIC checks.”


“Can’t we get Food Stamps?”


“You wish. That’s for citizens. But I have good news for

you. I heard there is a church on the intersection of Yuma

and Juliet that gives away a loaf of Cheddar cheese to the

WIC recipients, sometimes a sack of flour too,” he said.


“I can bake bread.”


“Bread? Bread is for poor people. We’ll make Pizza

with free dough and free cheese.


“Pizza needs Mozzarella cheese dummy.”


“You’re very particular! Believe me sharp cheddar

would be just fine,” he smiled.


“I guess so. Kids don’t know the difference. They love

pizza.”


Two days later, he took the last exams and the fall

semester ended. The entire week before Christmas, he

worked on campus roads removing broken limbs,

shoveling snow and cleaning isles. And at home, the little

Christmas tree never failed to dazzle the kids. The lights

constantly blinked red, blue and green. The chubby Santa

on the limb bobbed his head to left and right and the lucky

star sparkled in the dark at night.

On Christmas Eve when he finished the work, Bruce

was leaning on his truck waiting for him. “I’m sorry man, I

can’t pay you, believe me I didn’t know this but I was told

foreign students on F-1 visa are not allowed to work for

private employers; you can only work for the university. I

don’t want to get in trouble by paying you,” he spit the

black chewed tobacco out on the snow before getting in

the truck.


Suddenly the cold wind slapped him, he was numb.

Words froze on his tongue.


Before driving off, Bruce said, “At the end of January,

when I get my paycheck, the university pays you forty five

dollars for this week after 25% deduction for income tax of

course. I’m sorry man but I can’t pay you on my own, that’

s against the law.”


He walked home on slippery sidewalks in the dusk. The

bitter cold pierced through his shabby coat. His head sunk

to his chest breathing inside and counting the number of

pizzas he had to deliver to make ends meet this month.

Where do I get twenty five dollars to fix the car and who

orders pizza on Christmas Break anyway? The school is

closed, most student leave the town for holidays. The

bone chilling thoughts marred his mind. Christmas was

tomorrow.


He entered the Safe-Way Grocery Store preoccupied

with his daughter’s second birthday and wandered

aimlessly in the isles checking prices. As he darted out of

the store looking down to avoid eye contacts; a few

moments later he was frozen in place by a strong hand

tapping on his shoulder.


The huge store manager searched his pockets and

two small birthday candles and a little tube of cherry flavor

cake icing were all he found.