|It was after 6pm. I was tired and heading home after working a twelve hour day at the office. On my way to the door I passed our cleaning lady, Maria. She waved and motioned for me to stop. I smiled. How could I turn down Maria? We had recently become casual acquaintances. She was old enough to be my grandmother, probably in her early 60’s. Each day I would see her in the break-room around 3pm. We conversed, which was slightly amusing, because she spoke very little English, and I spoke very little Spanish. But still, we communicated in our own special way.
While she went into her supply closet, I waited in the hallway, a little impatiently, really wanting to get home after a long day. She came back out of the closet with a folded piece of newspaper in her hands. She unfolded it and pointed to a picture in the Obituaries Section. I glanced down at a black and white photo of a Hispanic woman, and then back to Maria. Her expression was intense and it was apparent that she knew this woman. But I did not.
“I don’t know who this is. Was this a friend of yours?”
In her broken English she answered me, “She work here. You see her.”
I shook my head. I did not know this woman.
Maria pushed the newspaper at me, pointing to the picture again, and so I took it and read the obituary. Her name was Rosa. She was 39. She had no children…no survivors. She died of an illness.
I stared hard at the photograph and slowly began to recognize this woman. She had been another cleaning lady at our building and although we had never met, I recalled seeing her on a few occasions.
I looked back at Maria, “Yes, I do remember her.”
She just nodded and then blurted out, “She no come to work…last week. I say, ‘Dónde está Rosa?’ I call her, Teléfono...” Her voice trailed off, and then her eyes began to tear up.
I felt slightly uncomfortable, unsure what to say or do. People were passing by, staring, but not stopping in their obvious hurry to get out the door.
Maria continued, struggling for the right words, “No familia…she have no one. She have nobody.”
The tears really started flowing then as she shook her head.
Suddenly it didn’t matter that I was in a hurry. Time just stopped for a second. Something changed in me, and my heart went out to Maria. I just wanted to console her, to be there for her. I reached my hand out and patted her shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered and gave her a hug while she continued to cry.
We both looked down at the paper in her hands.
“Mi amiga…I gonna miss her,” she said softly.
We stood there in silence.
After a long pause, she finally said to me, “You go…I okay…vete a casa”
She seemed slightly embarrassed by her emotional display, but grateful to have somebody to tell about her friend. I told her goodbye and again said that I was sorry.
I walked away slowly, deep in thought, no longer in a rush to get out the door. As I drove home, I couldn’t stop thinking about my encounter with Maria. I thought about how I never would have known about her friend had she not told me. No one else would remember Rosa. I couldn’t help but to wonder if the same thing happened to Maria, whether or not people would notice her absence. Would I be the only one who would miss her?