Remnants of dark lipstick clinged to her lips, colored in the same color as the veins of her blood shot eyes. She squinted on the screen. Typing steadily on the keyboard in a vacant office, the only sound was her persistent working and occasional sighs. That is, until the automatic light went off, and she let out a harsh grunt before she stamped over to the switch and hammered the light back on. Then she sustained the writing, unphased. A report had to be done by next week, and she refused to stop working now. Just because it was New Years Eve. Not a chance she would stop now. She had held a talk two weeks earlier, and there she had promised that the report would be ready by the turn of the year. The urgency was real. The expectations were unceasing. Her reputation, her job, her life, was at stake. She wrote. How many that would read the report, let alone care about whether it was published at the turn of the year, she did think about.
The vacancy of sound in the office was for a moment interrupted by the distant humming of an airplane. From the window and up to the atmosphere, a red and yellow airplane flew through the night sky. In the pilot seat sat a woman with a helmet and a microphone stretched to the brim of her cracked lips.
“We expect to land in about three hours and forty-five minutes. There may be some turbulence in about five minutes as we breach the cloud layer – nothing to worry about at all. I wish you a pleasant ride and a happy new year,” she said. Her voice carried on into the cabin and intertwined with passengers who read books, solved crossword puzzles, stared at movies on the screen in front of them and slept with their mouths open. It was a light, pleasant, non-judging and professional voice. She knew it, because she had practiced it. Hours listening to her own voice to make it perfect. Perfect work for those stuck on an airplane on New Year’s Eve. But nobody cared. And she didn’t consider the fact that she, too, was stuck on an airplane on New Year’s Eve.
The pilot lady, for a brief moment, caught sight of a hospital below her. Inside the white brick walls were a woman who had said yes to work on New Year’s Eve because she was convinced the patients needed her. And she was not all wrong. She jogged from room to room, wiping up puke, calming down patients with anxiety attacks, emptying buckets, slicing bread, administering colorful pills in glasses. She talked with the ones who were insecure and afraid, she held their hands when the too early fireworks exploded, she stroked young girls over their heads and changed pants on old men. We are all slowly marching towards decay, she thought as she cleaned half-eaten lasagna from adorned plates. No other thought was allowed to interfere with her work, because she quickly had to move on to the next patient. As she passed a window, she peeked down at a shadow by the road, sweeping her broom over the asphalt.
The woman sweeping the streets on New Year’s Eve had moved here from Afghanistan. Her hair was covered in a shawl. Deep unrested rings rested under her eyes. Although she knew she had better be at home to look after the kids, she also knew that she had to make money – the debt was too big and the expenses too dire to not earn money. Guilt consumed her as she swept the street that now had a topping of shimmering, elastic paper straps and ribbons in sparkling yellow and blue, wrapped in empty beer cans. A guilt-ridden thought brushed her mind: Who would appreciate her efforts? No room for such complaint. “God”, she thought, and pushed the thought away.
As she picked up an empty beer can by the handle and squeezed it into the way too full garbage bag, she noticed a car driving by. It was a taxi. Inside the taxi sat a woman with her hands clasped on the steering wheel, surveying the half-empty city. Soon the clock would pass twelve and the telephones would activate. One address after another. Starting the car uphill in puddles, traffic lights that were somehow always red, people arguing in the back seat, throwing up on their hands, bad singing, starting an endless wave of talk, flirting. She furrowed her brows and bit her teeth hard together. Her knuckles were white against the black leather of the steering wheel. After a night out as a taxi driver, her head always ached from biting her teeth so hard. The first phone number lit up on the screen in her car, and she pushed the green telephone button.
“We need a lift,” a dark voice in the other end stipulated.
“Where to?” the woman answered softly through gritted teeth. Soon the clock would strike, and it made no difference. What was one day to another? One year to another?
As she stopped by a traffic light with the rhythm of the man’s voice in her ear, another car slipped in beside her. It was a police car. Momentarily, before the light turned green, the taxi-drivers’ gaze met the gaze of the woman in the police car. She looked exhausted. Her hair was messy, her eyes slightly swollen, her lips in a pout. The policewoman knew there would be a lot to do tonight. She had already been to three different places to address noise, attacks, threats – one person had so far been taken into custody. And this was just the beginning. People didn’t listen to reason, especially not on New Years’ Eve. The world was full of people who didn’t know how to take care of either themselves or others, who thought they deserved more than others but didn’t lift a finger to get it. Talking reason with them only made them angry. It was indeed exhausting, she thought as the light went green and she drove on, but if she didn’t do it, she was convinced the world would go under.
Like industrious ants, the ladies marched on all around the city while the clock ticked twelve and the fireworks shot up, exploding in the semi-clouded night sky into spectacular flowers. Or bombs. None of the ladies noticed. The report had one more perfect sentence, the airplane breached the turbulent clouds seamlessly, a crying girl ceased her nervousness for a moment as she got a head massage, for about thirty meters the streets were trash-free, a man and his three drunk buddies entered a taxi car, and the police sirens suddenly flipped on. Another minute, another hour, another year. White knuckles and cracked lips, tense shoulders, headaches and swollen eyes. Between making food, cleaning, giving birth and raising children, exercising bodies, managing expectations to happiness, cupcakes and Instagram, curtains, jogging, fixing ties and tires, boiling rice, hanging up clothes – they skillfully worked. Under the umbrella of equality, thousands of resourceful women marched. They stood in front of whiteboards, pointing out the strategy for the future, producing and reproducing in perpetual harmony.
At best, you admire them, and worst, you feel threatened by them. Those amazing women who transgressed the weekday like soldiers. Standing tall and broad shouldered against the perfection requirement. Even as the fireworks died down, these women worked on. The darkness once again settled on the city, inviting a cold breeze in the remnants of smoky fireworks. Suddenly, for a second, the women could feel their lips quivering. They all lifted their heads to that dim new year, dreadfully aware of one hopeless fact.
No matter how hard they worked, no matter how much they achieved, no matter how far they got – they would never truly deserve love.