Lost in Translation: A Short Story. The Authors Collection.
April 7, 2014
The first time that Anna Marie placed her pinkie with its Braziliant orange polish on the scale of justice, it was just a spur-of-the-moment impulse.
The judge asked a 72-year-old woman how much it cost to replace her possessions stolen from the curbside. Her landlord, desperate to sell his apartment building to a shopping mall developer, had illegally evicted her while she was visiting relatives in Los Angeles.
The woman shrugged, looked at the courtroom ceiling and told Anna Marie, “Two thousand dollars.” She spoke only Tagalog with a heavy accent that Anna Marie guessed originated from Mindoro Island in the Philippines.
“She says, ‘Four thousand dollars,’” Anna Marie reported to the judge who had abandoned any effort to conceal his anger at the landlord of the property. It had already been established that the run-down building in question was infested with rats, known drug dealers and broken plumbing that the landlord charged his tenants to fix.
When the elderly woman studied the hastily-written check carried across the courtroom by the baliff, she looked up at Anna Marie with a puzzled expression on her face. Everyone else busily gathered their papers. Anna Marie glanced toward the rear of the courtroom. She flicked five of her orange nails at the exit to the hallway. The woman stashed the check deep in her massive purse and gave Anna Marie only a small nod as she limped past on her swollen legs.
The second time Anna Marie redirected justice in her capacity as court interpreter, she was translating for a man in his 40s who had molested his 15-year-old niece while living with her family in Daly City. He had already served 60 days in jail and the judge was going to release him on the condition that he find a new place to live and stay at least 400 yards away from his niece and her home. The niece and her family were returning to the Philippines in two months.
“Yes. Yes. I will do that,” the man told Anna Marie after she explained the stay-away requirement. They both stood at the defendant’s table in the courtroom. The public defender was on her other side. “But I would like to fuck you instead. I promise to make you howl like a dog in heat.” He said it in Tagalog without changing his tone or expression, as if he was describing what he had eaten for breakfast.
Anna Marie blushed and grasped the edge of the table in front of her with fingers painted with Pink Flamenco. She fought the urge to walk across the courtroom to put some distance between her and the defendant. She took a moment to compose herself, glancing surreptitiously around the courtroom while everyone watched her.
No one would know. She knew the defendant’s command of English was poor.
“He says…” she began. “He says…he is unsure he can make himself stay away.”
The judge digested the news. Then, he tapped his gavel.
“He won’t have to,” he said. “Another 70 days should do it. Please return the defendant to the county jail.”
Anna Marie Ramos couldn’t remember living anywhere else other than her three-bedroom house in San Leandro, California. She had spent so much time in the neighborhood Safeway shopping with her mother that she could close her eyes and see the items, aisle by aisle. When they passed the candy section, her mother always reminded her of the time when Anna Marie, aged five, clung to a shelf for half an hour before her father pried her fingers loose and dragged her home.
“The Milk Dud protest,” her mother would say with a wistful smile.
Anna Marie moved with her family from their home in a village on Luzon Island that was a two-hour drive from Manila to the United States when she was two. Her mother had been a nurse as long as Anna Marie could remember, moving from hospital to hospital before settling at the Kaiser clinic in nearby Oakland. Her father helped grow his brother’s landscaping business into a thriving operation with 14 employees and four pickup trucks.
While her family merged quickly into American life, some traditions survived. There was Saturday dinner, traditional dishes centered on pork and chicken adobo with legions of relatives and friends. Sunday School and services attended without fail at the Filipino United Church of Christ in Union City. And Tagalog – the native language for many Filipinos, including her parents – was spoken at home.
Anna Marie’s own merger with American culture was seamless as well. Even as a child, she was popular in school.
Her status as a B-plus student survived puberty, boys, a brief bout of alcohol abuse – which had more to do with a particular boy than the booze – and high school itself. It withstood her boredom which was unseen by others but felt so profound to Anna Marie that she thought of it as an all-powerful drug trapping her in a dimension outside of what she imagined was ‘real life.’
Boys alleviated it a bit. The initial flirtation and infatuation. She enjoyed losing some sleep fantasizing about the current one of interest. And the sheer energy of their sex drive amused her. She often felt like a matador watching the beast slide past her, inflamed by the merest squeeze on a boy’s thigh, the brush of her breast against an arm or even just a seductive smile.
She usually enjoyed the sex. She had inherited her mother’s short stature and she fought – so far successfully – to avoid her plumpness. Even so, she typically felt in total control when in bed with a boy. It was like dealing with a big dog. They obeyed every command, eager to please and totally focused on the treat at the end. She often made them whine.
Anna Marie would have made a good nurse. Her mother often told her that. But nursing was nowhere in Anna Marie’s plans…as if she had any plans.
When a family friend told her about the job of court interpreter, Anna Marie couldn’t believe her good fortune. The associate degree she had just received from Merritt College, her ability to speak Tagalog and the recommendation of the friend, who worked for the presiding judge of San Francisco Superior Courts, secured the position.
She earned $35 an hour. The work was easy. She mainly had to remember to spit out her chewing gum before walking into the courtroom.
And she had time to pursue the other interest that occasionally alleviated her boredom. Fashion and beauty. Between hearings and over her lunch break, Anna Marie visited the shopping centers and smaller shops of San Francisco. She perused the boutiques but bought mainly in department stores. She favored clingy and bright colors. Always sexy, often showing skin but not quite slutty.
Makeup was her favorite. Her friends came to her both for her ability to transform their appearance as well as to see what new lip gloss, eye shadow or polish she had acquired from Lancome or Dior.
While Anna Marie was talented in the art of makeup what she really enjoyed was the small size of the items. Lipstick. Nail polish. Even blush.
They were so easy to palm or slip into a pocket. And Anna Marie did just that. Quite often. She was good at it. She had never been caught. Not even at Nordstrom with its legendary security.
To Be Continued.
Please click the book cover image to read more about Robert B. Lowe’s Megan’s Cure.