Someone Lost, Something Gained



Veda steps closer to the pole so the drunken man can pass. The odour of tequila and rum follow him, a noxious cloud that announces he’s a few too many drinks past his limit. It’s not even four-thirty, and he’s barely able to stand without swaying. He stumbles and drops into a seat toward the back, and Veda exchanges a look with the woman sitting there.

The past three days have been incredibly long. Clarissa somehow found out about Veda calling Ms Cortes’s daughter. Veda spent twenty minutes being reprimanded and threatened with a write-up if it happened again. Lyle had been Veda’s saviour: He had warned her about their boss’s ire, disappearing immediately after. It gave her the chance to pretend to be sufficiently contrite about her actions.

She doesn’t regret phoning Belinda Cortes, though. How can she, after seeing the two women trying to bridge the gap between themselves. Ms Cortes fell asleep that night still smiling, and Belinda had searched for Veda to thank her for putting her nose in their business. Both women knew it was against protocol - the nurses should have done it, not the woman in charge of getting insurance information.

Veda sighs, pushing her way through the crowd to the stairs. The city air outside isn’t much better, but at least there’s space between her and the next body. She makes her way down the pavement, weaving around clusters of people not wanting to actually make her trek home any less cumbersome.

Her feet ache in her shoes, legs ready to collapse from underneath her. Today was busier than Veda had expected when she woke up this morning. More patients, more paperwork, more running all over the hospital to find the people she needed. And she knows tomorrow is going to be just as bad, just in a different way. Clarissa hadn’t looked thrilled with it, but she had assigned Veda to filing paperwork instead of interacting with patients.

“Hi, Miss Veda!”

Veda smiles, stopping just outside of the circle of children, and crouches down to be on their level. “Hey, guys. What’cha playin’?”

“Jacks!” Xavier Porter holds up the blue rubber ball. “Wanna try?”

“No, thanks. I’ve never been very good at that game.”

“Neither is Nelly, but she still plays.”

Nelly Marion squawks indignantly, launching herself at the ten-year-old with all the force she can manage, and Veda bites back a laugh even as she gently pushes the child back onto her rear. Louisa rolls her eyes at her sister’s behaviour, ever as patient as a preteen can be. Carlos Riviera yanks the ball from Xavier’s hand.

“Hey, Miss Veda, who was that boy?” Jamie asks as she scribbles on the pavement with chalk.

“What boy?”

“The one who came over. With the puppy.”

“Oh.” Veda pauses, stares down at her hands. “He’s a friend.”

“A boyfriend?” Louisa singsongs, and the other kids make gagging noises.

Veda can’t help it; she giggles and pokes the twelve-year-old’s nose. “No, Louisa, just a friend. He came over ‘cause I was sad.”

“Mommy said you’d be sad for a while,” announces Nelly, and Veda turns her attention onto her. “She said your grandpa died and you’d be sad and we should help make you feel better.”

If it was physically possible, Veda would melt into a puddle at that. She knew that contrary to most of the country’s opinion, New Yorkers can be some of the warmest, most generous people around. But hearing that the people on her block are actively wanting to help her through this is different. She swallows against the tears, smiling slightly.

“Thanks, Nelly. I appreciate it. You lot are doing a great job at that. But I’m gonna go home now. See you tomorrow.”

“Bye, Miss Veda!”

Veda groans as she forces herself to stand upright. An unpleasant tingling spreads through her feet and ankles, reminding her that she has been bustling about for ten hours without much of a break. Even her lunch-hour had been spent walking with Lyle and Marina to a food truck a few blocks away. She sighs but heads toward home.

Voices of the neighbours hover over the street, overlapping languages and tones and accents muddling in the air, and Veda knows she’s home. This will always be her home. Granddad gave her a place to grow, and she plans on dying here. Just like he did. She reaches the top of her stoop and turns to stare at the people she’s grown up knowing and loving.

The Costa family across the street, Nonna and the grandchildren who are always around; the Nadirs next door; the Marions and Porters and Mister Thompson and Miss Sylvia, Catalina Riviera and Carlos, and dozens of other faces that have been a part of her history since Veda was a child. This eclectic, mix-matched group of people have shared their cultures and their lives with Veda and each other. Veda knows she’d not be who she is without Granddad and the families that make up the neighbourhood.

She leaves the front door open once she steps into the house. Fresh air can only do some good, force out the staleness that has lingered since she lost Granddad. The screen door closes behind her, settling into place with a soft clacking sound. Toeing off her trainers, Veda drops her bag to the floor just inside the entryway and limps toward the kitchen. A long soak in a hot bath is on the agenda, but right now, she needs a cold drink and to get off her feet. Veda grabs a soda from the fridge before heading back to the living room.

With a sigh, she drops onto the couch. The tension leaves her body almost immediately, arms going limp as she practically melts into the cushions. The breeze flows through the house, leaving cool air in its wake, bringing with it the sound of children laughing and the occasional car. Footsteps pound up steps, disrupt the otherwise routine noises of late-afternoon existence. She peels her eyes open when someone knocks on the screen door.

“Veda? You around?”

“What’s up, Tommy?”

The teenager opens the door, stepping inside, and smiles apologetically. “Hey, sorry, but can I use your toilet? Becky’s taking a shower, and we all know she takes forever.”

“You know where it is. Grab a Coke before you leave if you want. Just don’t tell your ma you got it from me.”

“You’re the fucking best.”

“Quarter in the swear jar.”

“You cuss more’n I do!” Tommy calls over his shoulder as he bolts up the stairs.

Veda huffs out a tired laugh, lets her head drop to the back of the couch. She thought that sitting here would help ease the aching in her legs and feet, but all it’s done is made her less inclined to move at all. The peaceful fog that envelops her is alluring, a siren song that beckons for her to slip into the darkness that sleeping provides.

Unfortunately, that desire is dispelled by Tommy coming back down the stairs, his trainers slamming against each step. Veda stifles a sigh and pushes herself to sit upright. Tommy doesn’t spare her a second glance as he dances toward the kitchen, and Veda wonders what music he’s hearing inside that head of his.

“Thanks, Veda,” he says, holds the Coke aloft, and she shrugs.

“Hey, toss me my phone. It’s in the side pocket of my bag.”

He does then waves goodbye, slipping out onto the stoop. Veda winces when the screen door bangs against its frame, but she focuses on unlocking the device.

From: Niall
> I really don’t want to work tonight . Someone kept me awake for most of today.

To: Niall
< I’m so so sorry for taking a whole hour to reply.

< And I’m sorry that David Barkie wouldn’t let you sleep. I’d have taken him for the day if I hadn’t had to work.

< Hope you have a better night than the day I’ve had today

From: Niall
> What happened ?

To: Niall
< Boss found out I did something that’s technically against the rules and chewed my ass out for it. Now I’m “on watch” and will be written up if I do it again.

From: Niall
> Oh no .

> I’m sorry that you got in trouble . What did you do ?

To: Niall
< I called a patient’s daughter because the patient wanted to see a familiar face and repair their relationship. Evidently, that’s highly frowned upon when you’re only meant to be getting their insurance information.

From: Niall
> How much trouble are you in?

To: Niall
< Not enough to make me regret it lol.

< But since I’ve been on my feet since seven this morning, I’m gonna grab some dinner then go to bed early. Have a good night at work. And if you ever need someone to watch the pup so you can sleep, I’ll do it (if I don’t have to work, obviously)

From: Niall
> Thanks Ve-Veda . Sleep well

Veda smiles to herself and sets her phone aside. She has friends. Of course she does. One doesn’t make it to their mid-twenties without making at least one. But there’s something about Niall that’s different. Maybe it’s because she met him during a tumultuous time and started latching onto the sense of normalcy that he exuded. Whatever it is, she is not going to question it.

She doesn’t manage to get dinner or even up the stairs to her bed. Veda just stretches out on the couch and closes her eyes. Five minutes, that’s all she needs. Just five more minutes of not moving. She falls asleep before the five minutes are up.