Somewhere in North Carolina. Morningtime. I heard loud salsa music in our hotel hallway. I could hear it through the walls, rattling all 12 of my molars. I exited our room to see a girl outside one of the open rooms. She was maybe 11 or 12. Bronze skin, eyes the color of Folgers. She wore ratty clothes and her shoes were old. She was vacuuming, singing with the music.
“Morning,” she said as I walked by.
“Hi,” I said, speaking over the din of the Tijuana Brass.
Inside the open room was another maid, older, wearing a gray hotel uniform. The woman barked something at the child in Español. I had no idea what the woman was saying, but I know the tone of an aggravated mom when I hear one.
“Turn it down!” the woman finally said in broken English.
The girl ignored her mother and turned to me. “Do you have everything you need, sir?”
I nodded. “I’m good, thank you.”
“Is the music too loud?” the mother asked me point-blankly.
The girl looked at me. The mother looked at me.
I felt like was about to be be executed.
“No,” I lied. “It’s not loud.”
I bid them goodbye as they argued in rapid-fire Spanish behind me.
I walked through the hotel hallway, on my way to peruse the dregs on the continental breakfast buffet. I was hoping to find at least one strip of bacon that wasn’t the same grit and texture of a Goodyear all-season tire.
On my way, I passed the hotel’s laundry facility. I could feel the humid heat blasting from an open doorway. The industrial machinery was churning loudly. Latino music was blaring from this room also.
Inside the laundry room were four or five young maids, cramming a few metric tons’ worth of bedsheets into washing machines. Two of the women were dancing while working. Others were singing along.
“Y el corazón!
“Y el corazón!
“No tiene cara!”
When they noticed me watching, they all laughed. Then a woman spoke to me in broken English and said, “Joo have everything joo need, sir?”
“I’m good,” I said. “Thank you.”
This pleased her. Before I walked away, they all went back to doing the Cha-Cha Slide.
When I got to the dining room, an elderly Latina woman was clearing the remains of the alleged breakfast buffet. Breakfast was over, and she was —surprise—listening to peppy music.
The woman was gray and bent, sort of bobbing her ancient hips in time with the music. When she saw me, she spoke with a thick accent. “You no eat a breakfast yet, señor?”
“No, ma’am,” I said. “I no eat a breakfast.”
She smiled her tooth at me.
“Wait here,” she said. “I get you some.”
With that, the woman found a plate and wandered back into the kitchen. She piled my plate high. The mound of eggs alone could have interfered with commercial air traffic. Before I left, the woman popped the famous question of the day:
“You have everything you need, sir?”
I nodded. “Sí,” said I, thereby exhausting my knowledge of the Spanish idiom.
On my way back to my room, I deboarded the elevator and passed the little girl again. She was still vacuuming, still listening to her music at a nuclear volume. When her mother saw me coming down the hall she made an observation.
“How’re you gonna eat your food, sir?”
I was a little confused. “I’m sorry?”
She nodded to the plate in my hands. “Where’s your fork and knife?”
The woman had a point. I had forgotten my utensils downstairs.
The woman barked at her daughter. The girl rolled her eyes and reached into her janitorial cart to remove plastic-wrapped utensils and a few napkins.
“Here,” she said with a smile.
And I could feel it coming.
“You have everything you need, sir?” the girl’s mother said.
And I think this is when it finally hit me. The cheerful maids had been asking me this seemingly simple question all morning, and I had been answering them like a big dumb Norte Americano hotel guest, thinking we were talking about tiny shampoos and fresh towels.
But the woman’s words struck me differently this time. Somewhere deep inside myself I realized that, yes, even though life isn’t perfect; even though the act of living will break your heart; even though life kicks your teeth in and bills you for the damage; yes, just for today, I have everything I need.
“I’m good,” I answered the woman. “What about you, do you have everything YOU need?”
She laughed once. “I need nothing, sir,” she said. She nodded to her daughter. “I already have everything.”
Dear God, when I die, let me come back as a Latina woman.