Ovule had a new manager, Joseph, whom they referred to as Officer Joe, who upon his hire came straight to the shop to “make some great changes”, one of which was the rule of not clocking in until you went to the back and put on an apron and covered your hair. Kheyali came in late, wet, with her hood on her head and no umbrella, and, still dripping, rushed to the register to punch in her employee number. The computer’s clock was several minutes behind, so not only was Kheyali lubricating her hours with her damp fingers as she tapped the numbers on the screen, she was also pulling a fast one on Officer Joe, who vowed with a smile last Thursday that he would write her up the next time she was late. Her co-worker, Jamie, stopped her, redirecting her attention to the camera in the corner that wasn’t there the last time she clocked out to go home. She looked at Jamie with widened eyes and a drop of stale rain fell on her cheek, and she headed to the back of the shop to put on a scarf and apron.
There were no customers when Kheyali got back to the register. She tapped the computer screen and entered her employee number, and in return it produced a receipt with a time that was two minutes ahead of her scheduled clock-in time. She leaned on the counter and looked up at the cameras in corners of the ceiling.
“I don’t like that,” she said to Jamie. “Joe wants to watch us now?”
“Yeah,” said Jamie, cutting a green apple.
“He acting like he didn’t just get here,”
“I don’t think it’s just him, the higher ups probably wanted them installed,”
“I don’t like being watched like that. There weren’t any cameras before, we only take card so there’s no cash to steal, I don’t get why they chose to do this now,”
“To protect their business,”
“From what?” she asked. She took her phone out of her pocket without waiting for a response that was never coming anyway, opened her favorite social media app, and got to scrolling and tapping on images of people’s faces and places those faces had been then her screen froze, and Kheyali tapped it again before her screen went black.
“Do you have a charger?” she asked Jamie.
You would think she’d learned by now how absent-minded she was when she used her mobile device, which was always; you would think she’d learned her self and prepared herself for times like this; you would think she’d learned by now but unfortunately she’d learned nothing, and now she finds herself at her register at the smoothie shop, under the euphoria of knowing of strangers and celebrities, with a dead phone and not even a charger to show for it. And god forbid she worked or gave a damn about working, because now, she thought, all she can do is gaze again through the tiny space’s huge window, past the rain that fell hard enough to return some healthy man or woman to their home as soon they left it, thinking they were going to the gym (let alone the smoothie shop) and into the windows of the building across the street.
Third from the left on the fifth floor is a window belonging to a young woman who always left it open and took many showers each day, the steam creeping outside in a pale wisp that Kheyali could vaguely see. She was not conservative by any means, for she’d caught Kheyali more than once, watching her gently scrub and lather her shoulders with a red washcloth, and if she’d seen Kheyali then she’d seen other people too, and this meant that she thoroughly enjoyed the attention from the voyeurs below, and that explained why she showered so frequently. And in her head Kheyali believed it to be fact, never considering that the attention that the bathing woman so apparently craved and enjoyed could have been evidence of and not a reason for something else, and she watched the woman confidently, safe in her distance and perceived understanding.
The seventh window from the right on the sixth floor belongs to an old woman and a shadow-black cat whose fridge is enormous–every time she walks into frame, Kheyali notices how large it is in comparison to the old woman, and she had never seen her take anything out of it besides a one gallon jug of what appears to be either nothing or water. She does see the old woman leave her house periodically, to go downstairs and meet the delivery guy from the deli a few blocks over, and Kheyali imagines she must be lonely, cooped up all day with a cat that only wants to sleep on top of the fridge, and the large smile she gives the delivery guy must be one of the few interactions with other people that the old woman has. Kheyali imagines the woman’s children, if she has any, somewhere far away from their mother, happy that their burden belongs not to them but to the cat and the deli. She wonders what she orders, it must be the same thing every day, because a woman her age couldn’t possibly seek even the remotest form of variety.
Kheyali turned back to Jamie, who was at the sink washing oranges. She pulled out her phone, and when it was still dead she looked again at the cameras.