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Hard Work

by Franklyn Ajaye

 

[Editor’s Note: This piece is part of the “Topical” series, with each piece solely submitted to and chosen by the Final Reader Pietra Dunmore.]

 

Denmark Wilson was walking down Queens Parade on his way to the fish and chips shop and saw a young woman sitting cross legged in front of the entrance of the McCoppins market. “Can you help me out?” she said as he grew closer. He gave her a dollar and she smiled with nice, even teeth, and thanked him. Also on the street that day busking with his guitar and scruffy black dog laying on the ground beside him was WWB which is what Denmark named him–which stood for World’s Worst Busker. In all the time Denmark and anyone else who passed WWB each day, he’d never understood one word he warbled, or note that he strummed on his guitar. Not one. It was uncanny. In fact Denmark promised himself that he would put a dollar on WWB’s towel the day he honestly recognized one word or note. So far, it hadn’t happened. But other people’s criteria for helping him wasn’t as stringent as Denmark’s so WWB always took home some coin for his incoherent and music free daily noise.

On his way back home with grilled scallops, prawns, and chips she was still there, and he took a good look at her. She was mixed race. Indigenous and white he thought. Hair neatly combed, clothes and shoes in good nick. No external signs of disrepair that he could see. Definitely attractive. About 25 he thought as he continued and stopped in the barbecue chicken shop. He bought some peas to give his feast some proper nutritional value, and headed home to

enjoy it. Denmark didn’t cook and considered himself a modern day hunter gatherer no different than primitive cave men. They did it with spears, he does it with a debit card. Same degree of difficulty. If they were alive today they’d starve because their spears wouldn’t be accepted at checkout stands or ATMs. He’d like to see the looks on their Cro-Magnon faces when that happened at the supermarket, but then again he’d have a tough time trying to kill a saber tooth tiger with a debit card. Maybe he could bait a trap with cash—to catch the money hungry ones.

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The saber tooth capitalists.

The next few days when he walked down the street she was sitting there again and he gave

her what change he had. He noted that she always wore a different, nice, clean outfit. A very well dressed beggar. On the fourth day as he came upon her he asked, “How you doing today?” and she answered in a too well practiced, pathetic, small voice, “Not too good,” which rubbed him the wrong way so he just nodded and continued to the post office. He realized she’s not homeless, she’s not destitute, she wants to be paid just for living. Begging is her job. Nice work if you can get it.

On the way back with his stamps he went over to her and gave her a dollar. “Thank you”, she said. Denmark bent down, looked her in the eye and quietly said, “They’ve got programs here

to help people. Do you know that?” She nodded. She had grey and green eyes and he was startled by their beauty. He continued, “You’re lucky you’re in Australia. If you were in America there’d be nothing.”

“I know,” she said in a barely audible whisper.

“What’s your name?”

“Jacinta.”

“This is no way to live Jacinta. You can do better than this.”

She nodded, and Denmark went to the barbecue chicken place, bought some chicken and peas and went home. When he looked back she was looking at him.

The next time he saw her she averted her eyes when he walked by, and the next two weeks

she wasn’t there, and he wondered if he’d scared her away. Then on a very hot Sunday afternoon she was once again sitting in front of McCoppins. It was a hot, humid, stifling day that no one would be out in unless they were a mailman, on a road repair crew, or construction worker—and they all had weekends off. The street except for Denmark and Jacinta was empty, and he was only out in that heat to go to the fish shop to do his hunter gatherer thing. There’s no disputing that begging is best done outdoors, and on this hotter than hell Sunday fit for neither man or beast that

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even made WWB take the day off, Jacinta was out there. As he got close she saw him and turned away. “How you doing Jacinta?” said Denmark. She didn’t answer. He dropped a dollar on the small rag in front of her and kept walking to his fish. Fifty feet later Denmark turned back and saw Jacinta collect the money, get up, climb on a motorcycle, put on her helmet and ride off. He laughed as he turned back around. What the hell he thought. She’d earned it. 80% of success is just showing up” Woody Allen once said, and Jacinta had shown up.

He stopped in the chicken place.

“The usual?” said Gao the middle aged Chinese owner who with his wife Bing lived above the shop and opened up every day that there was weather. 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Every year.

“Yep, chicken wings and peas.” When Denmark got home he put the shrimp, chicken wings, chips, and peas on a plate and put it in the microwave for 20 seconds, then took it out, opened the fridge and poured himself a glass of orange juice mixed with ginger beer. He took the plate and glass over to his kitchen table and sat down. Another successful day of hunter gathering he noted with some satisfaction, and said a little prayer giving thanks to himself.. He ate a forkful of prawns, chicken, chips, and peas, and as he chewed thought, goddamn she has pretty eyes. I should’ve asked her out.

 

Franklyn Ajaye is a Black American actor (“Carwash”, Bridesmaids”, “Deadwood”), television writer (two Emmy nominations for comedy writing), musician, a stand up comedian with four comedy albums, who has appeared often on American television shows, and done successful one man shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and author of the book, “Comic Insights/The Art of Stand Up Comedy”. He now lives in Melbourne, Australia.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Hard Work”?

As far as a fascinating story as to it’s creation I can only say that it’s based on my observations and experiences living on Queen’s Parade in Melbourne Australia, and that each time it was rejected I tried to improve it. I can also say that most fiction I read has such a bleak or weary tone to it, that I was doubtful that a piece a little more amusing/ironic like mine would ever be published.

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