The little woman slipped through the double doors into the restroom. She passed an older black woman, who was on her hands and knees, scrubbing the grout between the floor tiles.
“How you doing today, sugar?” she asked, as she cheerfully scrubbed.
Meanwhile, the little woman sat on the commode with her bony elbows on her knees and her head in her hands. Verging on tears, thoughts of the flashing red light on her telephone that another voicemail had come in and the stack of growing paper on her desk swirled through her mind. It’s too much she thought and tried to calm her racing heart. Taking just one thing at a time would be an easy if she were a dentist pulling teeth; but instead, she was in a field that required a professional level of constant multitasking. A woman had been calling all week asking for updates on something that would take weeks to get into place. In each call, the woman’s voice grew angrier and more desperate. These calls continued and broke the little woman’s reserve down further and further, until she had to escape to the safety of a bathroom stall.
“You sure you’re ok in there?” the woman cleaning asked after she heard a deep sigh from the little woman’s stall. “You sound like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders with the way you’re carrying on.”
“Oh, sorry,” the little woman replied. She wasn’t aware how loudly her worries were escaping from her body despite her best efforts.
Shamefacedly, the little woman emerged from the stall and turned on the faucet to wash her hands. A stranger had heard her sigh and knew more about her current struggle than she knew about herself. She did feel as though the world was on her frail shoulders, and it was heavy.
“Sugar,” the older woman said and stood up with a groan. She leaned against the paper towel dispenser and continued, “Just remember why you are working. Is it for the paycheck or is it to help people?”
The little woman sighed again, this time aware but unable to stop the sound from leaving. “You’re right,” she conceded.
“Mmm…hmm,” the cleaning lady agreed and looked over the rim of her glasses at the little woman. “Course I am.”
She held up her index finger to make a point, “You keep in mind that it’s just a job. It doesn’t define who or what you are in life. It’s just a part of it.”
Gesturing with her hands as she delivered her bathroom sermon/ therapy session, the little woman grimaced when she noticed the long fingernails that curled two inches or more over the tips of the older woman’s fingers. They were 100% natural and a light brown, likely from cleaning materials and god-knows-what else. How she was able to do anything with her hands was a feat and a mystery. The claw-like nails created a self-imposed type of a disability which seemed a shame when many people with unavoidable disabilities would prefer to live otherwise.
“Thanks,” the little woman said backing out of the bathroom, still staring at her nails in disbelief. “Really, I mean it, thanks for talking to me. Sorry to rush out, but I’ve got a call I’ve got to make.”
The little woman held her head higher and felt ready to face the rest of her day as she pushed the doors open to the hallway. The cleaning lady had put things into perspective for her without knowing anything else about her situation. Yet, she had known just what the little woman needed to hear to continue. The little woman mused over these things when she brushed past a co-worker on her way back to her desk. The co-worker said over her shoulder, “Hey, you’re looking brighter than earlier today. Good for you.”
The little woman replied, “I just got a pep talk from the cleaning lady in the bathroom.”
Chortling, the co-worker knew exactly whom the little woman referred to, perhaps having had her own pep talk on another day. She asked what they both had wondered about the woman who had done so much and so little at the same time, as the bathrooms were never very clean. “What about those nails?”