chapter one

PROLOGUE

It was early July in the year 2014. It was the beginning of summer when the plants were in full bloom and flowering, the trees green and lush.

It was also that time of the year when the beaches and streets were overcrowded with tourists, the majority of them dressed in scanty clothes hoping to beat the heat.

Camilla could never understand why anyone would feel the need to roast their skin in the name of sunbathing. The thought alone made her cringe.

As she walked through the crowded streets avoiding as much as possible from bumping into the overzealous tourists, she made her way towards the two-storey stone building that was as ancient as time and where she lived since she started work as a government interpreter three years ago. 

The building exterior looked worn out as it was built many years ago for government workers, however, the plumping system and other parts of the interior were relatively modern.

The sweet smell of freshly baked cookies filled up her nostrils as she made her way into the kitchen where the heavenly smell was coming from.

Camilla shared the two-bedroom apartment allotted to her with her ailing mother who had just beat cancer for the second time after months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It had been a great relief for both women to finally bid the disease goodbye, and they hoped it does not rear its ugly head again.

Her mother Agnes was backing her when she entered the kitchen. "You came  back early today." Camilla’s mum said without turning to look at her, the jar was open and she filled it up with the cookies.

"We lost a colleague to domestic violence today and we were asked to work half day." She took a cookie and started chewing "delicious as always." she complimented her mum.

"Where you are close to a dead colleague of yours, you look sad and worried." Her mother asked, facing Camilla now.

"Not really, but I never knew she was experiencing such at home. It is a dark world out there." Camilla was thoughtful for a while. She was not keen on marriage and this event had given her more reasons not to be.

"Then why the weary look, I need to see that gorgeous smile of yours." Her mom teased.

"Oh, mum." Camilla tried to smile but failed. "I got an email from the embassy today.

She had always had plans to travel to the United States of America 'To live the American dream' and her wish was to go with her mother. She had already applied for a permanent visa to live and work there before her mother's diagnosis. She believed that it would take years to process and had forgotten about it as her mother was seriously ill.

Her mother's demeanor changed "any news."

"Unfortunately yes, I got my visa. But, I don't know what happened and why you did not get yours."

"I have something to say to you." She paced the kitchen, slowly removed her apron and hung it on a nail above the shelf. "I called and canceled my application when I was diagnosed with cancer."

The silence that followed her mom's confession was deafening. When Camilla got over the shock "why didn't you tell me, mum." She sounded heartbroken "I would have canceled mine too."

Eyes brimmed with tears “I did not want you to cut your dreams because of me." With a serious stance, she stared at her only child. "Promise me Camilla that you will pursue your dreams."

Crying now "I can't leave you, please don't ask me to." She begged her mum. The thought of leaving her behind was unbearable.

"It would be selfish of me to ask you to stay behind, I have already lived my life to the full and you are still in your prime. The world is yours to conquer." Her mother countered her.

Camilla's eyes clouded with tears. "Are you saying that I should leave Mexico without you? Do you want us to stay apart from each other?" 

Her mum blinked back her tears, she needed to be strong for herself and her daughter. She had to be firm if she wanted Camilla to pursue her dreams. 

"Yes, I want you to go to the USA, and believe me, Camilla, being apart from you is not my wish but I want you to live your dreams and be happy." As she spoke her eyes watered, she could see her daughter struggling to do as she was asking her to.

"Just know that pursuing your dreams will make you very happy and content, and through you, I will also be living the American dream.

"I love you Mom, please don't persuade me to leave." Camilla hugged her mum and they both shared a warm embrace while crying softly.

Separating the hug, Camilla's mum wiped away the tears from her daughter's eyes with her thumb. "I love you more and never doubt that. Now be a brave girl and tell me when you are supposed to leave for the USA." 

"In two weeks." She replied half-heartedly.

"Instead of wasting more time crying and being miserable, why don't we do something fun." She kissed both sides of her daughter's cheeks. "We also have to bake your favorite cookies for your trip and you have to start packing now, two weeks is just a few days from now."

Camilla watched her mother move around the kitchen in a bid to start another round of baking, even though her mother talked as she worked, she could see the weariness in her gait and the way she hunched her shoulders in surrender. She could not bear the torture anymore "All this can wait, mom, I need you in the sitting room with me." 

Unable to argue, she followed her daughter out of the kitchen and into the living room. They sat on their favorite two-seater couch and Camilla laid her head on her mom's shoulder. They said nothing as words failed them, their company was just enough at that moment, both grieving the inevitable separation. 

**********

Camilla has always been an early riser, She loved the sunrise and the quietness that came with it.  Back home in Mexico,  she usually would wake up as early as 5  a.m. in the morning,  make herself a cup of hot coffee and just enjoy the sunset from her bedroom window.  It was an early morning ritual for her.

 However,  since arriving in the United States of America things have changed.  she could no longer enjoy the little things that made her happy, especially because of the type of job she got upon arrival here.  After spending almost two weeks living in the States,  Camilla was unable to get a suitable job with her credentials and she was getting worried,  and also losing the little money she had on her. The opportunity she had heard was abundant in the states was not as it was made to be.

 When it finally dawned on her that her dream job might not be forthcoming,  she went to a thrift store and bought herself a map.  She had to go job hunting even if it was a menial job.  2 Days Later she got a job as a bus girl in a five-star Hotel.  the night she got the job she called her mum to inform her about it.

“ You got the interpreter job,” her mother asked her enthusiastically.

“ No mother,  I will be working as a waitress in a five-star hotel.”

“ But that job is beneath your qualification,  and you know that.” 

“ I know,  but it is better than staying idle and with a job at least I can make some money till I'm able to get a better job,”  Camilla replied and was able to convince her mother that she was living a comfortable life. 

But that was not the case, things were not going according to Camillas plans. However,  she had to start from somewhere and the little money she came with to America was dwindling fast.  she had not realized how expensive life was over here. The one-room apartment she got on the first floor of a building that was almost run down with its paint peeling off and the streets were never safe from thugs and hoodlums who cursed chaos daily. The only grocery store that survived in the area was owned by a retired hoodlum. The windows in the building were almost broken and the drapes that managed to cover some windows were torn and stained.

Camilla tried to make the most out of her situation. She went to work with a smile every day.  However, her poor command of the English language was enough for her fellow workers to treat her like a child and belittle her at every opportunity they had. 

*************

“ Table for ten, not eight,” Avery, the head waitress shouted at her.

Camilla had lied to her mother about the job. She actually did not have it easy since started work at Sheraton restaurant.  She had worked her way up from washing dishes or doing night cleaning to bus girl. Even though both jobs were back-breaking, the little extra pay she got as a bus girl made the difference for her.

“But..you told me eight earlier,” Camilla replied.

“They changed their mind,  I need ten plate settings.”  Avery almost screeched at her, her hand flying in the air in anger.

“Alright then,”  Camila answered, she was already exhausted from the day's work and wanted to crash.

“Why can't people stay in their country?” Avery shouted before walking away. After she left,  for some seconds, Camilla stood still hoping to calm her nerves, she felt that the pain in her heart would kill her from the verbal abuse she got from the staff, especially Avery who seemed to hate migrants.

As soon as Camilla felt better,  she added two more plate settings on the table. Happy with her work, she turned to leave without paying much attention. She bumped into something hard and firm.  Before she could crash on the ground,  she felt a strong handhold and steady her.  She looked up and met the eyes of her savior briefly,  his eyes were a light shade of Grey and even though the eyes were sad she was still mesmerized by it for a moment.

“ Are you okay?”  the deep voice asked.  He sounded irritated.

“ Yes, thank you.” Camilla stood straight and adjusted her apron, she avoided looking at the man before her and put her eyes down.

“Be careful next time,  you might hurt yourself or worse someone else.”  Ethan reprimanded her, his face showing his impatience. The manager appeared almost immediately,  he apologized to Ethan who was one of their wealthiest customers and threatened to sack Camila.

“ No need for that.”  Ethan gave an angry look towards Camilla and dashed off to his table where his business partners were waiting for him.

“Next time you will be fired.”  the manager shouted at her and left.

Camilla would have loved to defend herself but her  English was no good and it only made her look more clumsy so she swallowed whatever word she wanted to say,  there was no need to draw extra attention to herself and the English.  It was enough that her co-workers always made fun of her whenever she spoke. There was no need to add to her pain. 

“You heard the manager,  now stop lazing about and get your ass back to work.” Avery, who never missed a chance to mock her, said laughing.

“We know who the lazy one is.”  Camilla retorted before walking away.  She would have been proud of herself if she had turned to see the bewildered look on Avery’s face.

The workload cramped in as it usually was every Friday. Everyone was in a frenzy and slightly overworked.

“ so much work for little pay,”  Clara mumbled under her breath as soon as she came into the kitchen.

“It is just modern-day slavery.”  Stephanie replied  without pausing from the utensils she was washing.  “ most times I get back home so tired and sore I can't wait to finish school and get a better job.”

Camilla listened half-heartedly to their conversation without joining.  She learned early in the job not to interfere or chip into any conversation except when directly invited. And both girls were not necessarily her friends.

“ Aside from the tips and the wealthy billionaires that come here often nothing else is worth the while.'' Clara continued, she was quite the chatterbox. “I like sir Ethan the most, he is so hot.” Clara fanned herself with her hands. “I will probably faint if he talks to me.’

“You are such a drama queen,” Stephanie replied. “Camila I heard you bumped into him earlier today, and he held you to break your fall.”

 Both eyes turned towards Camilla, she turned bright red under their scrutiny.

“You are so lucky, how did it feel when he held you.” Clara wanted to know  

“I can bet you fell on purpose,” Stephanie added maliciously

Camilla would have loved to avoid the conversation but she had to get the record straight, Stephanie was well known for spreading malicious lies. 

'Nothing of such happened,  I just tripped and fell and  the man  was just there when it happened.’

 Stephanie smirked “ yeah,  you tripped and fell into the hands of the most eligible bachelor in town.  How romantic.”

“ You can believe what you want to believe.”  Camilla said irritated

“ you sound dumb.”  Stephanie replied,  taunting her mixed-up words.

 Just then the kitchen door opened and the manager barged in “ we are up in our arms with work and you are Idling away here. Seems you want a salary cut this month.’ he glared from Stephanie to Camilla.

  For the first time since starting work at the restaurant, Camilla was glad to see the manager.  She left the girls and went back to work,  no matter how backbreaking it was, it was still her job.

 Some hours later her phone rang and she removed it from my jeans pocket.  It was a call from her friend in Mexico. Fear gripped her suddenly and she felt lightheaded.  Mary knew not to call her at this hour except for emergency,  Camilla’s mind went straight to our ailing mother.

“ Hello, Mary,”  Camilla said into the phone as calmly as she could mutter.

“ Camila,  I am sorry for calling you at this hour but there is an emergency.  your mother has been hospitalized.”

“ What happened?”

 Mary hesitated for a while before speaking “ the Cancer came back and she has to start with Chemo immediately.

“ I will see what I can do,  and thank you for all you have been doing for me and my mother.” Camilla could never thank Mary enough,  they have been bosom friends for quite some time now. And even with Mary's hectic schedules at work, including taking care of her son and husband, she still took out time to check on Camilla's mother.

“You are welcome, mon Amie. I know you will do the same for me.” Mary replied.  

 When the call was cut, Camilla gave a gut-wrenching cry, 

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