Cha-Cha – Joshua Rodriguez

Amir’s face glistened in the sun like it was wrapped in cellophane. He rang the doorbell. A woman answered, unleashing a stale, air-conditioned gust. When she saw Amir, she accosted him with her eyes. Her incredulous stare said it all: Of course they’d come under the guise of UPS. That’s just what they’d want us to think.
Most customers accepted parcels with begrudging panic flickering behind their eyes like writhing tendrils of live wires. Amir returned to his truck. Neighbors peered out like a feral animal had wandered into their perfectly manicured neighborhood. His phone rang.
“Hey, Ca-Ca,” Jorge, his boss, accentuated the concussive syllables. “Come back ASAP. We can’t afford to pay overtime.”
Amir didn’t respond. Jorge understood the silence’s complicit connotation.
“Bye, Ca-Ca,” he said, mocking his name like it was a nationalistic obligation. “Caca” was Spanish vernacular for “shit.”
Amir’s last name was pronounced “Sha-Sha,” but he settled for “Cha-Cha” when elucidating the phonics of its pronunciation. “It’s like when you do the Cha-Cha,” he’d say, compromising for an approximation. He didn’t understand the gravity of a person’s name until people used his as a pejorative. It ossifies in you, like sunbaked earth.
He moved from Turkey to Germany as a boy, which was common. He was met with distrust in Germany commensurate with what he encountered in America. Condemnation is a consequence of displacement. He remembered a Jewish lady he worked with. A coworker mistook Ramadan for a Jewish practice. She looked at him, face conveying insuperable umbrage, and said, “Don’t compare me to them!” The invective was staggering.
He expected something different when he transferred to California. He expected to walk on streets paved with sunshine, the cool breeze rolling off the Pacific kneading his face. Instead, the air was pregnant with the stench of fumes and undulated like a snake writhing in agony, and the sun arrogated with an oppressive heat.
Amir lit a cigarette and rolled down the window. News blare about raging fires. This was a land, Amir thought, founded on insatiable hunger gone demented from starvation, eating itself like a snake eating its own tail.
“What if it’s horrible there?” Amir’s wife asked before they moved. “We always hear about shootings. People are slaughtered in schools and theaters and malls.”
In Germany, they watched coverage of countless shootings. News stations even acquired audio. It replayed in Amir’s head, the ca-ca-ca-ca sound of Assault Rifles unloading magazines.
“We’re going to California, darling,” Amir appealed. “A place built on dreams.”
“But they’re not like us.”
“It’s paradise, dear,” Amir said.
Amir learned paradise will never feel like home; it’s foreign soil, a land that still rejects and ostracizes you because you’re different. Amir learned living in paradise isn’t the same as belonging in paradise. Amir learned there ain’t no place for caca in paradise.
Amir’s presence there was like a failed organ transplant. His coworkers unilaterally despised him. But Amir felt sorry for them. They lived in accordance to archaic notions of duty and identity. Most people spend their whole lives reconciling who they are with who they’re expected to be.
Los Angeles was supposed to be resplendent and vibrant. This vision was quickly superseded by the lurid reality, a place redolent of gasoline, where everything had a tawny tinge. Every cultural accommodation came easy as pulling teeth. And when they finally conceded a little, it was evanescent, like drops of water hitting a hot pan.
There was always another obstacle. Another asshole calling him ca-ca. Another woman with unwarranted suspicions. He didn’t get it. He was Muslim. They were Christian. It didn’t bother him. Ideologies circumscribe the tumult of the world into manageable chunks.
He worried about his wife. She rarely left the house. She stayed in their too-small, exorbitantly priced apartment, reading or watching television. Every night, she seemed more and more distraught. The alienation was parasitic. She smoked cigarettes, staring out the window despondently at the desolate expanse of stunted tenement buildings, fast food restaurants, and thrift stores reaching up in supplication.
“Why can’t we leave?” she pleaded regularly. “We don’t belong here.”
“Give it a chance,” Amir would say. “I feel more comfortable. It just takes time.”
“I’m afraid to leave the house,” she said disconsolately. “The women stare. I don’t look like them. They’re rude. They treat me like a criminal.”
“We can’t go back until there’s a position open in Germany.”
“This was a huge mistake,” she choked back a sob.
“I really think it’s getting better.”
He lied. They’d never accept him. Even though they wore the same caca brown uniform. Sometimes they’d joke, and it affected normalcy, but it was belied by deferred exclusion. Amir pulled into the bay of UPS trucks.
His coworkers hollered, “Oye, Ca-Ca!”
Their laughter was a cacophony of contempt.