The Woman from Arbutus – Excerpt

Chapter 1

Amadora Bazan sat in a reception area she was convinced was Hell’s waiting room. The well-decorated den was her landlord’s posh seating nook and she glared at the words “Legal Notice” stamped on the envelope she had ripped off the door of her Arbutus athletic club at sunrise. The hair on her neck bristled as if she had faced her executioner. She knew her club was in financial difficulties lately, but never believed the organization that served so many youths for so many years would be abandoned for the few dollars she was lacking for its monthly rent.

She reread the cover letter that was addressed to her formal name, Amadora Maria Bazan, and scanned its clumsy regrets. The wording of the pre-eviction documents was laced with legalese, but its interpretation was clear. In ninety days the club would be closed for non-payment of its $1,500 July rent. But Ama only envisioned that hundreds of children would be on their own in the streets and public school grounds again for their recreation and social integration. The club’s professional guidance would be gone; the personal attention to her youths’ special needs would vanish like a wisp of smoke in gale winds.

Ama’s mind panned the club’s cavernous hall she had unlocked that morning. A building that for decades had served her kids as a gymnasium, a meeting hall, a banquet room, a classroom, and the venue for many awards celebrations. Her stomach churned acid into her throat. Her forty years of dedication to her young people and her love of each of them, past and present, would suddenly be taken away. Many had grown up with the club and gone on to successful college careers and profitable occupations. They had become the family her former communist Cuba had denied her. There were so many more who needed the encouragement of gentle hands and warm hugs when life dealt them lemons. She slapped the legal notice on the side table next to her and fought the tears flooding her eyes. Had she travelled all this way only to be jolted back to the oppression of the Cuban dictators who had taken everything from her and killed her family?

Ama would confront these real estate nabobs and convince them to recant their decision to close her indispensible institution. They would not prevail in ending the promise of so many young lives who nurtured lifelong dreams in their eyes.

She shifted her attention to the waiting room décor of the Centurion Real Estate offices. It smelled of new carpeting, almost pungent enough to irritate her eyes. Ama had selected one of the room’s crewel-covered Chippendale chairs and pretended to read one of the magazines that were scattered on the mahogany occasional tables. The one she had randomly picked up was a recent copy of Yachting. Boats advertised in its ads started at $500,000 and soared to more than several million. She shook her head in disbelief and computed that she was $500 short on her club’s rent, and $499,500 short on the cheapest boat in those Yachting ads.

The greedy bastards didn’t spare any opportunity to show off plenty of ostentation, she mused. But in reality Ama knew this small real estate company merely operated a few minor strip centers in the county, most of which were located in the Arbutus area of Maryland, a once bustling town that had seen its best days in the 1950s. Smart business owners had slowly migrated to the major highways where people now shopped. Even Mario’s Pizza & Subs, for more than sixty years the most popular eatery that Arbutus folk ever enjoyed, had recently closed its doors for declining of business. Fast food and junk food had come to town to serve impatient diners who no longer waited for a hand-made pizza or a delicious baked submarine sandwich.

A tall svelte women in a red business suit approached Ama with a clipboard in her hand.

“Are you here to see Mr. Engelman?” she asked, peering at Ama over her designer glasses.

 “I thought I was going to see Mr. Danville. I’m here about the athletic club on Oregon Avenue. The one next to the Hollywood movie.”

“Mr. Engelman, our president, will see you now. I hope you haven’t been waiting too long.”

“Just another hour of my life I’ll never get back.” Ama said and stood.

The tall woman gestured to the inner office door with a sweep of her hand and Ama strode into the hallway. She followed the tall woman past several open office doors until they came to a one with the inscription:

Maurice Engelman
President & CEO

The tall woman smiled and opened the door for Ama and closed it as she returned to the hallway. Ama stood clutching her legal notice envelope and waited to be acknowledged by the heavy-set man who pored over what appeared to be an architectural drawing on his spacious desk.

“Ah, you must be Amadora Bazan. Please come over here and sit,” he said and pointed to a chair next to the desk.

The fifty-something man smiled and extended his hand and shook with Ama as she sat.

“This is about the rental on the athletic club, I’m told,” he said. “Is that correct?”

“Yes. I was expecting to see Mr. Danville.”

“I know he’s your agent, but Mr. Danville had to go out of town on business, so I’ll have to do. I am Maurice Engelman. I own the company and can discuss this matter with you.”

“Mr. Engelman—“

“Please. Maurice will be fine.”

“Thank you, Maurice,” Ama said and withdrew the eviction papers from her envelope. “These were taped to my athletic club’s door this morning.”

She handed the papers to Maurice and waited while he looked them over.

“Looks like our financial officer has cited you for failure to pay your rent.”

“That’s correct, but did he mention the 480 months I have religiously paid my rent? Things have been a bit rough money-wise these past weeks and I only have two-thirds of the rent money on hand.”

“I see. Don’t you charge membership fees at your athletic club?”

“I have, but only a few families can afford to pay. I get less and less donations every year. These kids who use the club are mostly poor. I want them to use our facility and not loiter on the streets and join with some of our bad elements.”

“I completely understand.” Maurice said and handed Ama’s papers back. “You depend on these donations for your own income, do you not?”

“I do but, as you can plainly see, for the first time in forty years I can’t pay the rent. My hope is that these inflationary times will pass and our former strong economy will return. I thought we could work something out so the club won’t have to close? I may be able to get a second mortgage on my home and bring my rent up to date.”

“I received an email from Mr. Danville this morning. In it he said that he has plans for that property that will be much more profitable. He is adamant about following through on your eviction order.”

“But you own the company. Can’t you override Mr. Danville’s order?”

“Now how would that look? I pull rank on one of my most dedicated employees, who, by the way, has always made it his business to see that I enjoy comfortable profits while other like companies fail. What kind of leader would do something like that?”

“So I have ninety days to either resolve this issue or move out?”

“Arbutus doesn’t seem to favor foreigners. Maybe that’s at the core of your problem.”

“Arbutus people have been favoring me for forty years. I am an American citizen. Mario Glorioso is an Italian immigrant and ran the most popular pizza shop in the area. Lars Kohler, a Norwegian, owns our prosperous dime store. Clement’s Appliances, Gondeck’s Bakery, and Koren Furniture are all successful businesses owned by former foreigners. Are you sure you don’t mean foreigners of color?”

“Well, frankly, you must look around Arbutus and tell me how many people of color you see. Foreigners, people of color, it’s all the same. Arbutus has always been extremely conservative.”

“Conservative as in extremely prejudiced?”

“Unfortunate as that is, I’m afraid so.”

“How do they feel about Jewish proprietors? You and the family that owns the furniture store are Jewish.”

“Look, Amadora, isn’t it time anyway that you retired? You’re at least sixty.”

“I’m at least seventy.”

Ama gathered her papers and leapt to her feet.

“Listen, I don’t want to take up more of your valuable time. I’m going to take my black, Cuban-American, foreigner butt out of here. Thank you for your sage advice, Maurice. I won’t forget it.”

Ama marched to the hall door and left the office and didn’t stop marching until she was at the door of her twelve-year-old Ford Escape. She unlocked the driver’s door, tossed her papers on the passenger seat, and climbed behind the wheel. She stared at her gas gauge, which was one notch above empty. She felt the same way. One notch above empty with nowhere to go and not enough fuel to get there.

Ama knew of one place where she could depend on a genuine warm welcome and love.

She drove to St. Michael’s Church.

*     *     *

Ama took a seat in the front of the church near the altar. She stared at the life-size Corpus Christi and took her rosary from her purse. A woman on her right emerged from a confessional and walked toward the nathex and vestibule at the entrance to the sanctuary. A priest stepped from the same confessional and noticed Ama. He joined her in the pew.

“How could human beings do this to Him, Father William?” Ama said, holding her gaze on the face of Jesus.

“Sins are like bullets,” the priest said. “They are very democratic and destroy good people as well as the bad.”

Ama turned to Father William.

“I see a darkness in your eyes, Amadora. Share with me your trials.”

“They are evicting me from the athletic club. I can’t pay the rent. Money. I guess it actually is the root of all evil.”

“Correction. The love of money is the root of all evil.”

“Either way, I don’t have enough to continue to support my kids.”

“Read Matthew 21 and I think you’ll be comforted,” Father William said as he rose and clutched Ama’s shoulder. “Cast upon Him all your cares. Remember to ask for guidance in your prayers. I will pray for you as well.”

“Thank you, Father.”

The priest left her and exited through a door at the back of the altar.

Ama rose and stepped to the aisle where she blessed herself and genuflected. She cast her eyes one more time toward Christ on the cross and managed to whisper four words.

“Dear Jesus, help me.”