Part 1 can be found here.
He met Ceridwen at game night, the only other person who raised a hand for the Pictionary suggestion. If Ceridwen was in last place halfway through a game, it was guaranteed that she’d rocket to first by the end. If anyone brought up her losing status before the victory, she would throw away her pencil or dice and storm out. She carried books the same size as Raymond’s. She smelled of cupcakes. He was the first person he’d seen her start a conversation with. In a session of what Raymond called “excessive complaining about misfortunes,” she talked about how her last check went to pay loans from good ol’ Texas A&M rather than into the landlord’s crushing hands. Those hands pushed Ceridwen’s brother against the wall last week. Ceridwen needed to pay all her rent this month, past and present, or her thin body was out on the streets to get thinner, the landlord said. “He said he talked to her brother because she was too good at sneaking in and out,” Raymond said.
He added that Ceridwen confided in him a desire “to burn down the whole apartment and start anew.”
“Ceridwen Yates?” said Bala.
Bala once dated her brother, Emyr. Both brother and sister worked at Joe’s, scratching out orders for ribs and ‘lobster’ on sticky slips of shining paper. Same job, same pay, supposedly. Only last time Bala checked in, Emyr Yates bought a new spoiler to replace the one that ripped off his car when his roller-skating friend tied a rope to it and held on. And the siblings had a deal: every time she deep cleaned Emyr’s pit of an apartment, he’d take $20 from his own earnings and give it to her. A supplement given between what was supposed to be two equals.
The Feminist Union groaned, and everyone spat out a few curses for Mr. Yates once Bala finished his tale. Even Raymond joined in, though he never went farther than “a privileged individual ignorant of his own status in life.”
“Sure is sweet of you,” said Alex, looking out to the hot-wet night outside the window, “but she’s only going to run into this problem again next month. It’s not just Ceridwen’s issue, it’s Joe’s fault. It’s the manager screwing her over.” He brushed his greasy hair away from his right cheek.
“I’m aware it’s what you’d call ‘the sins of the bourgeoisie.” Raymond took his empty coffee cup marked DONATIONS and handed it to Phil. “But it’s clear she’s not as well paid as her brother. She needs money right now. You can tell her about Marx during your own interactions with her.”
Bala stood up, stopping Phil from squirming for the wallet pinned down in his jeans’ pocket. “The number one piece of advice feminist organizations like NOW and NOMAS give for allies is to let women lead the way. If we interfere, we’re fulfilling the Mighty Whitey trope- even if she’s not a minority. We’d be swooping in to save her and expecting all the thanks. From what Emyr told me, she’ll be fine by herself.”
“That was the information given to you.” Raymond didn’t leave much pause between his sentence and Bala’s. Somehow, him sitting down was more threatening than him standing up. “She refuses to ask for a raise. She won’t report them for wage discrimination. She ‘doesn’t want to make waves.’ And yet if I know anything, I know that she hates looking weak in front of others. She doesn’t want to be in this predicament. But if we don’t help her, who can?”
“That’ll be up to her and her friends,” said Bala.
“I am her-“
“Female friends. This isn’t meninism.”
“Raymond’s got a point,” said Alex. “We can be better friends than her brother. She should be able to live without depending on men, and she don’t need to burn down her apartment to do so.”
“You’re not listening.” All of Phil’s joints tightened as Bala spoke. “She’s not a damsel in distress, and none of you are Batman. Her story only matters if she’s the hero, not us. Do you get it now? Is this touching your ‘feminine side’ at all?”
Raymond took a long breath in, and then exhaled through his mouth like a rhino holding in a lashing from a trainer. “Perhaps Philip can offer his suggestion on our next course of action,” he said, glaring at Phil.
If gazes could transfer heat, the Feminist Union would’ve melted Phil into a puddle.
“W-Well,” Phil began, his head buoyant and clouded as he focused on Bill Clinton, “I see where Alex is coming from in terms of needing social and economic reform. But Bala’s right, she needs to make her own choices for feminism to matter. And I want to help, just like Raymond. So I suggest… I suggest asking- I mean, working together to- to set an example-“
The rotting door slammed behind Alex. Bala turned off the indie rap artist tinkling from his phone in a bowl, and Raymond swooped up his books. Their footsteps banged on the scratching carpet, and the door didn’t slam behind them only because Raymond stopped the door after his first yank. The donation cup in Phil’s hand was empty. Phil sat in the low, sweat-stained couch the same way he sat when the professor of his first ever college class didn’t show up, leaving them all to stare at the blank whiteboard until they stepped back into the unfamiliar space outside.
To be continued in Part 3.