Though Jende loves New York, he tells himself that he’ll go elsewhere after he gets his papers. New York is simply too cold, crowded, and expensive. His friends, Arkamo and Sapeur, regale him with stories about how much sweeter life is in cities like Phoenix and Houston. They send him pictures of “their spacious houses and gargantuan SUVs.” They make the same salary he does, working as certified nursing assistants or stockroom associates at department stores. They tell Jende how he can get “a zero-down-payment mortgage on a sweet mini-mansion.” This all sounds wonderful to Jende and is a reminder of what makes America so great. Still, he knows that none of this will be possible without first getting his papers.
Because Jende doesn’t yet understand his new country very well but, instead, views it through his own idealizations, none of this seems too good to be true, as it would if he had heard the same thing back home. He views his friends’ success through their acquisition of material objects that are signs of wealth. The author emphasizes the sizes of their cars and houses (“spacious,” “gargantuan,” and “mini-mansion”) to emphasize the notion of size as a status symbol.
On the third Thursday in May, while driving Cindy across Fifty-seventh Street, Jende’s cell phone rings and he apologizes, believing that he turned it off. She encourages him to pick it up. It’s his brother, Tanga, calling to say that his children can’t go to school because he doesn’t have any money for their school fees. He’s calling Jende to ask him to send money. Jende tells Cindy how “shameful” it is that his brother had five children whom he can’t afford to look after, leaving Jende in the position of having to find a way to send the money. Cindy’s voice becomes “hollow” when she says that children should never have to suffer because of their parents. Jende agrees that it’s never the child’s fault.
Jende speaks with shame about his brother whose children become his responsibility because Jende is more prosperous than Tanga. Jende narrates this story, focusing on his brother’s carelessness, while Cindy is more focused on the children who suffer because of circumstances out of their control. The “hollow” quality in her voice is an implies that she’s comparing this situation to the unfortunate circumstances of her own upbringing or that of her children.
Cindy assures Jende that something will “work out one way or another.” Jende assures her that he’ll try his best, but Cindy responds in a way that suggests that she doesn’t believe “that he [has] a best to try.” She hands him a check for five hundred dollars, for which Jende is immensely grateful. He rushes to find a Western Union so that he can send the money that Tanga needs and get back to Cindy on time. However, he decides not to send his brother the full sum, knowing that he needs only three hundred dollars and would only spend the rest on a new girlfriend or a pair of new leather shoes for himself, “while his children went to school with rubber shoes held together with twine.” Jende puts the remaining two hundred in savings, with the expectation that someone from back home will soon need something else.
Cindy’s lack of faith in Jende’s ability to solve his own problem is not only due to his meager income and her belief that he can’t afford to solve such problems; her skepticism may also be linked to a general lack of faith in men to rectify problems. This would the result of her frustration with Clark, and what the reader will later learn about her father. Jende’s unwillingness to give his brother the full five hundred dollars reveals an important difference between their perceptions of their paternal roles. Jende takes his responsibility more seriously than Tanga.
Cindy reenters the car twenty minutes later and gets on her phone to talk to Cheri. She expresses shock that June’s husband, Mike, is leaving her for another woman after thirty years of marriage. Cindy says that she worries that Clark will one day do the same—announce that he’s in love with “someone younger and prettier.” She relates how Clark ogles at and flirts with other women in front of her and how it humiliates her.
Cindy’s insecurity is not surprising. It’s a reflection of her fears about aging and, thus, losing the youth and beauty that she thinks give her value. Infidelity would also be the final proof, in her mind, that she’s incapable of keeping her family together. Clark’s attention to other women further diminishes Cindy’s self-esteem.