Neni sits on a crosstown bus with a gift bag in her lap. She listens to two black men behind her chatting about the Obama inauguration. She gets off the bus at Lexington Avenue and takes the subway downtown. When she gets off, she walks toward Park Avenue. She had never been to this part of town and is “awed by its elegance.” There’s no dirt on the streets and doormen are dressed like rich men. The doorman at the Sapphire asks if he can help Neni but doesn’t move away from the fiberglass door. She says that she’s there to see Cindy Edwards. The doorman asks if Mrs. Edwards is expecting her. Neni nods. He directs her toward the service entrance.
The hope that the men feel about Obama contrasts with the desperation that Neni feels. For her and her family, circumstances haven’t changed for the better. She also sees, for the first time, how much more opulently people live just a few miles away from her, alerting her further to stark class inequalities. The doorman’s reservation in response to Neni and his assumption that she’s a servant are indications of racism. He assumes that she couldn’t be a guest of anyone in the building.
Neni walks toward the hall to apartment 25A. Anna opens the door and says that Cindy has just come back out into the living room. Neni takes her shoes off in the foyer and follows Anna into the kitchen. Neni wants to give Cindy a gift. When Anna offers to give it to Cindy, Neni insists that she wants to do it herself. Anna leaves to go ask Cindy if she’ll take the meeting and returns to say that Neni can go the living room, but she must be quick and then leave. Neni steps into the magnificent white-and-gray living room with a view of Manhattan beyond the window.
Neni’s offer of a gift is merely a ruse to give her an excuse to be in Cindy’s home. It could be read as a subtle metaphor for the Trojan horse—the presentation of a gift from a visitor, which puts the receiver at ease, and disguises the unsuspecting of the visitor’s true intentions. Like Clark’s office, his home has a view of Manhattan. Their views give the Edwardses the sense that the city is at their disposal.
Cindy emerges, mentioning that Anna said that Neni wanted to give her something. She reaches out to take the bag, which contains a dress that Neni’s mother made. Neni thought Cindy would like it, due to her admiring the same kind of dress that Neni wore in the Hamptons. Cindy thanks her and tells Neni to tell Jende that she says hello. Neni doesn’t move, prompting Cindy to ask if there’s something else that she wants. Neni says that she wants Cindy to help Jende get his job back. Cindy turns away and looks toward the window. She calls Neni “a very funny girl” and says that Jende “lost his job because Clark no longer needs his services,” and “there’s nothing [she] can do about that.”
Cindy exchanges pleasantries with Neni in an effort to maintain her façade as a polite, caring woman. However, her belittling comment toward Neni (particularly infantilizing her as “a very funny girl”) and her lie about Clark no longer needing Jende confirm that she isn’t caring and doesn’t regard the Jongas as equals. Her assertion that “there nothing she can do” perpetuate the lie that she’s passive and helpless when she showed great strength and dominance in getting her way.
Neni asks Cindy if one of her friends might need a chauffeur. Cindy scoffs and says that Jende should go out and get a job like everyone else. When Neni explains that this isn’t so easy, Cindy breezily picks up a book and says it’s “a tough world.” Neni takes her phone out of her purse and tells Cindy that she took a picture of her when she was passed out in the Hamptons. She shows Cindy the photo of herself with “drool running down her chin,” and “a bottle of pills and a half-empty bottle of wine on the nightstand.”
Cindy’s comments that Jende should just go find a job like “everyone else” and that “it’s a tough world” not only indicate her indifference but her unawareness of how many people are genuinely unable to find work in a world that has been made increasingly tougher by Clark and his colleagues. Neni meets Cindy’s indifference with the only thing that’ll get the woman’s attention: possible damage to her reputation.
Cindy demands that Neni leave and calls Anna to dial 911, saying that she’ll teach Neni “a lesson.” Neni doesn’t budge and says that, when the police come, she’ll say that she doesn’t know what Cindy is talking about. They’ll think Cindy is “crazy,” and they’ll call Clark or her friends, which will then force Cindy to tell them the truth. Cindy throws down the phone that Anna has brought her and sits down trembling. She asks Neni what she wants. Neni says that she only took the picture so that she could show it to the police in case something happened to Cindy; but now, she can sell it to man she met in the Hamptons who works for a website that’s always looking for “good pictures” of women like Cindy.
The “lesson” that Cindy threatens to teach Neni is how easily a white person can have a black person sent to jail in the U.S.—Cindy can simply claim that Neni threatened her or that her former maid is trespassing. Neni, as a testament to her strength (or, maybe, her unawareness about the extent of police brutality and racial profiling), is unfazed by this. Cindy throws down her phone and trembles in frustration because the power dynamic between her and Neni has shifted. She isn’t accustomed to feeling powerless against someone like Neni.
Cindy calls Neni “a filthy bitch” and tells her to name her price. She asks Neni how she could do such a thing after all that she and Clark have done for her and Jende. Cindy writes a check, but Neni demands cash. Cindy leaves and returns minutes later with a paper bag. Neni takes the SIM card from her phone, hands it to Cindy, and walks out of the apartment.
Cindy believed that her generosity toward Neni, particularly as she expressed it in the Hamptons (like giving Neni used clothes and toys), would keep her quiet, which makes her gifts more akin to bribes than genuine offers of help. Unlike Jende, who is more trusting of people, Neni recognizes Cindy’s lack of integrity.