The heat was punishing. It was one of those days when the sun seemed especially merciless – the heat seeming to sear one’s skin to the bone and the humid air driving the strongest of men to weariness. In the cramped, cheerless room, the heat was even more intolerable. The sole fan attached to the ceiling provided no relief from the cruel heat; if possible, it seemed only to trap the dense air in the windowless box that served as the factory office.
Across the room, the woman sat stiffly on a padded bench. Her head was slightly bowed, her gaze fixed on an indistinct spot on the gray linoleum floor. The heat was almost suffocating, but she felt cold on the inside, her clammy hands gripping her knees tightly in an effort to steady her rioting nerves. Cold, sticky sweat was trickling down her spine in tiny rivulets and dark crescent stains had begun to form below her armpits. Beads of moisture, too, started to line her brows, and she had to swipe them off with her sleeve every so often to keep them from falling to her eyes.
The sound of a folder connecting with the desk snapped her back to attention. The supervisor had finished with the file and was now regarding her steadily. He leaned a bit on his seat, his gaze shrewdly measuring as he took a long drag from his cigarette.
“So, you’ve been working here eight months?” he finally asked.
“Close to nine months, Sir. Nearly a year.”
“Hummph…” he nodded, puffing away at his cigarette. “You seem to have a clean record, too.”
“Yes, Sir. Never been late to work, Sir. Never been absent, either,” she said, straightening, “except when my daughter got sick…”
“Yeah, I got that all in here,” he said, tapping the folder. “Got that about the daughter, too.” Another quick puff.
She squirmed in her seat.
“How about your husband?” he asked.
“I have no husband, Sir.” She squirmed once more.
“How about the father, then?”
“My daughter’s got no father, as far as I’m concerned,” she responded, finally meeting his eyes.
“Left you for someone younger, eh?” he asked with a smirk.
She pursed her thin lips tight.
“Alright, then…let’s get down to business.” The cigarette was long gone by now. “Ms. Mendez, this is a serious crime you committed here. Stealing company money can get you thrown in jail for years.”
Her thin lips were white now.
“You could be imprisoned for life…maybe, never even see your daughter again. Did you think about that?”
“I didn’t steal that money, Sir.”
“Well, someone did. Money was missing from the cash box in the office, and no one else was around. Besides you. That sounds highly suspect to me.”
“I didn’t steal that money, Sir. I have not stolen a dime in my life,” she said, a little desperately now.
“Well, it says here you applied for a loan last month?”
“My daughter got sick, Sir. The doctor said–”
“And your loan got rejected?”
“They said I wasn’t qualified, Sir. Not enough years. But I’ve been working nearly a year now, Sir….”
“Not enough, like they said.”
She gripped her knees tighter.
“So, your daughter?”
“She’s got a problem with her heart, Sir…can’t breathe well, too. She needs an operation really soon,” she explained, her voice wavering.
“Hmmm…serious.” He lit another cigarette. “So you stole the money to pay for the operation?” He blew the smoke towards her.
“No, Sir. I didn’t steal that money. I swear, I didn’t.”
“Let’s see…there’s money missing, you were the only one here the whole day, and you desperately need some cash…”
“That’s not all true, Sir. You were here this morning, too.”
“What? Are you saying I stole the money?” he demanded, almost spitting out the cigarette.
“I’m not saying anything like that, Sir. I’m just saying there were other people coming in and out off the office the whole day…and I took breaks.”
“That may be right…but how do you explain the money that was taken from your bag?”
“That was mine, Sir. Money for my daughter,” she said hardly.
“Money that you stole for your daughter!”
“No, Sir! I didn’t steal that money, please believe me!” she exclaimed almost wildly, rising to her feet. “My daughter needs that operation…she could die…”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Mendez. I can’t do anything about your case now. I must report this to the authorities.” He paused, looking at her almost pityingly. “You’ll need to get yourself a good lawyer.”
She was sobbing uncontrollably now. “But the money, Sir!…”
The sound of the phone jarred them slightly to attention.
“Yes?” he said, picking up the phone.
He looked at her oddly. “Alright, I’ll see to it.”
A few seconds.
“Well, looks like you’ve been saved, Ms. Mendez. Someone’s confessed to the theft. One of the workers.”
She slumped back to her seat. “I told you I didn’t steal the money, Sir.”
“So, you didn’t.” He took out another cigarette. “You may leave now, Ms. Mendez. We are sorry for all the trouble.”
“Thank you, Sir. Thank you.”
“And you may also clear out your things now.”
“After everything that’s happened, I don’t think you can still work productively around here. Besides, you’ll need to take care if your daughter, right?” That damned smoke again.
“Thank you, Ms. Mendez. And here’s your money,” he said, taking out an envelope from the desk drawer.
She looked at the thin envelope, crumpled now and torn at the edges. She could remember counting the crisp bills from the moneylender this morning; it was still a thousand short of the amount that she needed. The thick wad of cash in the box had been very tempting. Maybe, if I had taken the money –
She looked at the supervisor once more. Her eyes seemed older, more tired, but there was still a spark of life left in them. She put the envelope back inside her bag.
“Thank you, Sir.”