It had been 6 weeks since I arrived in the United States from Nepal.The year was 2013. I was scouting Brighten Avenue in Boston in search of a job. I was with my friend, Ritesh, who came to the US two months before my arrival.
As we walked along the pavement, Ritesh (named changed) said to me, “Ram, I never told you, but this job is the second one. I left the first job after I couldn’t cope.” He continued, “There are jobs all over the place, so you will find one, don’t worry.”
I had previously gotten a job at a grocery store after my arrival, but I was fired by the store owner days later. Probably, he realized I wouldn’t be able to learn the handling of the cash register and the lottery machine fast enough. “Please don’t come from tomorrow. I really didn’t plan on hiring someone at this time,” he had said.
So, I was out looking for another job, and I had to find something fast because I was running out of money.
“How about this one?” Ritesh said, pointing to a nearby roadside restaurant. That was an Indian restaurant. “This was where I got my first job”, Ritesh said as we stood near the entrance.
“How long did you work here?” I asked. “Only 4 days”, he replied. Ramesh suddenly gave me a little push, propelling me inside the restaurant, while standing in a corner where no one inside the restaurant could see him.
“Are you hiring?” I found myself asking the gentleman behind the counter. The man regarded me, and then signaled an empty chair in front of the counter.
I sat down. Moments later, someone brought me a cup of tea. I didn’t know this then, but it was a sign that I had been shortlisted for the job.
After a while, the man beckoned me to join him behind the counter. He looked nice and gentle. I reckoned he must be the manager or the owner. I briefly introduced myself, and then he asked me what I did back home in home.
I had been warned by fellow Nepalis that whatever I did back in the home country doesn’t matter, and so it’s not worth boasting about it.
“In Nepal, I worked hard in the field, growing vegetables”, I said as the man listened intently. “Restaurant job also requires hard work, right?”, I continued, determined to convince him I was right for the job.
The man seemed convinced, and told me to resume work the next day. “Bhaisap (brother in Hindi), please come with white shirt, black shoes, and black pants”, he said and went over to the counter. I couldn’t believe my ears. I thanked him profusely and left.
As soon as I was outside, I took out my phone and called Ritesh, who was waiting for me near the train station at Harvard Avenue. I told him I got the job, and he went on to tell me about his hard experience when he worked there for 4 days. “At times, I went inside the bathroom and cried looking at the mirror”, he concluded. I laughed out loud when he said he cried looking at the mirror.
I reported for work the next day as told. The owner asked me to stand by the counter and observe how other waiters welcome guests, take orders, serve food and pick up dirty dishes.
After a while, the owner called me behind the counter and said, “This is not really a white shirt, understand? It has checked marks.” I stood remorsefully; my head bent. “And you need to wear black shoes. It will make you look professional,” he continued.
He went on further saying someone just brought him a pair of nice used black shoes, and I should try them on. I remember the popular Nepali belief that we should not wear other people’s shoes, but anyways I wore them here in the US.
Wearing the shoes, I went back to my previous position by the counter. Now, it was my turn to pick up dirty dishes from the tables. A Bengali waiter, who looked much younger than me, showed me how to pick up and put dirty dishes on the tray. Then, he left with his tray containing dirty plates, indicating me to pick up the next two tables.
The first table only had a few dirty dishes. However, the second table contained a lot of dirty plates and glasses. I balanced the big tray on my hand, and then piled the dirty dishes inside, with the tray swaying in my hand. As I was about to step away from the table, I could not balance it, and it fell on the floor, smashing everything into pieces.
Immediately, a female customer screamed, followed by complete silence. Everybody was looking at me. I looked toward the counter and met the eye of the owner. He was staring at me, a slight smile on his face.
I stood shamefaced, feeling as if the ground should open up and swallow me. The young Bengali waiter came over immediately, and started cleaning up the floor. I joined him, and started picking up the broken glasses with my bare hands when someone from the counter shouted at me in Hindi.
A similar incident occurred on the fourth day as well; I had almost reached the back of the counter when my tray hit the hanging bulbs just above the counter. This time, the owner came near me and whispered in my ear, “If you do it again, I will fire you and make you pay from your check.”
I continued the restaurant job. First thing I did every morning was to clean the glass paneling of the entrance doors, mirrors of the toilet, make the flower shaped napkins to put on the tables, clean the tables, and filled up little cups with chatani, which is served as an appetizer. While cleaning the bathroom mirrors, I often remembered how Ritesh looked like when he cried looking at the mirrors.
One of the waiters in the restaurant was a Nepali guy who often shared his experience in the United States with me. He told me one time that the first step to succeeding in the US is to forget whatever you know and begin afresh, and that it was the only way to learn new things.
“People say life restarts from zero here in the US”, he had said. “But I would say it starts from minus, because you have to forget whatever you did or knew back home before getting started with new things,” he concluded.
Then there was this other waiter who spoke broken English. I often had fights with him because he had the habit of ordering me around to do things. “Bhaisap, clean table number 12, and follow me downstairs to bring the bucket of chutney,” he would say.
The worst of it is that he had a habit of dodging duties; he would enter the restroom when he notices any empty table with dirty dishes, and would start having snacks at the time of cleaning up the floor.
The few times he acted nice toward me were some nights after close of work at around 11:00 pm. He would call me from one corner of the building and we would have some small talks. Sometimes, he would offer me a stick of cigarette, and a pinch of fruit juice he stole from the restaurant before we departed home.
One day, he was caught red-handed while he was hiding yoghurt, lemonade, lalmohan, and kulfi in his bag before leaving for home at 11:00 pm. The manager took out everything from his bag one by one in front of all the employees, while he cried in humiliation.
After that day, he never ordered me around anymore.