At work I dispatch covetous Americans to pungent foreign countries.
They come during their brief lunch breaks, beet and feta salads in their fishy pale palms as they exclaim on their blinking Bluetooth headsets. They point to the posters behind me. Chandelier waters and laughing white people beside a giraffe. That’s what they want, they say. They want an adventure, they say.
We spend the next thirty minutes planning their wild, forward-thinking excursions. A cliff hotel pod in Peru. An elk sleigh ride in Finland. An underwater room in the Pemba Islands. I tell them these are must-have experiences, these $500/night stays in all-inclusive resorts where the Americans will drink blood-red margaritas and use their local guide books as foot props on their lounge chairs. They will snap photos of locals, whose faces will one day stare from strangers’ computer screens, trapped and unblinking.
These Americans have such longing on their breath and restlessness beneath their nails, it’s like they’ve been scratching the Earth for evidence that they’re on it. Sometimes they ask me where I’m from and the question is so ravenous, I’m afraid to answer. I’m afraid they will steal home from me like a snack they’ve been craving.
Avalea agrees. She is the booking agent at WorldAir and although we have never met, she is my closest companion. Her voice is as smooth and warm as an elephant’s ear, as melodic as an open jar of lightning bugs. She likes to calculate my customers based on their orders. She is superb at this game.
“Two business class tickets to Maldives for Arnold Denton.? Let me guess…single white male in his 30s, nice tie, conventionally handsome, kind of obnoxious?”
“40s, I believe.”
“Having an affair?”
“You better not be seating me in the 40th fucking row. I’ll take my business elsewhere, I’ll do it right now.”
I cover the phone with my hand. “I’m discussing something else, sir.”
“God, he sounds like a tool,” Avalea hums in my ear. “Let me talk to him. I want to hear his ache.”
I have my job because they say I’m good at dealing with people. That’s how they say it too, dealing with people. I thought it was a strange thing to say because back home, we call it “speaking” with people, but I am a fast learner. The covetous Americans, along with their wives and husbands and mistresses and misters and unaccountably young wealthy partners, were not the kinds of people we had back home. They ask questions like Where is the best country to hunt a rhino? and Can I take a tour of the slums?
I don’t understand these people, but I can pretend I do. I can laugh at their jokes and log in their seSrvice animals and smile as I click my nails cross the plastic keyboard to log in Gertrude Swine for a ticket that costs more than my mother’s funeral. My mother used to say there is no greater skill in life than acting.
Avalea is a superb actress. When my accountants speak to Avalea directly, their creased brows unfurl like a massaged muscle. Their eyes soften like a spring garden. I can understand these Americans then because I, too, possess this same landlocked expression. I have heard the sweet refrain of Jane’s purr and felt my cheeks dew.
Sometimes I imagine adoring words spilling from Jane’s lips like soup too hot to swallow. I imagine us booking our own excursion, holding hands in first class as we fly over smoothing waters and sleep in underwater rooms. I imagine my fingers cupping her elastic cheek, suspended in a moment, frozen, around the shadowy outline of a woman I’ve never met.
And I wonder if I’m acting so well, I’ve fooled myself into having wishes.
The Americans are all wishes. I think that if I were to unbutton their suits and lift their skirts, I’d find wants instead of skin. This is what makes me call them the covetous Americans. You can understand now. They exist in two states: having and wanting. Sometimes they live in both states at once.
Like the American woman with black nails filed into claws, hair pulled back so tightly her forehead is pinched and pink. She places a piece of paper on the surface between us. On the top is the name of my nation. She pronounces my home like she’s sucking on glass.