Babak Lakghomi is the author of South (forthcoming from Dundurn Press, 2023) and Floating Notes (Tyrant Books, 2018). His fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, NOON, Ninth Letter, New York Tyrant, and The Adroit Journal, among others.
After working as a dish washer, my sister found me a job that paid more than the minimum wage. Every morning, I had to wear a wetsuit and dip my hand deep into a pool of sewage for a sample. Sometimes I had to get into tanks and wash off sludge from filters with a hose. Otherwise, I mostly sat in a control room full of screens with the other operators. I kept an eye on pumps turning on and off, numbers changing on screens. I had only dropped out of college in the third year, so this was the easy part for me.
It was a hot summer and most days the operators were hung over, or outside feeding a ground hog they’d tamed. One of them, a boy younger than me, had an infected wound he kept touching. Watching him touch the wound made me reckless. I wanted to escape that place, like I’d always escaped everything else.
When I complained to my girlfriend about the job, she thought that I was just being lazy. She reminded me of the better pay, of my similar complaints working as a dish washer.
Outside, the smell of wet grass and trees would take me back to my childhood, to our backyard where my sister and I would roll worms into little balls.
The sewage plant wasn’t accessible by public transport, and every day I took a long walk from the last bus station, walking in the bank of a river. Wild geese blocked the narrow road, and cars that passed had to honk and wait for the geese to clear the road. I would walk past the geese very quietly not to attract much attention.
One morning as I was walking by the river, I saw a little bird, the size of a sparrow, with a red tail and a long beak. I didn’t know what kind of bird it was. I’d never seen anything like it. I kept looking for it on other days, wondering if I’d really seen it.
I don’t know what happened on the night when I punched the door. I was still staring at the hole in the door when the cops showed up.
My girlfriend had called 911.
I would have never hurt her.
The next day, my girlfriend came to the station. We both cried. She’d called my sister who came in after she left and bailed me out.
My sister wanted to take me to her place, but I told her that I had to go to work, and she drove me there.
The geese were blocking the road, and as we were waiting for them to pass, I told my sister about the little bird I’d seen one day.
She pulled over and stopped the car by the river. We both sat there in silence, our eyes searching the horizon.