Azra Kononovich's got a lot to handle when she arrives in New York City with her two bickerings best friends. She thinks she is about to have the ultimate experience in her life. With a big city comes a big dream. The three girls are going to spread their wings and live like the wild girls they always dream to be. Now all they have to do is just say "yes" to everything. Yes to adventures, dream jobs, and probably romance.
Elise leaned forward and tapped the taxi driver on the shoulder. The middle-aged man with thinning gray hair turned around.
"Pardon me, sir, but after you let us off, you should go straight to the repair shop," she said. "Your engine is quite loud and the air-conditioner isn't working very well."
The balding man scowled back. Karmen nudged me in the ribs.
"Don't tell me she's going to be like this the whole time," she whispered.
Elise and Karmen were both best friends of mine. They were frenemies to each other. Karmen nicknamed Elise, Princess Peach.
But I knew we were all in perfect agreement with her about the car's lack of proper care. All of us were sweating buckets the whole drive from the airport.
It was our first summer day in New York City, the monochrome world lit with flashing screens and neon lights.
"Well, she'll grow tired soon," I reassured my other best friend. Then Elise pulled out a half-empty bottle of perfume from her purse and sprayed at our cabbie's damp armpit.
"And this is the Channel 5," she went on before shoving the tiny bottle into his shirt pocket. She patted the man's shoulder with a smile. "You can keep it, good sir."
The driver glared back as Karmen and I decided we'd better get Princess Peach out of the cab as soon as possible.
After the taxi drove off, the three of us found ourselves facing the Central Park.
"We made it!" Karmen yelled, spreading her arms up like she was a cheerleader with her pompoms. "Bright day! Big city! No parents, no rules! And the best summer of our lives!"
Karmen was Miss. Optimistic. She was the volleyball captain and the hottest girl two years in the row at our university, and she had dated all the greatest guys but none ever lasted more than a week. Then she came out as bisexual. And after our graduation, who wouldn't look forward to a new beginning?
Elise shrugged, looking unimpressed.
"I wish we could spend the summer at my parent's villa in Morocco."
"Come on, we're not babies anymore, Elise," I said. "We need to see the world and be independent."
"Or you'll turn into a regular potato lying around and doing nothing," Karmen added. "Grow up, Princess Peach."
The remark earned her a sharp look from Elise.
"I highly doubt that any of us know how to be an adult yet."
Karmen and I exchanged a look. She was right. Karmen used to tell me that if life was a parade, Elise was rain. If life was a picnic, she was the pigeon's poop.
"Alright girls, I think we should go check out our new apartment," I said to change the subject. "I've heard it's in the coolest area. We'll do a lot more than just adulting."
In a way, we were in perfect sync about our future plans. It was a big milestone for us to move to New York since we loved walking. And by walking, I mean, professional walking on the runway.
Karmen looped her arm around mine.
"Azra, I refuse to let this girl ruin our dreams. I happen to know that it is mathematically impossible for us to be anything but wild and free," Karmen said. "We're the city girls. We're to conquer the world."
"Mathematically? Who would say that?" Elise snorted.
"Excuse you! One, we're now in the Big A," Karmen explained. "Two, Azra and I believe that we're going to be successful models in two weeks flat. Three, we've got the heights and the looks. Four, we've already got a place to stay. That's four for the good and zero for the bad."
Karmen was here with us to have fun. And knowing her, she would have lots of it, every day. Elise was here just because she had nothing else to do. New York wouldn't make much difference to her. Neither would the moon. Yet for me, I had only one shot. With my overprotective parents, I had to prove that I could make it on my own.
If I ever called home for money, that would mean I had screwed up and they would ask me to go back. I might never see the light of day again working in our bakery for the rest of my life.
As we waited for our landlord, a very weird feeling
started to take a hold of my stomach. It wasn't fear, but I was starting to get more realistic and less optimistic about our adventurous decision to move here. The building we were in was a structural nightmare. I was impressed by the peeling wallpaper and that battered framed modern paintings that no longer looked modern. Even the rickety office furniture and the coffee table were covered in so much dust that you could grow seeds on them and the following month you'd have some flowers for decoration.
"So is this where we're going to live?" asked Elise. "Wow."
If sarcasm was electricity, Elise's would be a nuclear power plant. I searched for the words. There was no denying that this area was a dump, consisting of cheap bars, empty shops, and dull townhouses.
"You have zero concepts of cool places and city life," Karmen said, giving her a know-it-all look. "This is an American lifestyle. In a big city like this, people fight to get into this kind of area. It's where the artists get their inspiration, the musicians compose their music and the writers write their bestsellers."
"And the models sign contracts?"
"Yeah duh?" Karmen said. "Besides, the place seems kind of authentic and funky and...and..."
"And trendy," I added. I just didn't want to let either of my best friends down, so I tried to ignore the red flag and acted all excited. But my mind was operating at double speed while the rest of the world went in a slow motion.
"See? Azra gets it. Why don't you?"
Elise just gave a scratchy shrug back.
We met the landlady instead. She was a stout black woman. Her red lipstick and brows were so nicely drawn that I suspected they were permanent. She introduced us as Celia. With a puff of her cigarette smoke, she sat on her squeaky revolving chair behind her desk and worked on an ancient-looking computer.
"First, I need your identification cards or passports," she said with a bored look. We gave them to her. She looked at each of us then at our passports before saying. "Russian girls, huh?"
I thought she was going to make some American-ish comment. Instead, she got up and motioned to the three of us to follow. She let us to Apartment 2B. It was directly over the deli, which the landlady also ran.
Through the dingy hallway, I was now expecting the worst, but stepping into our new place was like entering the twenty-first century.
It wasn't too big, but big enough for three people. The wide glass windows overlooked the Central Park. The couch faced the wide-screen TV and stereo. Karmen loved the bedrooms while Elise fell in love with the bathroom. But what I loved the most was the kitchen. It had everything. And I had to refrain myself from running over to hug the fridge. It was the most adorable vintage red fridge I'd ever seen.
"Don't judge the book by its cover, ladies," Celia said with a smirk. "Welcome to my building. If you need anything, let me know tomorrow. Now I'm off work. My back is killing me."
With that said, she left us.
"I'm never going to leave this place," Karmen said with a contented sigh.
"Yeah if you can afford $3,000 a month," Elis pointed out.
Karmen narrowed her eyes to tiny slits. I had to break them by changing the subject.
"Alright, let's explore the city!" I said.
We went first to the famous Fifth Avenue since Karmen insisted that we needed new outfits so we wouldn't look like tourists.
"We have to blend in," she said as if we were some trained spies. "Follow the trend."
We went shopping, which we really got into it that day. Now possessing the must-have wardrobes, we required new haircuts. Karmen and I blew a bundle at this fancy stylist's place that boasted about having celebrity clients. Karmen looked extra fine, but I still looked like me, except with softer hair from the washing and drying. Princess Peach returned from the bookstore with her only purchase of the day, the complete collection of Jane Austen. And we were ready to call it a day well spent, literally.