Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Malicia, Part Two

It was a week later into October. I had to snort. I just got another notice from the Comptroller's Office at school telling me I had better have the balance of my semester's bill paid, or... huh. Didn't actually specify the "or else" part of it.

I didn't know it then, but it was going to be a semi-annual ritual for me: at registration, I go and pick up the bill for my tuition and expenses. The Registrar's work study flunkie tells me I can't register for classes unless I put up at least half the balance due. I can't put up the money, since my student loan disbursement is being held in Financial Aid, pending my registration for classes.

It was the same circuit, over and over, in August, and again in January. Finally, the Financial Aid director stepped up and saved the day. I did appreciate his intervention, but it did seem a trifle like he was rather enjoying the debt of gratitude many of us "owed" him for cutting through the red tape. But the nightmare wasn't quite over, yet. Around about he middle of October, here came the notices demanding the second half of the semester's tuition, which of course, depended on getting the next disbursement of the student loan, which didn't come until about the first of next month.

Endless cycle of "I made arrangements," "Yes, but I see a payment is due," "But I can't make the payment until I get the loan money," "Can't you pay just the $500?" If I could make such a payment, I wouldn't be relying on student loans and work study to pay for school. I'd just tell Dad, "Yo! School's gonna cost ya' this semester... I got this astronomy class with a killer lab, and stagecraft's gonna need some supplies... Oh, and while you're at it, dorm life's a drag, and there's a great up Union Avenue..."

It worked out in the end, really, but there I was, cutting a class that I had gotten the gist of, but wasn't too comfortable skipping, standing in line outside the Comptroller's Office. I counted the holes in one of the ceiling tiles, and made a ball-part estimate of how many holes there were in the ceiling altogether, guessing how many tiles there were across the width of the hall, and how many tiles spanned the distance between the support beams, how many support beams... I started jotting a few of the numbers in the pocket notebook I kept in the breast pocket of the wool coat that was smelling distinctly like a dog wading out of some shallow part of the Puget Sound.

In front of me, an excited voice that sounded like being on a runaway roller coaster felt informed the cashier just what she could do with her billing statement. There were pleas for logic, threats, and I think I heard just the slightest tremor of a proud young woman about to lose face in front of about half a dozen freshmen and sophomores, and another three or four entry-level bureaucrats in the office.

I shook my head, trying to cover my nervousness with a look of disbelief. I don't remember what I was thinking, what held my attention so, as I had lost interest in counting the holes in the acoustic ceiling tiles, but I was suddenly surprised to find I was next in line to the next available cashier, right next to this storm of... purple.

I had nearly forgotten a brief encounter on the cobblestones of the Proctor district. What I did remember wouldn't even have been much of a dream, only that there was a presence around me since that night only about a week ago. I looked at her, from behind, and tried to get a guess of what she looked like up front. Most of the intricacies of her figure were obscured in the draping of a long, very dark purple coat, topped with a bobbed mop of burgundy-tinted raven black hair.

I stood there for an instant, taking in an almost nostalgic sensation in the moment. The assistant behind the desk, dressed in the classic Wall Street wannabe white shirt sleeves and a silk tie that overstated his position, cleared his throat, "Can I help you?" I fumbled a bit, passing the manila folder of my financial aid papers across the counter top.

"Uh, yeah. I..." Before I knew it, there was the Director again, reaching over to look over the billing statement. "This one is a 'Code 7a,'" he instructed. The assistant seemed a little puzzled, until the Director launched into a stream of office lingo, explaining procedures to this power tie.

Painless, I wondered, as I coasted out of the Comptroller's. But don't they talk to each other? Financial aid, comptroller, registrar?

I stepped on a sheet of paper, and I glanced down. Yes, obviously, someone dropped it. I picked it up, and looked for a name, maybe I could place whose it was...

It seemed an odd chance to take, just calling out a name on a piece of paper, and I could have just dropped it off to campus mail down the hall, or maybe taken it back inside, but that could have taken days or weeks, and this might have been important, this... billing statement.

"Mary?" I spoke up, barely louder than a private conversation. No response from anyone. Try the whole name,maybe? "Mary Alicia?" I called. I got a few glances, but no positive I.D. I turned to look behind me, perhaps, and now I was startled by a figure, all in shades of purple, a damp, bobbed hairdo like a flapper, partly plastered against a pale complexion. A round face, with a strong chin and a sharp, pointed nose.

And piercing violet eyes.

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