I sit comfortably behind the opulent granite counter and look at the 30 page case I have yet to read with dismay. As I tell myself for the 10th time how much I despise law school, he (tall, brunette, wearing small glasses enclosed by a thin frame) says hello. I say hi back, and as he politely makes small talk, I do the same, wishing him a happy-fourth-of-july here, saying a “have-a-good-one” there. He leaves the library with his cleaning cart and I go back to hating law school in my brain.
Eventually it is time for my 15 minute break, so I head upstairs to my law school’s fancy kitchen/lounge and microwave myself some enchiladas made by Trader Joe’s himself. He sees me and smiles. I try to avoid having a long conversation because I have yet to actually start reading the dreaded 30 page case. In an attempt to focus, I put my stuff down on the farthest table in the room. As I wait by the microwave for my meal, Daniel starts talking to me. He tells me he just moved from Oregon, where he was working the fields, picking worms to sell to firshermen: “$6 dollars per box, and if you work fast, you can fill two small boxes and make $12 an hour,” he says, in a very positive tone. I’m amazed there’s no sarcasm behind his words.
He has a hat on now and has changed out of his janitor jumpsuit. He doesn’t wear it backyards like I somehow expected him to. He has earphones hanging from the pockets of his sweatpants, and as we look over to the television to watch a cycling race, I tell him that I love to spin. He tells me he cycles too. He rides his bike to and from work, every day. From National City to Downtown San Diego, a 20 mile ride, about 30 minutes long. I cringe because it is eleven p.m. and he’s about to ride his bike back home, after an 8 hour shift of cleaning my school. But he just smiles and tells me that it’s a nice ride, and goes off talking about how riding a bike outside is so much more fun and better than riding one at the gym. As I open the refrigerator to steal a blueberry from some stranger’s blueberry/strawberry salad, he laughs and says he once used to pick blueberries too. I ask him how many jobs he’s had, expecting a low number since he is only twenty-two years old, but he only has a chance to go through two of them (construction and the worms) before I realize my fifteen minutes are up and I have to go back to work. I tell him he can continue to tell me all about his past jobs next sunday, when we’ll both be working: me behind a desk, him mopping the floors. He smiles again, and extends out his hand to shake mine. He tells me it was very nice to meet me and wishes me a good night.
I walk to the elevator thinking to myself: I’m not allowed to complain about my life, ever, because Daniel doesn’t complain. He thinks his life is good and that there are a lot of people whose lives are a lot harder than his. So tonight he is going to ride his bicycle home to National City, smiling for the entire 20 miles. Just like I’m going to read that 30 page case and thank God for the life I’ve been given, and for the opportunity I know I’ll have in the future to help people like Daniel have a brighter future.
Lord knows he deserves it- Daniel, my new friend who also happens to be my school’s janitor.