Mario didn’t show up for work today. Tuesday’s and Friday’s are his days, and we usually spent four or five hours together. Mario is quiet, an excellent worker and from Peru. He calls me, “Sinorita,” and my response to him every time is, “Mi nombre es Liza, no sinorita, por favor!” I tease him and his reaction is always one of an embarrassed schoolboy. He’s about 10 years older than me too. It was the first time since I started at this job that he didn’t show. The doctor asked that I call him to find out when he would be coming in, if at all. The doctor didn’t look at all upset, which perplexed me. And he has one of those personalities that, I can bet my life, he would be upset at this moment. So, why not?
Mario is a temporary resident of the United States. He is granted legal stay in this country only if he completes a contract he has with the US government, a contract that will take him a total of five years to fulfill. He is one of a small batch of Peruvians the American government carefully handpicked that had been taken from Peru to work with asbestos materials and in a toxic environment spread throughout America. Even though the batch of contracted Peruvians is a small one, there are weeks that work is fickle and sometimes obsolete. Basically, no American wanted to do the job so the government turned to our neighbors.
Mario’s routine is to go to a government building in midtown somewhere, receive a numbered ticket and, like a lottery, cross his fingers and hope for the best. Asbestos projects are as random as auditions for an actor, and he is required to travel to all parts of the tri-state area on his own dime. If his ticket is called for the day/week (depending on the project), all outside work is cancelled without a second thought. The government comes first. Mario didn’t make it in to work today because Big Brother needed his services.
The doctor understands this reality and brought him onboard just the same, which just warms my heart. Mario is 3 years away from his asbestos life being only a memory. What surprises me is that the chances of fatal contamination from asbestos materials, is not a high one. The doctor informs me that the fear is what keeps most people ignorant and running.
Mario’s secret needs to be a movie.