Maria Salazar had lived in Portugal for most of her life. She had recently moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in search of a job. She used to be a baker's assistant in a small, but beautiful village off the coast, known as Castelo de Óbidos. The place she worked in was a rustic little bakery in a rustic little village. Every morning, both locals and tourists would line up to get some pastries and sweet bread, fresh out of the brick oven. She was good friends with the baker's daughter, Juliana, and they would talk about weather, movies, art, or even baking. Juliana was like the greatest childhood friend Maria had all her life. She was able to bake wonderful bread and pastries with Juliana and Frederica, the bakery's owner.
When she wasn't busy working in the bakery, she would sometimes hang out with Andre Ramires, a boy that she kind of liked. They would walk along the beach as the sun set and talk about life. Maria only considered Andre as a friend, and never wanted to admit that she liked him. But Andre didn't care, and was okay with Maria only liking him as a friend. He also liked baking as well, and it was one of his hobbies.
If Andre wasn't available, Maria would spend some time with Juliana outside the bakery. They would go shopping at the town square, which was a beautiful plaza with shops, stands, and stops. They would buy some fancy dresses at the clothing store or make crafts and pottery together.
Maria had so much in common with Juliana and Andre, that they were very close friends. Even though Maria didn't have much in her life, she had everything and everyone she loved and cared for: Her family, her friends, her job, and the beautiful Atlantic coast that she could see clearly from the village. In fact, all the places in Portugal were quite beautiful. The peacefulness of every scenery made Maria very content, at peace with the world at large. The ocean, the historic sites, and the friendliness of the village made her very optimistic.
Unfortunately, Maria had to leave all of this behind and start a new life in America. The reason was because the bakery that Maria worked in had to close down. Maria didn't understand why. When she was heading to work that day, she saw a sign in front of the bakery that said "Attention: Claudio Belo's Bake Shop will be closing down on May 20".
Maria was shocked at what she had read. When she saw Frederica sweeping the entrance, she ran over and asked her why the bakery was going to be closed.
"Senhora Frederica, why is the bakery closing down?" asked Maria.
"Because, Maria," replied Frederica. "Senhor Belo is retiring and wants to put his bakery out of business."
"How come?" asked Maria.
"He is quite old and feeble," said Frederica. "He can't run the bakery anymore, so he decided to close down the bakery. I heard that he sold it to someone who wants to turn it into a bank."
"But that's not fair for the workers of the bakery," said Maria. "If the bakery is closing, that means I will have to get a new job."
"Well, you can't find much work around here," said Frederica.
"Why not?" asked Maria.
"Because most people here have taken most of the good jobs, like restaurant cooks or store clerks."
"If most of the good jobs have been taken, then where can I find work?" asked Maria. "I don't want to work at museums, hotels, or hospitals."
"Maria, I hate to break it to you," said Frederica. "But you're going to have to find a job somewhere else. I heard that a store in Philadelphia is looking for recruits. Maybe you can apply for that job. How does that sound, Maria?"
"It's fine, Senhora," said Maria. "But, where is Philadelphia?"
"It's a city in Pennsylvania," said Frederica. "I know this because I study world maps."
Pennsylvania, she thought. She heard that it was a place in America, which was known for its booming businesses and busy communities. She would really love having a job outside of her village, but getting a job in Pennsylvania meant that she had to move to America.
She was scared of leaving her friends and everything that she had ever known behind, but with the bakery closing down, she had no choice. She had to move to America in search of a job.
There was only one problem: Maria had never been to America before, and it seemed like a strange, foreign country to her. In Portugal, the weather was almost always warm and sunny, but in America, the weather always changed with the seasons. The timezones were different as well. For instance, if it was 10:47 PM in Lisbon, it would be 5:47 PM in Philadelphia. While Portuguese people rode bicycles or horses, American people rode cars and buses. While most of the streets in Portugal were made of cobblestone, the streets in America were made with cement. However, Maria was eager to apply for a job outside her home country. Hopefully, she would make some new friends, learn American customs, and learn some English.
That evening, Maria watched the sunset from a cliff by the sea, with Juliana and Andre beside her. She was thinking about what would happen once she arrived in Philadelphia. How would she get a job if she only spoke Portuguese and wasn't an American citizen?
"What should I do, Juliana?" she asked her friend. "I want to start a new job in a new country, but I'm worried about leaving you all behind. And I don't think I'll be able to communicate with the co-workers, since they speak a different language than me."
"Don't worry about it, Maria," said Juliana. "I'm sure you'll be able to learn English fluently, and I'm sure you might get along with your co-workers very well."
"I've worked with people in a different country, too," said Andre. "I used to work in a small shop in Berlin, Germany. The owner was nice, and I got to learn a little German. I was pretty popular among the non-German people who worked in the shop, and we were very good friends."
"Maybe the same thing might happen to you when you get a job in America," said Juliana.
"I'm not so sure about that..." sighed Maria.
Maria spent a few weeks planning her move to Philadelphia. She looked up some jobs she could apply for that didn't require any skill or experience. She was good at baking, so she knew she had to find a job that required cooking and baking skills.
She packed away her possessions in a big brown box, wrote a farewell letter to her friends, and got ready for the long journey ahead. The flight took eight hours or so, and it was kind of expensive. The plane didn't make any stops along the way, so Maria had to wait for a few long hours before the plane landed at the airport in Philadelphia.
The trip was exhausting, but she made it.
She was finally here.
She was ready to start a new life in a new country.
Opening the doors of her new house, she saw how different it was compared to her old house in Portugal. It looked much smaller compared to the luxurious houses of Castelo de Óbidos. The roof was shingled instead of clay-tiled. When the movers arrived, they brought boxes of furniture, clothing, and Maria's prized possessions into the house.
As Maria set things up in her new house, she felt like she was ready to start a new life in Pennsylvania. But there was still a little problem. She needed to learn some English before she could apply for a new job.
Maria couldn't speak English very well, but she knew Juliana was fluent in both Portuguese and English, and she could remember some English words and phrases that Juliana had taught her. Maria hoped that, during her shifts, she would learn some English from her co-workers.
Looking in one of her bags, she found a dictionary that would translate Portuguese words into English words. It was given to her by Juliana, so it would come in handy when she applied for the job.
Looking through the Help Wanted section in the newspaper, Maria found an ad that said the local convenience store was looking for recruits. Maria had never worked at a convenience store before, so she decided to give it a try.
The next day, while taking a drive down the street, Maria couldn't believe that Philadelphia was even bigger than she imagined. But she was glad that she had arrived. Hopefully, her new job would be as good as her old one in Portugal.
Looking down the street, she caught a glimpse of the convenience store that she wanted to work in. She decided to stop there and apply for the job. As she found a parking spot, she couldn't believe her eyes. Most convenience stores were located near premium gas stations and dominate highway pit stops, but this one was in the middle of a bustling city. This was quite an unusual sight for Maria, for this particular convenience store was nothing like the ones she heard about on the flight to Philadelphia. But, even though it wasn't like the stores she hear about, she decided that she might as well check it out to see what it was like. Grabbing her Portuguese-to-English dictionary, she stepped out of the car and went inside.
As she walked inside, she couldn't believe her eyes. The store seemed to be clean and professional, yet unassuming. Muted yellows and browns were the key colors, leading to a relaxed, but slightly bland, visual landscape. She could see that what the workers used was completely different from what she used when she was working in the bakery back in Portugal. For instance, instead of old-style brick ovens, they used sleek, modern ovens. Taking a look around, she saw that, even though it seemed more modern and high-tech, the employees seemed to work very hard and knew what they were doing. Maria needed to talk to someone so she could get the job. Scanning through her dictionary, she looked at a few words and phrases in Portuguese that were translated into English. Reading through the pages, she made sure that she could understand the English translations of Portuguese words. A seemingly eagle-eyed clerk who was manning the coffee station watched suspiciously as Maria looked through her book, trying to construct a few sentences in English.
"Looking for something?" asked the clerk.
"Um, yes...yes," said Maria hesitantly. "I...I want to apply here for a job."
"Really? What is your name, young lady?"
"It's very nice to meet you, Maria," said the clerk. "My name's Tim. It's great that you want to work here, but you'd better talk to our manager first."
"I do not know..." sighed Maria. "I want to work here, but I am from Portugal, and I am just learning English, so I might have some problems talking to the manager or filling out foreign application papers."
"Oh, well, that's okay," said Tim. "Maybe I can help you. I'll tell our manager."
So, Tim told the manager that a woman from Portugal was looking for a job and wanted to work in the store. The manager said that it would be okay, and that she wouldn't have to sign any papers if she's still learning English. Luckily, Tim agreed to act as Maria's personal translator to help her improve her English. When the manager asked Maria when she would start working, she said that she would start the following week, which would give her some time to work on her English. The workers and the manager seemed very nice and understood that Maria, being from another country, needed a little help.
"How nice," Maria thought to herself. "They're going to give me a job here. Maybe starting a new life in a new country wouldn't be so bad after all..."
All week, Maria read her Portuguese-to-English dictionary and learned some new English words. With Tim's help, she learned how to form proper English sentences. When Tim asked Maria what her skills were, she told him that she was good at baking. Tim informed her that her baking skills could come in handy when working at the convenience store. Maria said that she was a very hard worker, and she could do whatever she was willing to do to help out.
Day after day, Tim helped Maria with her English, and they got to know each other better. Maria learned that Tim was very smart and helpful, but also a bit clumsy sometimes. Tim learned that Maria knew how to bake since she was a young child. The two of them got along very well.
The next week, Maria felt like she was ready to start her job. She was confident that she would do well as a clerk in a convenience store. She had skills that would come in handy when working, and maybe she could improve her English a little more by interacting with the other clerks.
Entering the store as a clerk for the first time seemed like a new experience for Maria. She felt like she was going to do well at her new job. She helped out by baking goods for the customers to buy. While Maria baked, Tim helped her learn some English.
As Maria worked, she couldn't help but admire what the convenience store had to offer for its customers. It was quite posh, and the fares seemed very popular.
It took a few minutes to comprehend the array of for options available. The well-stocked package section was ambitious and diverse in scope. Even the packaged food appeared fresh, although it hadn't been abandoned on the shelf for untold lengths. The coffee station seemed bountiful, something crucial to a well-regarded street stop. Espressos and lattes were offered in addition to the wide range of blends. The breakfast-pastry selection had quite a creative variety. It was a normal donut fare, but at six for three dollars, the price was right. The milkshake and slushie machines, which were convenience store classics, were weft in the rich woven tapestry of the store's culinary smorgasbord. The store also had a digital ordering kiosk, which was a gateway to the store's ready-to-order sandwiches. It implored to customers as "Select a Variety", and it was quite a variety. The prices for everything were extremely reasonable, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The sandwiches were made fresh in front of the eyes of the customers. Of course, there were sacrifices for freshly prepared fare, as the wait was five to seven minutes. Maria was glad that she chose to work in the convenience store, because it was bigger and better than the bakery in Portugal. There were lots of fancy machines that the bakery didn't have, which took some time for her to learn how to work them. Of course, the digital ordering kiosk was fairly new to Maria, since she never saw any of those in Portugal. All of this tea-brewing, bread-baking, and sandwich-making wasn't too hard for her, and she had a little help from Tim and the other clerks. During break time, she would help herself to a diet tea.
After Maria's shift was over, she decided to take a little tour of Philadelphia to see what it was like beyond her workplace and the busy streets. Throughout all the restaurants, theaters, bus stops, hotels, and department stores, there were places that stood out. There were a few banks, gas stations, schools, an art gallery, a bookstore, and a few other shops that sparked Maria's interest.
While exploring some of the places in Philadelphia, Maria made a few friends and learned how to be more social in a foreign country.
Kate worked in a frozen yogurt shop. It was a swanky little shop that allowed customers to make their own frosty treats. There were lots of flavors and toppings to choose from, and the customers chose different varieties. The tables were a shade of white, upbeat music played from the radio, there were colorful decorations, and the lighting was very artistic. Maria appreciated the cheerful, trendy, and almost tacky atmosphere, and when she needed to grab a quick snack, she knew she had found the right place. Kate was the cashier, and she made sure that everything was a reasonable price. Maria would often visit the frozen yogurt shop and talk to Kate about her time at work so far. As far as Maria could tell, Kate was a laid-back and optimistic person.
Anne worked in a bookstore. She was very quiet and intelligent, and Maria could guess that Anne's intelligence came from reading so many books. Her job was sorting out books and putting them where they belonged on the shelves. The bookstore itself had a broad selection of books to choose from. Whenever Maria stopped by, she would find some good books that would help her learn a little more English and improve her grammar. Anne helped Maria find some good books to read in different aisles of the store. Anne was a very well-read person, and she told Maria that she had some very good books from different countries of the world. Maria thought that was very impressive.
Vincent was an expert mechanic, and he worked at an auto repair shop. The shop underwent a comprehensive investigation and met stringent quality standards. Vincent was able to fix any vehicle if it had a flat tire, an oil leak, or a cracked radiator. Maria was impressed at how handy he was at fixing cars. Whenever Maria visited, Vincent would show her how he fixed vehicles when there was something wrong with them. Maria thought to herself that Vincent was pretty talented and hardworking. For some reason, he sort of reminded her of Andre.
Adrian helped out at one of the local gas stations. The gas pumps were plentiful and bustling with activity. The gas prices were very reasonable, and they all seemed cheap for a gas station. Maria thought that she and Adrian had something in common, because Adrian worked part-time at a convenience store, just like her. When Maria entered the store for the first time, she was quite surprised. She also noticed quite a few differences between the store she worked in and the store Adrian worked in. The store that Adrian worked in was bright, colorful, and organized. Instead of tawdry taupes, the store's key colors were brash blues and gregarious greens. It was expansive and had an indoor dining area. The slushie and milkshake machines had very rare flavors that Maria never saw before. The store also had a chamber full of soda cans and bottles. It was almost enough soda to fuel an army of middle school kids fresh out of soccer practice. The store had an automated food kiosk that had many order modifications available, including myriad sauce choices. While the convenience store that Maria worked in had fine, hearty fare, the store that Adrian worked in had a more fast-food-influenced menu. Maria was stunned by the flash and panache of Adrian's workplace. It was so stylish and fashionable compared to the convenience store she worked in. She was even amazed by the plentiful soda reserves. She couldn't believe how swanky it was compared to her workplace, which was more down-to-earth and simple. Nevertheless, she and Adrian got along very well. When Adrian was done with his shifts, he and Maria would talk about their time at work. Adrian told Maria that he always checked the gas prices to make sure they were easy on customers' wallets. He was also good with working the slushie machines and knew how to repair them if they were broken. As far as Maria could tell, Adrian was more calm and laid-back than Vincent. For some reason, she kind of liked him.
Maria got along with Kate, Anne, Vincent, and Adrian, as they all had a little something in common. Maria thought that she made a few new good friends. Maybe life in America wasn't so bad after all.
Maria spent her time either working in the convenience store, talking to Kate in the frozen yogurt shop, finding a good book at the bookstore, watching Vincent work on vehicles in the auto repair shop, or helping out Adrian at the gas station. She had to admit that she bonded with her four new friends very well and had a very good relationship with them. If they needed her help, they would let her know.
On Monday, Maria was working in the convenience store, seeing how satisfied the customers were. She thought that the reasons why people liked this place was because of its quality, choices, and right prices. It seemed to make the convenience store second to none in any other convenience stores in the world.
"Hey, Maria, I need a little help here," said Tim.
"What is it?" asked Maria.
"The slushie and milkshake machines are broken," said Tim. "Our customers can't have refreshing chilled beverages if we don't fix this."
"Do you think I can help?" asked Maria.
"Yeah, I think so," said Tim.
Maria knew that she saw Vincent fix some machines before, and she could tell he knew what he was doing. Being a convenience store clerk, Maria learned how to operate the slushie and milkshake machines properly, and Tim showed her how to fix the if there was something wrong with them.
"I think the reason that these machines are broken is because they're so popular with customers," said Tim. "They're always buying slushies and milkshakes with many different flavors. I can't really believe that so many people would buy so many slushies and milkshakes for two dollars. They're like the cheapest items here in the store, if you count the one-dollar candy bars."
"I can't really believe that, either," said Maria.
"You know, some of these machines are also good for making other drinks, like margaritas and smoothies," said Tim. "I've heard that they're also great for using at home parties, a restaurant, or for renting out. We don't usually use commercial machines. We just use the normal convenience store slushie and milkshake machines. Our slushie machine usually provides 26 servings per hour, if you don't count the free refills. The time it takes for the slushies to cool is 30 to 40 minutes."
"Wow," said Maria. "So, do all convenience stores have slushie and milkshake machines?"
"Of course," said Tim. "They can quench anyone's thirst at any time. Most people come to convenience stores for cool, frosty soda drinks. Some people are concerned with the calories in the milkshakes, and they say that they could add a little junk to your trunk. You know what I mean?"
"Oh...of course," said Maria, who still didn't fully understand English figures of speech.
Eventually, Maria tested the machines, and they seemed to be back up and running.
"Thanks for the help, Maria," said Tim. "Now our customers can get some frosty beverages again."
"You're welcome," said Maria. "I'm always happy to help. If you need my help, just let me know."
After Maria's shift was over, she went over to the frozen yogurt shop for a nice little treat to reward herself for helping Tim fix the machines.
She made herself a nice strawberry yogurt and went over to the cashier to pay for it. Kate was very friendly, and she liked having a conversation or two with Maria.
"I jog five miles every morning before work," said Kate. "I love the feeling of keeping myself in shape and being active. It gives me loads of energy for my work day. I need it because first I have my full time day job. Then I teach some yoga classes afterward. I love being active so I'm hoping to eventually get more into teaching yoga full time and maybe some other fitness education."
"Hmm, that might explain why you're always in good shape," said Maria.
"Yeah, well, the reason why I'm always in good shape is because of all the exercise I get and the yoga classes I teach," said Kate. "I'm always willing to get fit."
"If you teach yoga class, then why do you have a job here as a cashier?" asked Maria.
"Well, to tell you the truth, I have a lot to offer," said Kate. "I'm really talented at making crafts, I have a collection of DVDs, and I have encyclopedic knowledge. Even though I have a lot to offer, I got stuck here working as a cashier."
"So, how did you end up as a cashier in the first place?" asked Maria.
"Oh, I don't know," said Kate. "I was just unemployed, that's all. When I applied for a job here, I thought I was going to make frozen yogurt treats for customers. I didn't know I was going to be taking money in the form of cash, check, or credit card from patrons. Being a cashier has a lot of responsibilities. It's way too big of a list for me to describe them all to you."
"Oh, that is okay," said Maria. "My job has a lot of responsibilities as well, and since I am very hardworking, and my cooking and baking skills help me prepare goods for the customers. I also help my fellow clients fix the frozen drink machines or restock the pantry. I always tell them that if they need my help, they'll let me know."
"Why am I not impressed?" said Kate. "I guess you do a better job at working hard than me. Every day, I follow the same routine: Jog, work, teach yoga class. I'm glad that you switch things up a bit during your work time."
"I suppose I do," said Maria.
As Maria left the shop, she thought to herself about what it would be like if she was the cashier in a frozen yogurt shop and taught yoga after her shifts were over.
"Kate must have a lot on her schedule," thought Maria. "She seems to be very busy all the time, jogging in the morning before going to work, having conversations with the customers, and teaching yoga classes when her shifts are over. She seems to be very focused on staying fit and active.
A while later, Maria decided to visit the convenience store that Adrian worked in, because she was curious to know what working in a convenience store was like for Adrian.
When she entered the store, she saw Adrian sweeping the floors.
"Oh, hey, Maria," said Adrian as he stopped sweeping. "Taking a break from work?"
"I am," said Maria. "I finished my shift not too long ago, and I stopped at the yogurt shop downtown and had a chat with Kate. Do you mind if I hung out here for a bit?"
"No, I don't," said Adrian. "Go ahead."
Maria took a look around the store. She was amazed at what this store had to offer. It seemed to be bigger and better than her convenience store. It was quite astounding. She sat down at the dining area to talk to Adrian, who was taking a break from sweeping and helping himself to a cappuccino.
"So, Maria, how's work?" he asked.
"It seems to be going very good," said Maria. "Business is good, and our customers are always satisfied."
"How is it like?" asked Adrian.
"Well, the convenience store I work in has a cult following," said Maria. "I've heard that it comes from a company that has made more than nine billion dollars in revenue. There are a lot of reasons why our store is quite popular. Our sandwiches are our most popular menu item. They cost four dollars, and the bread we use is baked fresh. Customers can choose from 32 original combinations. Most people don't associate convenience stores with hot, freshly prepared food. My store has managed to become an anomaly in that respect. Some of our menu items are simple, while others are surprisingly fancy and sophisticated. We have free ATMs. Our touch-screen menus at the deli counters are useful for customizing food orders. This makes ordering fast and easy, with very little room for errors. Every square inch of space in the store is specifically engineered to get customers in and out as quickly as possible. Most of our customers linger for an hour or less. I'm guessing that the faster everything is, the more profits we make. We have house-brand food and drinks. Customers can get stuff at my store that they can't get anywhere else. We have branded ice cream, milk, juices, coffees, and sodas. We even serve breakfast sandwiches all day. The store stays open for 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The clerks are very friendly, and we always work hard. How's work going for you, Adrian?"
"Uh, it's kind of on-and-off," said Adrian. "I mean, this place has fresh food and specialty coffee, but I'm not sure if I was meant to work here."
"Really?" asked Maria.
"Yeah," said Adrian. "Everyone talks about how cool and hip this place is. We have a full-service espresso and smoothie bar that's staffed by trained baristas. Our lattes, cappuccinos, and mochas are made hot, frozen, or iced. One reviewer said that he liked our made-to-order coffee bar because of the good prices. Unlike most convenience stores, our made-to-order menu is very lengthy. You can get a lot of stuff from there. The prices are fairly reasonable, but they say that our best value two hot dogs for ninety-nine cents. We sell gas that's a lot cheaper than the gas you find at other pit stops. That's why the gas station is always busy. People just can't resist our gas prices. We use touch-screen menus at our deli counters for customizing food orders. They make ordering food and drinks very easy. In addition to discounts on food and other merchandise, our rewards program shaves up to eight cents off every gallon of gas purchased. The rewards include buy-ten-get-one-free deals for purchases of the store's most popular items. About once a month, we load loyalty cards with a free promotional item. Our ATM machines are free, and we don't charge for cash withdrawals. Many customers like the store's cleanliness and customer service. Many critics rave about how our convenience store is beyond "convenient". We place no time limits on our menu items. You can even get breakfast items both at night and during the day. We're open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. We're always very busy. We're really popular with our customers, and to me, it's kind of exhausting."
"Wow," said Maria. "That's quite amazing."
There was a moment of silence for a while, as Adrian took a sip of his coffee. Then he said something that Maria didn't expect him to say.
"You should be lucky that you work in a better convenience store than me, Maria. I think this place kind of sucks."
"How come?" asked Maria.
"Sometimes," said Adrian. "I think this place fails to live up to its lofty reputation."
"Why is that?" asked Maria.
"Well, this store is known to charm customers with its bright and colorful ways. But while it's swanky and stylish, it has some flaws. I mean, some customers complain that our sandwiches are flavorless and our desserts are too sugary. You know...something like that."
"Really?" said Maria. "Well, nobody complains over what my store has to offer. The staff is friendly, the sandwiches are good, and the coffee is a great to-go beverage. It's quite a quaint store in a big city area. We're always clean and well-stocked. There's plenty of parking space for our customers. We have Internet access for our customers so they can kill time on their phones while we prepare their sandwiches. We seem to have great customer service. We always have what our customers need."
"Wow," said Adrian. "I guess you're lucky to work in a simple, yet popular store. I guess some people here in Philadelphia prefer simple and down-to-earth rather than swanky and stylish."
"Yes, yes..." said Maria. "I guess that's true. Maybe you should come to my workplace someday and see what it's like."
"Yeah," said Adrian. "Maybe I should."
As Maria went home, she started to understand why she had a better workplace than Adrian.
"Maybe some people like my store better than Adrian's," she thought to herself. "I'm not so sure. Maybe some people come to Adrian's store for some soda and whatnot, and if they want more posh fare, they come to my store. Seems fair to me."
On Tuesday, Maria went into the bookstore to find a book to help her improve her English. As she entered, she could tell that Anne was waiting for her, and she was happy to see her.
"Why, hello, Maria!" said Anne. "Welcome back. How may I help you today?"
"Well, I am looking for a book to help me improve my grammar," said Maria. "I am still learning English, so I need a few books to help me."
"Ah, I see," said Anne. "We have quite a few books like those in the Grammar & Spelling section. Follow me and I'll find the book you're looking for."
Anne lead Maria to the grammar section of the store. She searched the bookshelves and found a book that would spark Maria's interest.
"Here you go," said Anne as she hand Maria a red book with a bold cover. "The Essential Guide for Perfect English Grammar. We have quite a few books like these. There's the Guide to Basic Grammar, The Speedy Study Guide for Grammar and Punctuation, Mr. Grammar's Tips & Tricks for Better Writing, and Punctuation 101. They're very helpful for people who need help with their grammar."
"Wow," said Maria. "That's...amazing. I never knew that there are so many books like this one."
Anne and Maria decided to chat about what kind of books they liked. Maria looked at a few books from shelf to shelf, while Anne talked about what her favorite books were.
"Many books are just wonderful to read," said Anne. "I like all kinds of them. I like humor stories, adventure stories, science fiction stories, suspense stories, and even romance stories. But the stories that I like the best are fairytales and folktales. They're so interesting to read, and they're full of magic and mayhem. They're about royalty, mystical creatures, and daring adventures. You should try reading some fairytales. They're very good."
"I guess I should..." said Maria, feeling a little curious.
"What stories do you like, Maria?" asked Anne.
"Well, I don't think I have a favorite kind of story," said Maria. "But if I were to choose one, I would pick any story or fable from my country, Portugal. In folklore from Portugal, beautiful origin stories unfold about how islands sprung from flowers dropped by an angel in Paradise. I've heard quite a few of them, like The Magic Mirror and King Robin. They're very traditional in Portuguese culture."
"Fascinating!" said Anne. "Maybe I can find you a book with stories like that."
Anne looked through the Folktales & Fables aisle, looking for a book. Finally, she grabbed a book from one of the shelves and handed it to Maria.
"The Complete Book of Fairytales & Folktales, Volume 1. It has many different fables from different cultures of the world. You should try The Witch and The Troll. It's very good."
"Hmm, I guess I should," said Maria.
As Maria left the bookstore, she looked in her bag and saw the three books that Anne picked out for her. She was impressed by Anne's sharp memory and ability to find the books that anyone needed in less than a minute. She wondered to herself how Anne was able to recommend certain books for people to read. It was probably because she was a very prolific reader and wanted to encourage people to read so they could expand their brains and become wiser.
"It's amazing that hitting the books will make you smarter," she thought. "That must be why Anne is so intelligent. Maybe I should start reading the book of fairy tales that she gave to me. It might be interesting to read. But for now, I'll just start by reading the grammar guide to help me improve my English a little more. Anne must be very clever if she has a system that makes finding books easier."
Later that day, Maria was taking a break from her shift at the convenience store, reading the grammar guide. Tim saw Maria, and was curious to know what she was reading.
"Hey, Maria, what are you reading?" he asked.
"It's a guidebook that I am reading to improve my grammar," said Maria. "I have gotten a bit better at English, but my grammar is still a little off. That's why I'm reading this book and writing notes at the same time while I take a break from my shift. I am hoping to get better at speaking English and improving my grammar a little bit."
"That's good," said Tim. "I'm glad to hear that you're learning how to improve your English. But real time's almost over, and we need you back in the kitchen in a few minutes. Do you mind?"
"No," said Maria. "I'm okay with that. Besides, I can help bake more bread for the sandwiches."
"Good idea," said Tim. "I'll let you know as soon as we need you. Okay?"
"Okay," said Maria. "If you need me, just let me know."
When Maria got back to work, she couldn't stop thinking about what she learned from the book she read as she helped her fellow workers. She tried her best to concentrate on what she was doing while memorizing each of the chapters she had read. While baking the next batch of bread, she went through a chapter about parallel structure in her head.
"It's amazing how I can repeat a particular pattern of words within a single sentence using parallel structure," she thought to herself as she took the bread out of the oven. "I think I'll have to read the rest of the chapter to learn a little more, as soon as I'm done with my shift."
Her silent thoughts were interrupted as Tim went over to check on her.
"Hey, Maria, is the bread ready? We need the next batch for the sandwiches."
"Oh, um, yes," said Maria. "It is ready. I just took it out of the oven, and now I'm just waiting for it to cool down a little before it can be used."
"Good," said Tim. "While you're doing that, help me refill the stocks. We have more packaged items coming today."
"Right away, Tim," said Maria. As she continued working, she went through each of the chapters of the book in her head, making sure that she understood the concepts of proper grammar.
"Learning how to polish my grammar doesn't seem too hard," she thought to herself. "Maybe with that book I read, I could improve my grammar in less than a week. Anne must've picked the right book for me. Maybe I should read that book of folktales she gave me as well. I'm really interested in reading it."
After her shift was over, Maria decided to visit the auto repair shop to see what vehicles Vincent was repairing. She was interested to see how Vincent repaired vehicles without any sweat.
"Hey, Maria," said Vincent as Maria came into the garage. "I'm working on this damaged car. You wanna help?"
"No thank you," said Maria. "I'll just watch and see how good you do."
Maria sat on a bench and watched carefully as Vincent began repairing the broken-down automobile. He knelt down and undid the left latch, then the right. Vincent carefully leaned the panel back and pulled it out. Inside lay the organized chaos of machinery. Steel and brass gears, pulleys, and shafts loomed dully in the dark. These where not the shiny, gleaming bits of metal that those unfamiliar with mechanisms imagine when they think of machines. This was an honest machine, one that worked for a living. The metal was tarnished and there was a hint of oil. Vincent grabbed a wrench from his toolbox and tried to loosen a nut. It held a worn, and now broken, gear in place. He tried a bit more force, but nothing happened. He looked for a small can of oil, hoping that it would help. He put a few small drops of oil, and eventually, it worked. The wrench wiggled back and forth a bit to work the oil in.
Maria observed very carefully as Vincent worked on the vehicle. She could tell that Vincent was hardworking and persistent, and he knew what was going on with the machines he repaired. Eventually, Vincent was finished with the vehicle.
"So, how did it go?" asked Maria. "What did you see in the vehicle that was causing problems?"
"Well," said Vincent. "This car had the most absurd mass of metal I've ever seen. When I repair damaged vehicles, I usually see dead bits of metal, but this time, I saw living bits of metal. You see, some machines seem to have a mind of their own and most people don't really notice or understand. For other mechanics, it's just a job, keeping these machines running. But, for me, it's so much more; it's spiritual making sure all the parts work properly. Without these machines, it'll be much harder for people to get what they need and want, and sadly, most people have little respect for them. I found a gear in the machine that had four teeth that seemed to be in bad shape. As I could tell, three of them were broken and the fourth one was cracked. I looked for the broken teeth, but they were nowhere to be found. I'm beginning to wonder why the teeth broke and what caused it. I couldn't find any clues, so the questions I have in my head will be unanswered for now. Luckily, I was able to replace the broken gear with a new one. I checked the other parts for damage, but they seem just fine. Now, if you excuse me, I have another vehicle to repair."
As Vincent headed off, Maria was left speechless.
"Wow," she thought as she silently left the garage. "Vincent must be always very busy, going from station to station trying to repair broken vehicles. He can also be pretty arrogant, as he talks about how he fixed a vehicle and then dash off to fix another one without saying another word. He must be always in a rush to get things done and fix each and every vehicle he can get his hands on. He's such a busybody. Good thing Adrian's more calm and laid-back than Vincent."
On Wednesday, Maria didn't have work, so she decided to take a little tour of Philadelphia. She visited Adrian's store for a little coffee. She and Adrian talked about their time at work so far and how they helped their co-workers by using their hard work and persistence.
After taking a scenic drive and visiting historic sites that Anne told her about, she decided to visit the frozen yogurt shop and talk to Kate for a little bit. Kate always liked to talk about her daily living and how she liked to keep healthy.
"I usually take a bike ride down Willow Street every Tuesday after I teach yoga class," said Kate. "Bicycles are more than a source of transportation for me. They truly shape how I see the world. Riding a bike is a better alternative to always driving a car because it releases fewer dangerous toxins into the air. You may not realize it, but air pollution is becoming a bigger problem every day. It's terribly damaging to the environment and the air we breathe. For this reason, we should try to cut back on harmful emissions. One of the best ways to reduce pollution is to use methods of transportation that are less harmful to the environment."
"Really?" said Maria. "I didn't know that."
"You know, riding a bike has been one of my favorite hobbies since I was a kid," said Kate. "I used to take great pleasure in jumping on my bike and riding to the local sweet shop that was about half a mile away from my house. On my bike, I could break free of the bonds that held me in the neighborhood to go buy sweets. If I felt particularly adventurous, I could even ride a bit farther to some places I had never been before. It's hard to grasp the full extent of the bicycle's impact on life. It gives us exercise and fresh air - two things that we need in our daily lives. There are a lot of benefits that come from riding a bike. To be fit and healthy, you need to be physically active. Regular physical activity can help protect you from serious diseases such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, mental illness, diabetes and arthritis. Riding your bicycle regularly is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Cycling is a healthy, low-impact exercise that can be enjoyed by people of all ages, from young children to older adults. It is also fun, cheap and good for the environment. Riding to work or the shops is one of the most time-efficient ways to combine regular exercise with your everyday routine. An estimated one billion people ride bicycles every day – for transport, recreation and sport."
"Wow," said Maria. "That's amazing."
Kate and Maria discussed how bike riding improved both physical and mental health and reduce the chances of experiencing many health problems. As Maria left the shop, she couldn't help but think to herself about how driving cars less could help reduce air pollution and that bike riding helped people keep healthy.
"It's amazing that I can learn new things from my new friends," thought Maria. "They teach me something new every day. I think that's very nice of them. Maybe I can teach myself a little something one day."
When Maria got home, she decided to read the book of fairytales and fables that Anne gave her. She flipped through the chapters and saw a story that caught her attention. It was "The Witch and The Troll", which was one of Anne's favorite fairytales, or so she was told. She decided to give it a try and began reading.
On Thursday, Maria visited the bookstore to find a book that would help her improve her writing.
"Welcome back, Maria!" said Anne. "Did you read that book I gave to you?"
"Uh, yes, I did," said Maria. "I started reading The Witch and The Troll. It seems pretty interesting. I'll have to read more of it later on."
"Oh, you will love it," said Anne. "Have you gotten to the part where the troll gets a kiss from the witch?"
"No, I haven't," said Maria. "Sounds rather strange. I'll have to read it to see what happens next. Anyway, I'm looking for a book that will help me improve my writing."
"I see," said Anne. "I know exactly where the book you're looking for is. Follow me and I'll show you."
Anne lead Maria to the writing section of the store. She searched the bookshelves and found a book that Maria was looking for.
"Here you go," said Anne as she handed Maria a yellow book with a purple cover. "Gary McGraw's Guide to Perfect Writing."
"Wow," said Maria. "Thanks."
"Is there anything else I can do for you?" asked Anne.
"I have one question," said Maria. "Does the book you gave me have Portuguese folktales, by chance?"
"Oh, you bet it does," said Anne. "They have stories that you might have heard before. Trust me, you'll love them."
"Hmm, I guess," said Maria.
As Maria left the bookstore and headed to work, she decided to take her books along with her so she could read during break time.
At work, Maria helped her co-workers by making sandwiches, soups and baked goods while Tim was filling out customer orders. When supplies came in, she helped Tim put those supplies into the stock.
"Hey, Maria," said Tim. "We need your help."
"With what?" asked Maria.
"One kilogram of bananas just came in today. We need your help to put them in the fruit pantry."
"I'm on it," said Maria, and she went straight to where Tim was unloading the crates. She helped Tim put everything in their respective pantries so they could be sold.
"Hey, Maria, a funny thing happened on the way to work this morning," said Tim. "I saw this old lady selling bananas across the street. I asked her what the price was, and she told me that they cost seven dollars per kilogram. I told her that the local grocery store sells bananas for five dollars per kilogram. I asked her if she could sell anything for the same price, and she said she couldn't afford to match that price, but she could sell a kilogram of bananas to me for six dollars, because that was best she could afford to give me for. If she sold me a kilogram of bananas for five dollars or more, she would lose her profit. I simply gave a 'no thanks' and said I worked in a convenience store and that we get bananas and other things delivered to our store each week. She told me that I was lucky, because I have a real job and don't need to be out on the street selling stuff every day."
Maria chuckled. "I guess I'm lucky to be working here, too," she said. "We should all be glad that we're hard-working, profit-making convenience store workers and not poor old people selling fruit on the street."
"Yeah," said Tim. "Maybe we should."
On Friday, Maria decided to visit Adrian's store again. When she arrived at the gas station, she saw Adrian outside the store, looking a little tired out. She went over to see what was up.
"Hey, Maria," said Adrian. "I could really use your help. The store is in pretty rough shape, and I was hoping that you could help me clean up the mess in there."
"There's a mess in there?" said Maria. "How big is that mess?"
"Well, it's really huge," said Adrian. "It's so big that I can't clean it up myself. Go ahead. See for yourself."
When Maria walked in, she couldn't believe what she saw.
Adrian was right. The store was a huge mess.
"Yikes! What happened here?" said Maria.
"Oh, last night, some stupid high school kids came in and raided the store," said Adrian. "They made a huge mess of our packaged food section, spilled some drinks, and snatched some sodas. And boy, were they going to town on the slushie and milkshake machines. Some of them didn't even pay for the stuff that they raided."
"Maybe I can help you clean up the mess," said Maria.
"Yeah, that'll be great," said Adrian.
Maria helped Adrian clean up by putting bags, bottles, and cans back where they belonged. She mopped up some spills and refilled the machines.
After Maria and Adrian were done cleaning the mess, they helped themselves to some coffee and had a conversation at the dining area.
"Thanks for the help, Maria," said Adrian. "We always keep this store nice and clean. Unless, of course, a horde of teenagers raid the store on a Friday night. Friday is the day of the week when a huge population of high school or college students decide to sneak out and cause trouble. It may seem kind of fun for them, but for us employees, it's always a huge mess. But when push comes to shove, there are worse ways to spend a Friday night. And summer vacation started the other day, so these kids decided to cause mischief a day earlier than usual."
"Wow," said Maria. "That seems chaotic."
"It is chaotic," said Adrian. "And the mess that they make always takes forever to clean up. That's why I need help from others to clean the mess up."
There was a moment of silence as Adrian took a sip of his coffee.
"I'm so glad that you're always willing to help, Maria," said Adrian. "Sometimes I feel like I can't do things on my own, and I rely on others for help. But what I really needed was someone who is always hard-working and persistent. I knew that I would count on someone like you to show up and spend some time with me, and help me with anything I need help with."
"Really?" said Maria.
"Yeah," said Adrian. "That's why I'm lucky to have you around. For a long time, I've always wanted someone who was so persevering and steadfast, and when you arrived and showed me how you're always willing to help, I felt like my life was turned around. I'm so glad you moved here from Portugal, because there's nobody else I know who's as helpful as you."
"I'm glad I moved here, too," said Maria. "I feel like I've been creating a new life for myself here in Philadelphia. I hope to make more friends and learn more about this city. And I hope to help others as well."
Maria and Adrian talked for a while, and Maria helped Adrian during the last two hours of his shift.
Maria felt like she had really made a new life for herself. She no longer felt homesick or out-of-place. Now she had so much to think about: Her job, her friends, her new home, and everything that Philadelphia had to offer, from its shops to its historic sites. She had improved her English a lot and was now able to speak the language fluently, so now she was able to communicate better with other people in town. She always heard people talk about "that nice Portuguese girl" who worked in the convenience store, and Maria was sure that they were talking about her, which made her happy. She found herself talking to her friends a lot more than usual, especially Adrian. At times, she would think about Portugal: The crisp Iberian sun, the crystal blue coast, and all of the lovely rustic houses and village. She decided that she would visit Portugal someday, and hopefully see Andre and Juliana again, but not today. Right now, Philadelphia was right where she belonged. She was grateful that she made the decision to live in America to start a new life.
"I have to go home now, Maria," said Adrian. "Do you mind?"
"No, I don't," said Maria. "Maybe you can come to my workplace tomorrow. How does that sound?"
"Great. See you tomorrow," said Adrian.
"Oh, and one more thing," said Maria as Adrian started heading for home.
"What is it?" asked Adrian.
"If you need my help," she told him. "Just let me know."
"I will," said Adrian.
Maria and Adrian headed to the parking lot, got into their cars and drove home. They knew that they got along well, but there was one thing that was certain.
If anyone needed Maria's help, they would just let her know.