She'd been lucky in that she'd transitioned from foster care to adulthood better than some people she'd been in the system with, but luck wasn't a statistically significant factor in planning her future. Making money, on the other hand, was a proven course of action, and having multiple sources of income was a safety net she couldn't live without. She didn't have family to turn to when times got rough, and one mistake at work or school could have a domino effect on the life plans she had so carefully been setting up.
Brian, the postdoc, was suddenly hovering over her shoulder.
Brian was super fun to work with: on her first day, she'd introduced herself, and he'd asked her to take out the trash more frequently—he'd thought she was the cleaning woman. He often stopped to explain basic concepts to Ledi—and Ledi alone—during lab meetings, while asking Kevin, the newbie, for his advice on how things should be run.
So fun, that Brian.
She turned to face him. His dark hair was sticking out every which way and his face was unshaven. He looked stressed-out, which wasn't unusual but generally didn't bode well for her.
"Hi Brian," she said, trying to find the pleasant but deferential tone that seemed to edify him. She hated that she couldn't just talk to him like a normal human, but apparently there was something about her that had led him to tell Dr. Taketami—the lab's Primary Investigator, and thus Ledi's boss—that she was "giving him attitude."
Ledi couldn't afford to be labeled as a problem.
She'd wanted to be a scientist since her fourth-grade teacher had handed her a battered copy of National Geographic. Ledi had been fascinated with the cover: a close-up shot of a woman with dark skin, just like hers, peering into a microscope. That scientist had been trying to cure a mysterious disease, and Ledi had gleaned from the image not only that she wanted to do the same thing but also that she could.
She hadn't foreseen all the other variables that went into life as a woman in STEM: politicians who treated her profession with contempt and threatened her future—and the world's. Fellow scientists like Brian, who thought that women in the lab were their personal assistants instead of their equals.
"How are you this morning?" she asked him in the tone she'd heard secretaries on old syndicated TV shows use to placate their sexist bosses. Brian smiled; he'd watched the same reruns it seemed.
"Actually, I'm a little behind in my work after getting back from the Keystone conference." That was when Naledi noticed the sheaf of papers in his hands.
This motherfucker, she thought.
"Oh what a shame," she said.
"There's this grant application that has to go out and we're kind of screwed if we lose this funding. Since you don't have much to do..."
"How do you know I don't have much to do?" she asked in the same polite tone, unable to repress the question.
Brian cleared his throat. "Well, you're just sitting here."
"Kevin is just sitting here, too. He's clearly watching a movie on his phone," she said, tilting her head toward her lab mate across the room, who was laughing at whatever he was streaming. Her voice was still calm and polite, but she saw Brian's brows drawing together in annoyance.
"Look, we all have to do grunt work sometimes. It comes with the territory. Do you think you're somehow exempt from putting in the work?"
Ledi sucked in a breath. She worked hard—so much harder than she should have had to, really. That was the problem. When you worked twice as hard all the time, working at the average rate was slacking off.
"No," she said quietly. "I don't think that."
Why did I even say anything?