I’m reposting this story for Crossed Genres magazine’s initiative to raise money for the Haiti earthquake relief effort – Post a Story for Haiti. There are many more stories at the link.If you enjoy the stories and want to show your appreciation, please donate to a charity involved in the Haiti relief efforts.
You could click on the title of the post to be directed to the page as well. Grazie!
She is your conventional dusky Indian beauty in a land of surplus, where nothing is out of reach.
She can cook. She can take twenty different tubes of food stuff from the supermarket that is two blocks away, empty them into a bowl, mix the concoction, put it in a plate, religiously garnish it with shredded Parmesan, and serve it to you with an impeccable, perhaps practiced, diasporic expectant look; to which you can say nothing but ‘Oh! It’s lovely/wonderful’ when the insides of your stomach are screaming ‘Oh no! Not this plastic trash again.’ She then proudly informs you that she doesn’t eat anything besides what she cooks at home since everything outside is so ‘processed’.
Everything is disorganised, in shambles, in her own house. In other people’s houses she is called ‘a cleaning lady’. She keeps this aspect of her life from anyone new she meets. Sooner or later, they find out and begin to think less of her. She knows this process of metamorphosis; can see the change in the way they look at her. As soon as they find out, they start looking directly into her eyes, emboldened by the idea that she is used to taking orders. Before that they look at her a bit nervously, for she is beautiful with her long hazel eyes, big fringed forehead, her thin lips, and amicably moisturized skin.
That’s why she doesn’t have too many friends; she knows she will lose them before even finding them properly, profoundly. She does have fleeting friends. They somehow cannot find it in their hearts to believe that she is being truthful about the fact that she has a degree in environmental chemistry or that she has studied classical piano for eight of her thirty-two odd years.
She has only one obsession in her life now - her boyfriend Juan! Every other obsession she picked up en route to her life with him. He sells the white stuff. Initially he didn’t let her touch it but she soon found her way to it. It wasn’t difficult in the land of surplus anyway. Before he knew it they were both ardent admirers of ‘gear’, the only difference was he liked ‘drip’ and she didn’t. ‘Call me old-fashioned’ she says, ‘but digging your nose and then collecting and swallowing the white stuff mixed with nose booger isn’t a girl’s cup of tea’.
I’ve only just met her. I’ve only just found out that she is a cleaning lady. But I still can’t look into her eyes. What does that say about me? Perhaps if I tried the white stuff. They say it makes you feel like you can do ‘anything’. Perhaps then I could look directly into her eyes and find out who she really is. But do I need to find out? No. Do I want to? Yes.
I do judge her. I do think of her all the time. On the surface I say, I’m searching for moments that she and I have shared where she has shown depth. I’m trying to find that person in her whom I can respect. But I’m beginning to feel that I don’t want to respect her. I think I just want to be around her because she makes me feel better about myself.
I’ve been feeling pretty empty myself lately. But I strongly believe I can never be as empty as her. And my clouds of ingenuity are much denser.
I’ve been jotting down things about her in my diary. I keep the diary locked when I’m in the house, even if she’s not.
What is it about her?
I think there is something very sinister about her. Her presence smells putrid.
Last night she shouted at me. It came out of nowhere. She told me I was being lax about the cleaning, and that I’d left the kitchen messy. I was completely taken by surprise. How could she be so strong? She is just a cleaning lady, an accidental academic, and an uninspired musician, nothing more … nothing less. Each time I see her I can taste bland, sweet, processed tomato soup. Tomato soup isn’t supposed to taste like that.
The other day we made a desperate attempt at socializing together, mutually, for her boyfriend and my brother; they are friends. She wore an outfit fit for a club, just to go to the local pub at the end of the road.
I tried to make conversation with her but only when my brother was around. I asked her if she knew of any interesting places I could visit in the city. She looked at me emptily. There was a bit of powder around her nose. Normally one would tell the other person if they had the white stuff on their face in public, so that person could clean themselves up. That was the polite thing to do. No one wanted trouble. But I didn’t tell her.
“Go to the big wheel” she said coldly, so coldly that she looked blue. ‘The most touristy spot on the whole freaking planet’, I thought to myself, ‘who does she think I am?’
Later my brother asked me if she and I had spoken about interesting stuff. I looked at him sternly and said 'The dimwit thinks I am as dumb as her.' My brother said disappointedly, 'Please, just make an effort, we are living in their house, they’re doing a lot for us. Please just … just be a little social, I’m not asking for too much.'
Juan is a DJ as well. He plays decent music.
I wasn’t jumping with joy tonight, it was all right. He plays here every Saturday night. It’s a club. Could this place be any smaller? There’s only one toilet! Only one! For men and for women, and they all use it for one thing and one thing only. And not to empty their bowels. There’s a proper table and everything in there! Everyone who comes out of the toilet is usually cleaning their noses.
A black man just came and hugged me; he was my brother’s and her friend. He pressed something into my hand. She looked me directly in the eyes.
Then she took my other hand and led me to the toilet. We had to wait outside a long time; there were many people in there. Once it was empty she took me inside. She gave me a little bump on the end of a credit card. I didn’t know how to snort it so I clumsily dropped it. She scolded me! The nerve!
Then it was her turn. She took a lot … in comparison to what she had given me and what I had dropped.
I am not interested in the white stuff anymore. I can see myself in the mirror. I am doing that really poignant thing where you look into the mirror and ask your own image, ‘Who are you? Who are you really? Do you know this person you’re looking at? Do you condone her actions? Are you her? Is she you?’
She is now lying on the ground, and shaking a lot.
Sigh. And I was hoping I would finally get a chance to look her directly in the eyes …