I live in a pig-sty. The last I checked, I wasn’t a pig, but I live in a pig-sty. And I live in a pig-sty because my cleaning lady has very selfishly decided that she needs to go on a holiday.
A week ago, I came home to find Ah Chuan standing in the lounge room screaming at Saffy.
A complete stranger walking into this scene would have immediately dialed 999. But Ah Chuan is from Canton and having met Ah Chuan’s relatives, I can say with authority that the Cantonese never speak at a volume less than a parade of F16s. Especially if they’re excited and happy. It’s only when they speak in what the rest of the world considers a normal conversational tone that you need to be worried and slowly back away.
Which explains why Saffy’s reaction that morning was not one of fear but plain politeness. That, and a conviction that repeating something very slowly would make the incomprehensible completely understandable.
“I. Don’t. Understand. A. Word. You. Are. Saying,” she told Ah Chuan patiently. “Do. You. Understand?”
Which only served to make Ah Chuan even more excited as she increased the volume. Saffy later said that if I hadn’t show up at that moment, Ah Chuan would have gone silent on account of the fact that she was approaching a volume audible only to God and dogs.
As it turned out, Ah Chuan was taking her 80 year old mother back to Canton to visit her relatives for the last time. “How long will you be away?” I asked her in my fractured Cantonese.
“FOUR WEEKS!” Ah Chuan screamed. “I’M SO SORRY TO LEAVE YOU ALL ALONE LIKE THIS, BUT IT’S THE LAST TIME MY MOTHER WILL SEE HER SISTER IN CHINA.”
“Four weeks?” Saffy said when I translated. She let the news sink in for a moment. “She’ll be gone for four weeks? But, but who’s going to do our cleaning? Oh my God! Is she allowed to do that?”
Ah Chuan was distraught at Saffy’s reaction. “OH, PLEASE TELL YOUNG MISS NOT TO FEEL UPSET! IT’S OK!” she shouted at the top of her voice. “MY MOTHER IS VERY OLD AND SHE’S HAD A VERY LONG LIFE.”
By now, Saffy was in a right old panic mode. Her legendary bosom heaved like overworked pistons. “I haven’t picked up a mop in the entire time she’s been working for us! I don’t even know where the mop is! No really, she can’t go! Tell her she can’t go!”
I blinked and it occurred to me that maybe I’d translated the wrong thing. So I tried again. “Her mother is going to see her sister for the last time, and…”
“OH, IT BREAKS MY HEART THAT SHE’S SO UPSET!” Ah Chuan screamed.
As I later told Amanda, it was like telling a joke to an approaching tsunami. “Someone needs to tell her that it’s not always about her!” I complained.
“I don’t see why we can’t just hire another temp cleaner. There are so many unemployed people out there now,” said Amanda, who’s always believed that there’s no problem in the world you can’t solve if you throw enough money at it.
“Saffy doesn’t want anyone else to clean the apartment,” I reported. “She doesn’t trust them not to go through her underwear drawer.” Amanda looked grim.
Which was why on Saturday morning, the three of us found ourselves standing before a bucket of water, a mop and a vacuum cleaner which I was sure we’d attached the wrong way.
It was an odd moment. Like Saffy, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d picked up a mop. It had taken twenty minutes to find the broom closet and another ten to recognize the mop.
Saffy broke the silence. “I don’t know what to do now,” she said in a small apologetic voice. Somehow, she managed to look – while wearing a tee-shirt that declared ‘Make it work!’ – both defiant and embarrassed.
“We’re so pathetic,” I said.
“Clearly, this is not happening,” Amanda decided, as she adjusted her expensive and wildly mopping-inappropriate D&G blouse. “I’m calling a temp.”
That was two weeks ago. Saffy vetoed the first five candidates as potential underwear perverts, while my beloved adopted mongrel dog Pooch vetoed the last two by growling very fiercely at them. “He’s a very good judge of character,” Saffy told the candidates as she shut the door firmly in their faces.
Our flat is now a pig-sty. I’m sleeping over at Karl’s, Amanda has moved to a hotel, while Saffy – in true Alamo spirit – is staying put to guard her underwear. Two weeks to go.