The other woman in your house

I have a very weird relationship with the lady who cleans my house.

To start off with, I don’t know what to call her. I mean, of course I know what to call her – I know her NAME – but I mean I don’t really know how to refer to her.

To me, domestic worker sounds too formal, cleaning lady sounds too basic, char sounds very rude and maid, ugh, maid sounds too pre-1994.

I also find the “my” ahead of it problematic.  “My domestic worker/ cleaning lady/ char/ maid” makes it sound as if a) I somehow own her, and b) she practically lives with me, cleaning up after me as if I’m the Lady of the Manor and she’s my trusty Handmaiden.

It’s not like that at all.

The woman who cleans my house – oh dammit, let’s just call her X for the purpose of this letter, not that she’ll ever read it because heartbreakingly, she is illiterate and her grasp of English is very limited – only comes in every two or three weeks. Because, see, I don’t really need her.

My flat is small, and although I’m terribly messy I actually love cleaning every once in a while. What I would have liked, if I could have afforded it, was someone who came in every day just to straighten the place a bit and make it look neat and tidy.

Alas, even if I could afford it, X would not be this person. You see, X has the same tidying and sprucing talents as I have i.e. none.

If the roles were reversed and I were born into poverty with little to no means of getting out and I had to do X’s job or starve, I would be just as bad at it as she is. Some people simply have an eye for form and detail and others don’t.

So I don’t really need X. But I also can’t let her go (she is a single mother caring for two small children and because she’s not the best at what she does, she doesn’t really have alternative offers of employment streaming in.)

I know what I sound like – a white privileged woman in a position of power complaining about how “you can’t find good help these days”. I am not that person.

I am the person stuck with a woman my own age, whom I don’t know how to refer to, whom I don’t really need, whom I can’t converse with because we speak completely different languages – both literally and figuratively, and who isn’t very good at her job.

And yet...

When I had to move my things out of my husband’s house when we separated, she sat on the steps and cried and cried with me for hours.

When her baby boy comes with her to my house when she can’t get someone to babysit him, he jumps in my arms and I feed him with a bottle and change his nappies.

She wears my clothes and I cook for her (although she refuses to eat the vegetables I prepare with so much care because I worry about her health.) And on my birthday she made me a card that nearly broke my heart.

X and I have nothing in common and yet she is part of my life and I of hers, even though, in a perfect world, neither of us would have chosen it. 

And weirdly, even if we’re not friends, we do care for each other. I don’t know what to make of it, so I’ll just say our country is a very strange place, and I’ll never lose hope.

What's your relationship like with the woman who cleans your house?
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