Saturday, September 17, 2011

God as a Maid

Every Tuesday, Ines comes to the house to do the weekly cleaning. During these days, I’m a mix of panic and childish pride. I don’t want her to clean the space that I occupy. Secretly, I feel shame and guilt…responsible for keeping her tied to this profession, keeping her from her family.

The sound of the taxi boat engine roars nearby around 9am. Ines disembarks and steps onto the little dock. The kitchen door opens and I hear her being greeted by the boy. They exchange cheerful words. I’m upstairs listening in, fearful of the moment when I’ll be seen. The wood creaks near and behold Ines.

Ines and the boat

I have a clown smile on. “Hola, Ines!” She comes in and kisses wind on my cheeks, we exchange skin and air. She’s in a pink floral blouse and a red mayan weaved skirt, barefoot. Her shoes are placed in front of the door marking her transformation from outside Ines to inside Ines. She starts her work.

While she cleans, I find refuge in corners, at any moment her look can turn me into a green toad. What am I so frightened of? A smile, eye contact, the exchange?

I find a place next to the boy outside on the veranda. He’s my ally. My interpreter.

“Disculpe! Do these need to be washed?” Ines raises some of the clothes I’ve left on the bedroom’s rocking chair. My Victoria Secret padded bra waves in the air unceremonious like a ship wrecked flag.

I sink into the chair….um, I search the boy for the baton.

“Do they need to be washed?” He whispers over to me.

My catch is slow, but I grip the stick…

“Do they need to be washed?…Oh, no, no, No! Gracias.” I relay to Ines like a parrot repeating human words.

The truth is, they probably needed washing. Too embarrassed to receive the offer. Before I realize it, before I can change my answer, Ines' smile is out of sight.

My ostrich neck bends deep into the sand.

I don’t feel well, I tell the boy resting my head on his arm. I think I’m coming down with something. I need to sleep I have a headache, it’s the weather, a soar throat coming on. I want to lie in bed but I can’t because Ines might see me and what would I say?

I close my eyes and make my best attempt to sleep with folded arms on folding chairs. The sun makes its way high up on a cloudy sky.

After several hours, Ines moves to the kitchen. I’m relieved, my queue to run upstairs and lie down. But not on the bed. She’s just remade the bed that I made this morning (along with the dishes in the sink I’ve already washed and put away before her arrival). What will she think? Next to the bedroom, the bathroom holds a staircase that leads to a secret attic space. There’s a tiny alcove with a view of the lake, a living tree branch threads it’s body through wood and plaster. A window seat with pillows. I curl up like a cat, finding peace with a book.

Ines walks inside the bathroom. She opens a door that leads to the washing machine and dryer. At any second, if she looks straight up, she will see a head glued to a book; I freeze into a statue. The last garment is folded and she leaves the bathroom. I breathe again.

It’s starting to rain. The clouds are now gray and water begins to beat on thatched roof. It’s 3pm, where has the day gone?

Last time Ines was here, it rained and the taxi boats did not stop. It took almost an hour of her standing in the rain on the house dock… to realize finally she needed to walk to the village to the main dock to catch her boat home to San Pedro;  a yellow waterproof camping bag that the boy offers her is the only protection she accepts to cover her head.

Today, I’m worried that she’ll have to wait in the rain again, and then walk another 10 minutes in the rain to the village. I’m worried now and pray that the rain will stop. Please stop raining! Please taxi boats, please stop for Ines today. Please stop taxi boat! Each time I hear a faint boat engine, I visualize the captain, I make him turn his face toward the house. I’m a worried wreck. I’m worried for a woman whose action shows that I ignore her.

By now…something sounds unfamiliar. It’s silence. No creaking steps on wood or brooms beating dust and fur, no mops shuffling water, no mixing of bleach splashing in buckets. There’s stillness.

The boy finds me in my nest.

Ines is gone he tells me. He’d just tipped her and she walked to the village to catch the boat.

For the first time all day, I smile triumphant.

I feel like tea and cake. I’ll bake us a yogurt cake!

I make my way down the spiral staircase, catching a glimpse in the mirror.  Why so shy? So full of paradoxes missy? Before I start lecturing my reflection, I see the vase of freshly cut flowers her hands have arranged next to the toothbrush. There are calla lilies and wild flowers, hanging yellow and white buds. Thankful. My eyes feel wet.

In the bedroom, there are my clothes, except now neatly folded. The floor is now clean, no drifting clumps of Biela, dead dragonflies, or moths. The sneezing and coughing I’ve had for days disappears. The space has been cleansed and beautified.

All the vases have been replenished with new colors, a painter reloading her brush. Purple orchids and red roses on the kitchen table. Yellow and white blossoms in the bathroom. Bright pink lilies and birds of paradise next to the dogs’ water bowls.

My heart cracks open. What was I hiding from? What was it really?

In the kitchen, I look for a baking pan. I crawl into dark nooks and find a cake pan. I think of Ines… how foolish I was to hide. I collect the pan and stand upright, only to hit my head hard on the counter.

That’s what happens when you don’t receive god's gifts.

I remember my spiritual teacher once telling me, “when the universe gives what it is your heart truly asks and you don’t step forth to receive it…it’s as if you’ve just bitch slapped god.”

I’m rubbing my head, rubbing the imaginary bump that grows like Pinocchio's nose.

“I don’t want to bitch slap god anymore.” I mumble.


One summer, when I’m 8, my mother comes home from work for lunch. While kids are in summer camp or learning to float on the sea's salty body, I’m at home…alone…reading, day dreaming, watching tv, waiting. Over the phone, she tells me how to prepare the noodles to make vietnamese bun. You boil the water, cook the rice noodles, drain it. Then take a handful and place into a round mound, just like I showed you. I’m excited to have her come home. But she says she’s bringing a friend, Uche (years later I’m in her Ethiopian wedding…one of her 8 bridesmaids).

I make the noodles but then quickly run to my room and lock the door. Eventually, I hear my mother and Uche’s voice. I’m in my bedroom listening to their laughs and warm banter, periodically my mother knocks and pleads behind closed doors. When I am ready to come out, they’re already left.

My mother once told me that she worked so hard so I would have a better future. She works every day and even on weekends. On certain days, she’s in class, not appearing until I blame the moon high up in the sky. I don’t want her to work so much, not for me. Some how I take responsibility for all the things that takes my mother way from me.

She was doing it all for me …so I told myself then that I didn’t deserve it.

This love…your mom, these flowers, a kiss, you don’t deserve it.

I’m not 8 anymore. I know. I know how to give, but I don’t know how to receive. I’m working on that.

By Mai Brehaut

ines and me


Cedric Brehaut said...

Beautiful and truthful piece. Although you may not realize it, you are making progress at receiving: you are no longer rushing to clean the house before the cleaning lady arrives like you did in San Miguel ;)


White Shell Girl said...

muchas gracias mi amor :x

Lan N. Bui said...

May be as your mom, I was inexperienced then and not knowing how to balance priorities, not embracing the precious moment that we were together. It's now time to catch up. It's not too late. Enjoy your time and learn receiving. :)

White Shell Girl said...

thanks ma :)


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