The New Cleaner

Neon love birds in a cage near the flat.

Neon love birds in a cage next to the taxidermy shop on our road

Since the cleaner absconded, it fell on my shoulders to find a new cleaner.

Recalling the trouble I had finding a plumber the ex deemed suitable for their majesty, I resented this responsibility.

So I found some company online and after various emails back and forth, they sent us a cleaner for a brief interview after work.

She was an Asian woman (Bangladeshi, Pakistani or Indian – not really sure.), middle-aged, pleasantly plump, wearing a glittering green head scarf and had her 10 or 11-year-old child in tow, standing in the hall, smiling shyly at me.

I smiled and shook hands with the child in an attempt to be friendly. I did not expect a child.

We all stood rather awkwardly in the kitchen for mein herr’s planned interrogation. The child stood outside in the small corridor looking at the ex’s set of childhood photos. There wasn’t anything else she could look at really. It’s a corridor.

This lady (mother of child) had one of the worst set of teeth I’ve ever seen – Rotten and deeply paan stained. Not a single tooth in her skull was unscathed. I felt compelled to gaze at them, in some strange, sickened horror.

There was also a distinct waft of paan that floated by now and then, while she kept up a fluid, non-stop patter.

One of the first lulls in the conversation gave rise to the following unfortunate opening put towards the ex,

“Oh! Are you Muslim?”

The ex’s hackles were raised immediately.

I inwardly groaned. This wasn’t going to go well.

She only asked the ex this question, bypassing me entirely since I’m not brown enough to qualify. (Being a Parsi I’m yellow not brown. A stranger can rarely tell my ethnicity.)


The ex left no room for maneuver in that reply. Luckily the lady took the hint and dropped it.

After this brief chat, during which all I could focus on were her teeth, she ended the interview by doing the unthinkable…

She leaned over…

and hugged the ex.

Yes, hugged!

I knew it was all over.

The waves of sheer hostility coming from the ex were palpable.

As soon as she had left the ex said

“I don’t like her!”

I knew that was coming.

“She HUGGED me!!”

followed by a pause and,

“AND her kid was looking at my photos.”

as if that clinched the matter.

“I don’t want her in my house!”

The ex is deeply territorial. It took over a year before I had any flat territory ceded over to me.

This too, after many battles, both silent (I would move something on the sly) and voluble (I got tired of being subtle and we’d be fighting over something as idiotic as the space in the product basket in the loo.).

Sometimes I ask the ex to urinate on all the space they don’t want to share. A sound method of marking of territory, you see. Go go, pee on that coffee table.

To get back to the main point, I’m deeply conscious and rather guilty of feeling prejudiced against this woman.

Prejudiced because she seemed traditional (Auntie types), and that triggered off all my inherent good-indian-girl guilt buttons.

For example would she give us grief about our… er … non-traditional set up?

Furthermore I don’t want to spend every Saturday morning hiding stuff so that the cleaner doesn’t judge us. (I don’t know why I care exactly, but  I guess if someone is in the flat every week for 2 hours, I don’t want to feel uncomfortable about them or vice versa.)

So after some debate with the ex, trying to decide if we were being too judgmental, (that too based on the results of a 5 min interview), we asked to see another cleaner before we made a final decision.

She turned out to be 24, a journalist student and quite cute.

Well, that resolved that issue rather painlessly.

The ex objected half-heartedly on the grounds that perhaps that the young cute cleaner was too young.

I told the ex to go look in the mirror and give themselves a slap.

A nice, tight slap.


I had argued with the ex about the cleaner’s hug – the ex said it was crossing the line and I thought she was just being friendly. Everyone I asked agreed with the ex about this (to my surprise). Hugging at an interview is not on.

I clearly have no sense of what is appropriate social behavior.


Since we’re on the topic of appropriate social behavior: The ex told me someone was reading my older blog posts about how I’m socially inept  so the last time we all went out, kept asking the ex if I was OK.

Apparently they feel a little concerned for me now. This was highly amusing, but kind of sweet of them.

No need to worry! I mostly manage just fine after a while, it’s just the initial ice-breaking that I find difficult. Just so you know.


6 thoughts on “The New Cleaner

  1. Oh you’re telling me about how difficult change is? I’m such a creature of habit, its scary. As you’ll see in my latest post.

    Also, I can’t seem to post it there, but have I mentioned I’m totally in awe of the detailing in the Turkish Bath.. I look at it zoomed in and marvel, over and over. And then feel mildly voyeuristic and tell myself to stop 😛

  2. Hugging at a job interview is definitely not normal behaviour. Staring at photos, on the other hand, is perfectly permissible. If you don’t want the photos ogled at, don’t have them in the hallway, I say (sitting a safe distance of a few continents away from the territorial ex).

    I’m just not sure that a kid who’s chosen journalism is necessarily going to be the most, ahem, energetic of cleaners. But that’s just my current tooth-grinding rage at journalism. Don’t mind me.

    I do like the neon lovebirds. Very cool.

  3. I agree, or don’t put them up.

    But I think the ex was just outraged by the hug in general.

    Also I was saying we should hire her and the hug was just friendly so to be fair the ex was just probably trying to tip the scales.

Deranged comments preferred

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