The mistress has a daughter. The daughter inspired this post. Unfortunately, to understand the daughter we must discuss her mother, the mistress *cue eye roll and sigh*
The mistress likes to appear like she's a well trained domestic goddess, but me and the house girl know from experience that she barely does a thing.
Funny thing about women, I am of the opinion that we have developed or been conditioned to look for our own subtle social rules and cues that tell us about each other and our backgrounds.
My mother used to continually remind me during moments of my reluctance to complete my chores properly,
"You know people will know what kind of mother I am just by looking at the way you behave in their homes. Don't embarrass me! "
Her warning is a reoccurring thought in my head, made more prominent ever since I started to observe the mistress pottering around the house.
The mistress takes pride in being seen fussing about the kitchen pretending that she's tidying and organizing when all she does is clog up the sink with chicken bones. The women seems unable to understand the relevance of a rubbish bin. We now all know when she's packed up the sink because she won't be found in the kitchen for the next twenty four hours, or until someone manually unclogs it with the metal hanger in the store. She likes to flex her culinary skills by making a special meal of spaghetti with boiled potatoes. (My father hates spaghetti). She has mastered the art of going through 3kg of sugar a week, and somehow ensures the house help gets blamed for it. The young lady hired to clean the house used to get shouted at for not doing her job properly, because the mistress conveniently kept forgetting to buy soap and floor polish. Last week the young lady came to me in tears begging for some Vim.
Now the mistress' ability to fake domestic talents was a favorable achievement, until last year when her daughter got her period. As we all know the period changes everything. The way people look at and treat you changes. There are standards and expectations that a girl turning into a women must learn. When she hits puberty every older female makes it their duty to ensure the newest member knows what's up.
You see the mistress's daughter never used to do much in the house either. She would wake up at 1.00pm and immediately sit on the TV to watch cartoons. One time I was told she spat at the former house girl for not serving her breakfast properly.
So how did I know that this stage in life had been reached?
The same way mothers can sniff out a newly pregnant woman. Every female knows when another girl crosses over. The girl becomes socially awkward in the first few months. Why? Because she's suddenly extremely sensitive and aware of her body and the people around her. Shyness becomes an obtrusive part of a girls' personality for a while.
The way my father treated the mistresses' daughter changed. No more ice cream trips. No more babying or indulging. He started to point out her flaws. Her hair wasn't combed. She had not matched her shoes well with her outfit. Her skin looked dry, why isn't the girl wearing Vaseline? Why did you behave badly in church, you cannot play anymore you have to pray? How are you sitting? Women don't sit like that!
One afternoon we sat at the dining table to eat breakfast just me and my father. It's a dinning table that I'd known since I was a child. It's actually one of the many pieces of furniture in the house that is older that me. After some deep quiet reflection, my father swallowed the some pineapple, cleared his throat and made the following comment.
"Look how she chooses to raise her." He said the word raise as though he had a horrible taste in his mouth.
I burst out laughing because the 'her' was still fast asleep upstairs while the mistress was outside doing what she does best masquerading as useful. I was in shock that my father made this comment to me of all people. At first I thought he was just thinking out loud, but then I looked up to see his expectant face waiting for my response. Why was he confiding in me about a situation he has often refused to address? What exactly was I supposed to say? I decided to remain silent. I continued sipping my coffee and eating my blue band and jam toast.
I expected things to continue as they were. However, the mistress's daughter well....she surprised me. You see I had forgotten that with puberty sometimes comes the ability to empathize. Empathy is a capacity that should never be taken forgranted. In this world if you are unable to metaphorically put yourself in someone else shoes' the ghost of misunderstandings will haunt you.
The mistresses' daughter seems to have become aware of her mothers short comings. She looks at me differently now, almost like she's apologizing for her mother. She seems to want to show all of us in the house that she is nothing like her. She leaves the sink spotless after washing dishes, not a chicken bone in sight. She greets me in the morning with extreme fear in her eyes. I am not sure whether this is part of her rebellious teenage phase or a Jedi mind trick she learned from her mother. I have decided to keep my distance and remain silent.
The first time I encountered this girl was years ago, she was dying. The school called the mistress to collect her, I gather they did not expect her back because they packed up everything. The girl arrived unable to talk, sit , eat or even hold herself up. My father spent weeks showing the mistress how to save her daughter's life. He had to force her to take care of her own child.
They argue often my father and the mistress. It's never loud and emotional, like how he used to argue with my mother. It always these strained whispers as they move from room to room hoping none of us will hear my father's hurt frustration and the mistress' heartless responses. Then he packs up her one bag and she's gone for the time being. Still trying to convince us that all is well in mistress-ville, She always leaves the house smiling like she's off on holiday. Days later the girl who's becoming a women is obliged to act. She makes the phone call from her mother's mobile, begging my father to save them. Her father is alive I am told, but not too bothered about her well-being. She is learning to be the adult in a very muddled situation and her mother can't even be a-mother-enough to protect her.
It's the unfortunate thing about puberty. The reality of life pops your perfect safe happy bubble. People think I didn't notice things as child, they thought if they 'made nice' maybe I would not notice. So I pretended not to know to please them, to protect my self and to cope. I am not sure how convincing I was, I know my siblings didn't buy it. I think they hoped that if I did know I would try to forget, and not ask them questions they could not answer. The comforting thing is I had my siblings, we witnessed the same, we were together, not left to figure these things alone.
On the rare occasions the mistress' daughter interacts with my nieces she leaves clues in her stories about her mother's behavior. Clues my nieces don't understand but when my nieces repeat them to their mother, and their mother repeats them to me, we can't mistake the meaning, its always clear to the adults. The girl becoming a woman is looking for answers, things that may explain the peculiar behaviors of those charged with her care. Answers she hopes will be filtered back from my sister in law, through my nieces, to her. But we can't help her piece together this confunding puzzle. That's the responsibility those raising her.
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