A knock at the gate.
There is a loud knock at the big, metal gate that separates the dust that is our yard, from the dust that is our neighbourhood.
It is unlatched, so I know the visitor is not a neighbour, not a friend.
Those women would walk on in after a cursory ‘polite’ tap, not thud the door with a small rock to make sure they are heard.
I wonder if I should go to the gate.
I am supposed to be on bed rest. I am 6 months pregnant and the midwife says I have placenta previa. The placenta is in the wrong place, blocking the baby’s ‘way out’. There’s bleeding. I need to rest. I am supposed to only move ‘minimally’. Apart from the all day nausea that accompanies my pregnancies I feel fine, but I can’t go out anywhere, or visit friends.
I haven’t advertised to my neighbours that I am on bed rest. I know they would sweetly come to visit, but that would mean, in absence of any other women in the house, I would feel I had to get up and do hostessy things, especially since I don't actually look sick. They would also bring generous amounts of food, the strong smell and mucousy texture making me, in my nauseous state, likely to vomit then and there.
I wonder if it is the crazy milk guy. He often arrives at about this time. Wearing a white jellabiya and turban, he balances precariously atop his milk-churn laden donkey, and endeavours to convince me to buy his milk. I think by the time he gets to me he has been in the sun too long. One day I thought he was making inappropriate comments to me, but then I realised he really was talking about his ‘beautiful’, ‘delicious’ (spiked with antibiotics or something else, so when it boils it goes spongy) milk. The milk, which due to that last part happening more than once, I will definitely not be buying.
Perhaps the person knocking is selling something useful, or perhaps it is the cockroach killers, come to offer their services to rid our drains of roaches. In the days after the ‘treatment’, dazed survivors flee the drain, wandering drunkenly into our house, where we splat them with flip flops. The juicy ‘thwack’ sound giving us a brief sense of satisfaction before we scrape the sticky mess off the floor.
Hopefully not the door to door immunisation ladies who, refusing to believe that my daughter has already been vaccinated, inform me in haughty terms that they will tell the United Nations and the World Health Organisation I am refusing the vaccination.
I hear the knocking again.
I go to the gate. The hot sun is beating down, I feel a bit queasy and momentarily regret getting up. I tug the gate open.
It is youngish woman, slim under the slightly torn, bluish tobe, a long piece of fabric she has wrapped over her jellabiya (dress). She is carrying a little girl who looks well cared for. The girl is clean and tidily dressed, albeit in a old dress and too small flip flops. The woman asks for work. She says she can wash clothes, perhaps sweep the yard.
I am very relieved it is not crazy milk guy.
I DO need someone to help in the house.
My husband is trying to keep the house clean, whilst looking after our small daughter and doing his work. Then there is James, a disabled guy who lives in our yard. He has been earning some money washing our dishes mostly clean, and waving a mop somewhat vaguely over the floor. He occasionally mops the table with it too. Not really the ideal ‘helper’. We will give him some other work.
I invite her into my yard. She sits in the shade, on one of the beds that as in all houses there, doubles as our ‘garden furniture’. I bring her a glass of cold water and ask her if she is willing to wash dishes, clean the floor, hang out the washing. I explain that the Doctor says I need to rest, and I am supposed to just sit and do nothing.
Her name is Miriam. She is also pregnant. She sticks out her tiny tummy and pats her bump.
I feel rather like a whale, I think I must weigh twice as much as her.
She is like a butterfly, full of fluttery energy and enthusiasm. Her husband is in the countryside. Sometimes he comes to the city, but is usually away for weeks at a time.
I tell her the things I want her to do, and she gets on with them. Her daughter is thrilled to play with my daughter’s toys. We eat some food together. I pay her a generous amount for a couple of hours work.
I ask her to return the next day, early, before she tries to find work elsewhere. I tell her that I will pay her the same amount. She smiles and proclaims God’s blessing on me. She returns the next day and becomes a regular helper in my house.