I like this job. Compared to my previous job at the hospital this is a much better environment. No nasty colleagues and no wicked Let Me Stay Story by Lee Su Min 6 supervisor who gives you work just before it is time to rest. My hours are relaxed; so long as the old lady has gone to bed, I can do anything I like. Housework can be left undone for days on end. Nobody tells me what to do except Celine. And Celine is always polite to me. She never scolds me or treats me like a maid, which basically I am, now with the kind of duties I am landed with.
My official status in this household is that of a nurse but in effect I also perform the duties of a helper. Helpers are servants, but nursing is a profession. You have to go through a course in order to be qualified as a nurse but you don’t need to acquire any skills in order to be a housemaid. I am proud to be called a nurse but I am a little ashamed at being known as a maid. That was why I did not take on this job readily the moment Celine sounded me out.
I prefer sick people to old people. Old people are not always sick. With sick people the fact that they are ill means that they are incapacitated and that makes them harmless. I grew up in a family of four. My mother disowned me at birth for she tells me that when she was pregnant with me my father met with a car accident and died, so I was a bad omen to her. My siblings hate me because of that and are always trying in every way to outsmart me.
Whenever I have good news about anything they took it to my mother first so that I am being deprived of being the bearer of the good news. Apart from that they never speak to me. Decisions regarding birthday dinners and visiting of the relatives were always made without me and I am always told at the last minute. Sometimes not even told about it at all. Not surprisingly I wasn’t informed of the dinner celebration of my mother’s seventieth birthday. I had bought her two dozen pink carnations, her favorite flowers but when I arrived home from the florist I found that the vase which usually kept her flowers was broken. The carnations wilted away in the wrapper after one day.
The next month, my mother passed away of liver poisoning. Dutifully I made payments for all the funeral arrangements although I wasn’t the one who planned for the entire ritual. My mother left me with nothing but the watch that my father gave her. When she was alive, she used to remark, designed to hurt, that she was looking for the time on this watch when my father failed to come home on time, and later found out that indeed he would never come home. “Time had stood still for me since”.
I could understand her grief, as it was not just the departure of a husband, but also that of a shelter and provider. My mother never worked and she didn’t know how to earn a living. My eldest brother was about to enter university and because of that he had to go out and work and he enrolled as a police cadet. My mother often remarked that if not because of her fear in God she would have aborted me.
I don’t grudge her for that. That is the way in which my family treats me. In their own subtle hurtful manner, they tell me that I shouldn’t have been around. That is why I put my entire mind into my job, and now this family. I never asked Celine if she had any siblings, it seems that she is the only child.
But I can see that she has someone else. Celine is not married now. I mean that she is not the one who makes decisions on most matters. She tells me one thing, and then she walks away. Half an hour later she comes back either to change her mind or to confirm it with me again, as though what she said earlier has no weight. Yes, Celine likes to make impromptu suggestions that are to be ignored.
Between Celine and I there is no friction. Our roles are clear. She is the lady boss and I the subordinate. I don’t mind it even if her friend Steven, who lives downstairs, thinks that I am her maid. But actually I did mind it. That is why I made sure that I put on this white nursing uniform all the time to demonstrate that my role is that of a nurse, although housework is also part of my job. No, I don’t get paid extra as a housekeeper. My salary as a nurse is quite a substantial amount. Celine tells me that she will share the household chores with me.
Like now, I am waiting for her to come home so that I can move away from the old lady and wash the cups and the dirty plates from this afternoon’s lunch. I am getting a little bored listening to the BBC. The news announcement has come on the second time on the same news events.
It is good for the morale to be looking after sick people because they seem so helpless, being incapacitated by their illness. Old people fall within this category because they either cannot hear or that they cannot move around easily. Sometimes they are also forgetful. In a more severe form we call it dementia. There is also a disease called Alzheimer’s; I can’t quite distinguish between the two but I was told that the old lady suffers from one of the two.
Frankly speaking I don’t think that she is ill at all, difficult maybe but not ill. She seems to be lucid all the time. And I am beginning to think that she calls me “Celine” deliberately. Last night I stayed by her and listened to one of the BBC plays until midnight and at the end of the story I asked her if she knew who the “uninvited guest” in the play was in order to test her. She answered very well, which means that she understood the plot from beginning to end. So her concentration lasted for three hours, which was remarkable.
Which reminds me, I am also supposed to do a report on the old lady’s sleeping hours. I can write down her waking hours and the time when she decides to go to bed. But times when she just dozes off it is difficult to pin down. I must do it more conscientiously. My salary is good and I don’t want to lose this job. But something nags at me, as though something bad is about to happen. I don’t know what it is but I am getting more and more uneasy as the days go by. For instance, Celine telling me to make a menu for the entire week and then repeating the same dishes the next week. And then why would she want to know exactly when her mother falls asleep? I put the thought aside and decided to talk to Celine about it tonight to ally my fears.
Tonight Celine came home after we’ve had our dinner. It was a Monday night and so we were having the usual sweet and sour pork from the menu. Nothing unusual happened except that she was late, which was unusual. I toyed with the idea of telling Celine that we could use with a steam iron. But Celine stayed in the bedroom for quite a long while before she came out with a set of clothes to change into. I saw her holding the set of clothes; they were a pair of jeans and a long sleeve blouse, which means that she is going out again.
It is not right of me to ask her where she is going, as I am just an employee. But she rarely went out at night, not after a long day at work. Often she is on the telephone with someone, or in front of her PC doing work. But this time Celine came home before midnight.
Last Friday night the Pizza man came without fuss punctually at 7:30 p.m., within forty-five minutes of our placing the order. By now I recognize the deliveryman as the same Muslim guy who comes around to this area at Bukit Timah. He dresses in a bright red short sleeved shirt with the Pizza Hut logo and a pair of black trousers. I tried to take the box of pre-packed pizza from him but Celine rushed out from the bedroom and took the box from him directly and gave him the payment on the spot.
He took the money and I could see that he was surprised that it was the exact change. The amount I saw later on was 17 dollars and 65 cents, which Celine prepared in advance. People don’t usually have that amount in small change. I saw Celine take the pizza away and put it on the dining table for the old lady who was just sitting down on one of the chairs. Celine had told me to leave this dinning chair always pulled out for her mother so that she could sit on it without having the trouble to pull it out first. I found it very thoughtful of Celine.