Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Very Big Favor

We spend a fair amount of time here grumbling about the "maid," though anyone who can read above a sixth-grade level understands that it's not meant as criticism, but an ongoing narrative of a cultural collision: two gringos trying to make it through life with a minimal expenditure of effort are invaded twice a week by a young Mexican determined to work as hard as she possibly can even though there's no actual work for her to do. A few days ago I needed to get something out of a box in the closet, and went to move some empty suitcases out of the way, only to discover she had filled them with books, paper, framed photographs, small household appliances, etc. Any object not put in its place she considers a personal, unbearable failure, and so anything she couldn't find a place for she simply moved into our empty luggage. I nearly broke my wrist. I have no idea how she managed to even move these bags. This sort of stuff happens every Monday and Friday here.

Yesterday, she came up to me and very nervously said she had a "very big favor" to ask me. A couple of days ago, she said, her [sister's? cousin's? neighbor's? - I simply didn't hear her] 15-day-old baby died of a heart problem. "The burial is today," she said.

In most Mexican households the patron (I guess that would be me) has an obligation to care for the staff - paying their kid's tuition, providing (or at least lending) money when needed, especially in emergencies, etc. Our relationship isn't like that; she's just someone who comes in and cleans a couple times a week. But now I was trying to calculate how much a child's funeral was likely to cost me.

"I work here until 1:30," she continued (this was the first we'd heard that she actually has set hours). "Would it be okay if I didn't do the upstairs room so that I could leave at 12:00?" There was a long pause while I waited for the "very big favor" part to come up, but apparently that was it. I said yes about as emphatically as I could, adding that she should leave any time she needs to. I wish I could do justice to the look of relief on her face.

Around 12:15 we were in the living room when she appeared in the doorway asking if we'd mind getting out so she could clean it. "Why are you still here?" we asked. "Go!" This was a real crisis for her: we'd agreed she would skip the upstairs room (which she's scrubbed four times in the past two weeks, even though no one but her ever goes in there), but the living room was still part of the deal, and she was just paralyzed about what she should do. We practically pushed her out the door, but not before she spent several minutes trying to figure out how much of her pay she should refund to us for the work not completed.

I won't be at all surprised if she shows up on Monday ready to paint the entire house.

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