Le temps perdu

Michèle Cooke

Was it really worth the trouble? Her English was so scanty that we communicated largely by pointing. She had just about grasped the basics of her trade: clean, polish. But ironing defeated her, as did scrub and detergent. Yet, she was so eager for work! Twenty-four years old, two young kids, broke in a foreign country. And, despite the recession, it was not easy to find someone to clean a house at irregular intervals, for an unspecified number of hours. They all wanted fixed days, fixed amount, everything decided before-hand.

So I took her, the Czech child with little English and little experience. She arrived. Sniffling, coughing, exhausted from nursing the children she’d caught the cold from. How could I set her to work, scrubbing floors and cleaning ovens? Yet, how could I send her home, without the money she’d counted on? I showed her into the kitchen. Music played. I went to turn it off. Oldies stuff, I told her. From when I was young. Did she understand? No idea. But she said, No, please. Don’t turn off.

Two hours later, the same CD was playing. I asked her, didn’t she want another one? Or the radio? No, she said. Please. This one. Number three. I forwarded to number three. Wrong one. Please. Number four. Love this one, she said. Summer Nights. My mother. She always play it. I made the requisite noises. Asked if her mother was here, or back home? No, my mother. She dead. Since sixteen years. She love this one. She turned up the volume and danced as she scrubbed the grease from the grill-pan. I left her, singing her heart out. She needed nothing from me. Who needs words, when love will do.