The people who clean our home pass through several houses in one very long day. On some days, when the teenage son is not in school, he too is part of the cleaning crew, busting cobwebs and dusting ledges. Jose and his wife chuckle and laugh and chatter in Spanish while they go about washing the sink, wiping the pendant lights and fluffing up our pillows. I watch them at work and I wonder whether my husband and I would laugh with each other all day if we were going about our duties together every day.
Mostly, my husband and I are like Putin and Obama. Like the two leaders, we are remotely aware that we’re serving a common larger goal but like the two leaders, we’re busy polishing our knives towards smaller “side” agendas. Sometimes I wonder if the cleaning couple that knows every nook and cranny of our home may be saying, in Spanish, that this Indian couple could use a summit like the G-20 to cleanse their lives.
They never fail to ask after our children and now, after almost eight years of association, they know about the big issues that wrinkle our lives. The scent of Palmolive and Pine tides away my troubles, at least momentarily, and I do look forward to the mornings my housekeeping service arrives—even though I’ve noticed how I often find myself cleaning before the cleaners arrive.
I still remember the time I texted the couple ten minutes after they had left our home. “Hey, you forgot to mop the sun room today,” I said, annoyed about their slip. “Do please do it next time, thanks!” Jose was back at my door in minutes. He did not like to be told he had missed a spot. He was as particular as I was about a job well done. I hated myself that morning.
Today, while vacuuming our family room, Jose asked after my son in Europe. We talked about Paris and then we ended up talking about the attitudes of people towards immigrant communities. I told him that despite the issues around immigration, America remained one of the most welcoming and broadminded nations in the world. He agreed. But it was also a matter of perspective, he said. All Americans were not that fair-minded or accepting of others and it depended on where an immigrant was on the totem pole.
“Some of the houses that I visit,” he said. “People won’t even honor me with a greeting. They don’t treat me like a human being. For them, I’m just a cleaner.”
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