Saturday, August 7, 1999
Of all the times for the foreigner to arrive, she picked the absolute worst. I mean, I wasn’t going to do anything too fancy, but my house is always clean and it was a bit flustering to have her show up just at that moment.
It’s Saturday, and on Saturdays the city water is unlimited for a few hours, so we rush to fill our water tank and buckets. My sister Asra and I had just dumped gallons of water on the floor and Asra was pouring out cleaner and sweeping it into suds with a broom. We were both wearing t-shirts, and we had tied our hair back in old bandanas and rolled our pant legs up nearly to the knee, so when the foreigner showed up I had to run into the back room and cover my head and my legs. Then we both stood there awkwardly, shyly too but mostly awkwardly, while the suds faded away and the foreigner’s (male) driver carried her suitcases back into my parents’ big bedroom.
And how much stuff it was! I mean, one person, and she had two huge bags and a giant backpack. My sisters and I share clothes if we’re roughly the same sizes, but I don’t think all put together we own that much clothing. Never mind how bulky the big green duffle bag was to move around when I was trying to wash under it. I guess I’ll just have to let the spot it occupies collect dust for the next three months, or I’ll get one of my brothers to help me, because it’s huge. I wonder what she could possibly have in there and if it’s very expensive or maybe it’s Versace.
I finished washing the bedroom floors and came back out. Asra had squeegeed away all the water on the outer floors and my aunt Noor had taken over the rice-making in the kitchen so I had a minute to check on the foreigner. I have a normal sense of curiosity, after all. She was sitting there in the living room with her feet tucked back under her on the couch, holding her shoes, because Asra had taken up the rugs and was squeegeeing in there too. I can’t decide what to make of her, really. She’s not pretty, she weighs too much, but her skin is very white and her eyes are blue. But she wasn’t wearing any makeup and she was dressed in something that looked like a dress but was made of the same material as jeans. Her shoes were men’s sandals and of course her hair was uncovered and to top it off she barely speaks Arabic. I asked her if she was hungry and after three tries she still didn’t understand, so I just went into the kitchen and got her some leftover rice and chicken from yesterday, and some yoghurt, and I cut up a little salad and put it all on a tray and took it back to her in the living room.
And what do you think she was doing? She was sitting there, and she was reading, if you please. I guess she must have scurried into the bedroom and dug a book out of one of those big bags. I gave her the food and she put the book down and started eating, although once she had the food she didn’t look very hungry. And when I came back in half an hour, most of the food was still there and she was reading again! She smiled at me and thanked me but then she kept reading.
Um Shakur will be home soon, and then I think I’ll feel a little less stressed, because she’ll know what to do. I really don’t know how I feel about this whole thing, you know? I told Um Shakur that, but she liked her foreigner at work so much last year that she really wants this one to live with us. Plus my aunt has had one each of the last two years and my mother doesn’t like my aunt to have anything she doesn’t have. We would have had one two years ago if it weren’t for the baby, who is really not a baby any more now that she’s two. But Maysoon is exactly one of the reasons I think this is a bad idea. I would never say this to my mother’s face, of course, but she goes off to work every day and leaves me at home with the whole house and the baby and I have to cook and clean and worry about all these children that aren’t mine, although the baby does call me Mama, calls us both Mama actually which tells you something. Um Shakur will take the money and use it to pay for Shakur’s tuition at university and I’m glad that it will help but somehow I think it will be so much more work for me.
And I have to tell you, the foreigner herself scares me too. Not because I’m afraid she’ll misbehave and the neighbors will talk; my uncle worries about that, but we mostly ignore him. Even if she does misbehave the neighbors know we get paid to keep her so it shouldn’t matter too much. I’m worried that she’s going to look down on us, you know? I’m worried because the house was dirty when she came and she doesn’t look like she knows how to sit on the mattresses on the floor and she wouldn’t eat the chicken. I’m worried because in the end she probably thinks her house is better, her family is better, her life is better, and maybe she’s right.
And I’m worried because I don’t know what’s in those bags.