No offense to the blacks (indeed, I only have sympathy and great admiration for them, especially after reading Isabel Wilkinson’s monumental volume on their struggle, “The Warmth of Other Suns”), but that’s how Lola Enchay would have described my own domestic travails, anyway—trabajando como una negra, slaving like a black woman—since losing my help.
As resourceful as Lola was, she herself would never have thought of the solution I eventually found. Not that my husband and only house companion offered no help, but, for fear of just having to redo everything, I’d rather he stuck to the work he’d been doing, and doing best, all his life, by himself, requiring no supervision—repairing and cleaning manuscripts.
Just orienting him to the color-coded system under which my kitchen sponges, towels, trapos and gloves were applied would have taken more time than needed to get the work done. And how yet to explain which soap dish in my bathroom held which soap for which part of the anatomy! No, I’d rather do it all myself.
But running on mere residual energy, I simply couldn’t now be up to my own standards, and needed cousin Ninit to hear my confession, woman-to-woman, senior-to-senior.
I caught her just in time, on the eve of her departure for Bangkok for a granddaughter’s high-school graduation. And, as always, she was not all sympathy: After a scolding over over-exertion—at major housework! “at our age!”—she offered the janitorial service of her family’s little hotel. Again, I could hear Lola starting to lecture us, on frugality this time, Queocurrencias! Of all things to think of!
Actually, in my circumstances, something of an emergency, really, the price was reasonable. It’s only exorbitant by Lola’s standards because she had a full complement of help, help that came cheap and loyal in her day. Even dirt didn’t collect as much and stick as crazily then.
Beyond normal cleaning
Anyway, janitorial service was precisely what I myself needed. Our condo was beyond normal cleaning and even my secret weapon—the masking tape, great for lint, hair, and other almost invisible filth—was no longer good enough. Our home had sunk well below the acceptable level of tidiness, thanks to all the sundry silt the summer air had deposited indiscriminately, and the residue from recent plumbing and carpentry work done to comply with a fire-safety ordinance requiring water sprinklers in our condominium, one built before the requirement existed. The workmen always cleaned up after them, to be fair, but what can you expect of plumbers and carpenters?
Ninit was right: Nothing like the pros.
Two women—the supervisor herself of Orchid Garden Suites’ housekeeping, whom I had known from way back (Ninit has always kept the old, trusty ones), and a janitor—came to squeeze me in on their day-off for, as Lola, again, would say, una limpieza general. Somehow women are better cleaners than men, more thorough and merciless. I guess it has to do with the tradition of role-playing set in the pre-feminist era.
My cleaners worked from top to bottom—from ceiling to walls to floors. My own insignificant part in the undertaking was to be ready with the tools and materials—vacuum cleaner, rags, micro-fiber mop, dusting cloths. They washed the screens, the blinds, and the windows. They cleaned the appliances. Glass, chrome and wood all sparkled. The bathrooms not only looked clean, they smelled fresh.
They moved everything movable, leaving no spot untouched. They took all the books from the shelves and dusted each one, forcing Vergel to undertake an early sorting of what books we should keep and what we could bear to part with for the plain, practical purpose of staying within the limits of our senior lives—lives lived within 120 m of single-floor space.
Once they were done, it felt as if they had washed off not only all filth from my home but also all negativities from its soul. My home looked brighter, and I felt lighter.
I also felt hooked on professional cleaning, and, in fact, began making arrangements for regular service. No matter what Lola Enchay might say from the great beyond, she surely didn’t know what she had missed without professional cleaning. I myself didn’t.
All spick-and-span again, my home was now ready to take in my granddaughter and her single parent, my son, while her yaya had gone off for two weeks. What rewards, indeed, for simple tidiness! A sweet, cuddly 4-year-old curled up in bed with me, listening herself to sleep as grandma performs an inspired dramatic reading of “Cinderella” night after night.