Like everything that has happened to me over the last few years, Brenda dropped into my life with an unceremonious thud of 'out of the blue'.
Confusion, was my initial impression of this middle aged woman who bore a scary resemblance to my paternal grandmother. As I stood in the narrow corridor of my apartment in Iraq, I extended pleasantries to my new roommate, not sure of how this new dynamic would or could work.
Almost immediately, a firm and distinct line was drawn to distinguish her status and class. Having lived and worked in Kenya for over three decades, this Goan native, had buttressed almost every non-applicable utterance with "Well, you know, a woman of my standing... would not know how to do that, or would never have to do that" to indicate that she was not of the working class but of the privileged technocracy.
I nodded and smiled as it seemed the least consequential thing.
When Ignorance Is Bliss
48 hours later, I knew something was not normal. In that time span, I had entertained an obscene number of requests for the most mundane of tasks ranging from the drafting and sending of emails to neighborhood strolls to possibly even doing Bible study.
The nature of the requests was not what made it obscene; rather it was the frequency. It seemed like every five minutes there was a reminder of what was said just five minutes before.
To think that you could avoid any one of these requests was as unlikely as Brenda keeping her mouth shut for more than 5 mins. Impossible.
I considered my own mother when frustration grew, choosing to be graciously complicit and understanding to her needs.
Despite my best dogged attempts to satisfy her insatiable demands, there was none on her part to even acknowledge, let alone, respect me.
By the third night, I had woken up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water and had slammed my foot into... something as I was walking into the dark kitchen. Fumbling to find the light switch, I audibly gasped when the light revealed an entirely new kitchen layout. Fridge, water cooler etc. had been shifted into completely new positions.
Despite having the energy to remodel the kitchen, Brenda did not have the energy to clean the mess that had resulted. Rust shavings, dust and cobwebs were all left to me to clean, which I did on the spot.
As I cleaned, I could hear Brenda's reminder of her social standing playing in my mind over and over again.
And while this incident was not so blatant a sign of disrespect, it certainly foreshadowed what was to come a few days later.
Still inundated with demand after demand, Brenda met me at the door as I got home late one afternoon, and insisted on us going out to dinner.
Dinner out was certainly not in my plan for that day let alone evening.
However, so persistent (annoying) was she that giving in was the only way to make the damn noise stop.
Before leaving I went to the kitchen to get a small sip of water. What awaited me revealed why she was so persistent.
One sink, and counter full of every dish and utensil that apartment had.
Over the last few days, Brenda, the able cook, had cooked, but refused to wash any dish. Realising this after the first day of wares not being washed, I kept my own stock in my room and used and washed at will so that her increasing ware count did not affect me.
Now, with no clean wares or utensils in sight, Brenda had no choice but to eat... out.
Why do I have to go with you?
Was my initial thought as I braved the cold winds walking to the restaurant.
" You really don't need a lot of people around you, do you?" she asked as we walked.
"No, not really. Never been that much of a people person."
"That's nice. Not like me, I need lots of people around me all the time."
Ordering our dinner was comical. Explaining to Brenda that English was not the language spoken made no difference, as she insisted on finding out as much as she could about the menu.
"Brenda, you are going to have to look at the pictures and choose that way," I said after a solid five minutes of her interrogating the exasperated cashier about the ingredients of each meal.
A few days later I would hear through the grapevine that she 'bought' me dinner that night with the same tone and sentiment often extended during Christmas or Thanksgiving.
I guess that should have prepared me for what was to be the penultimate form of disrespect.
Scrambled Eggs and Sausage
The sound of a crash and a clatter in the living room 5:30 in the morning made me sound my voice to ensure that everything was ok.
"Yeah, I am ok. Something just fell." Brenda responded.
Two hours later, I opened my door preparing to leave home for the day. Seeing a mass puddle on the floor in the corner of my left eye, I turned to see...
a swampy soup of scrambled eggs, sausage and tea.
I stood confused.
Looking at my watch, I was now able to put the crash earlier that morning into its rightful context.
Now that I knew what had happened, I still could not understand how two hours later, the impressive mess that had splattered across the sofa and walls too, was still there.
Not having any time to react or be angry, I rushed out the house leaving Brenda in her room.
You are taking the Mickey out of me
Nine hours later, I returned home and was almost paralysed as I saw the mess still there.
A few days earlier, Brenda had made it clear that a woman of her standing in Kenya never did such menial tasks- only the locals did.
I guess I looked like a local so I could may as well have been one.
Two more hours elapsed with Brenda even taking naps on the sofa that was directly above the mess.
My resolve had worn thin.
Not wanting to give into this lunatic but not wanting to succumb to rodents and cockroaches, I cleaned it up. As I did so, I lamented the number of times I had succumbed to Brenda on the grounds of compassion and understanding.
As I finished my second round of mopping, Brenda who had hidden herself away in her room, opened the door with a pep in her step and a smile on her face and said,
"I was just about to clean that you know. You didn't have to do that."