‘Did you interview many of them?’

‘No, that’s not how we do things around here in Mexico. One weekend, I just drove out to the country bazar, she was standing there up above on cliff under the tree with others, and I picked her.’

‘You mean like from a line up?’

‘Not exactly. But sort of. They are offered for the domestic work, mostly by their parents.’

‘You mean like slaves?’

‘Noooooo mi amigo. Just that they are poor in the backlands and one way for them to make some money is to work in the city. You negotiate with their parents and agree upon the monthly salary and other conditions. But she is free to leave whenever she wants to.’

Having grown up in India in a relatively affluent family, domestic help is not that unusual to me. But all our servants came from little villages to Bombay on their own, looking for jobs. They may have known someone else from their village in the city and then its just a word of mouth. What Pepe tells me is a bit different. Seeing me lost in my unspoken thoughts, he continues.

‘I pay all her expenses. She has every Sunday off and has her own living quarters in the back of my apartment.’

‘How does that work? A young pretty woman living under the same roof?’

‘You’re right. There is always that possibility. And the temptation. As you see, she is very pretty, you know?’ I give him a sideway look.

‘Okay. I could take advantage of her if I wanted to, and get away with it without even risking losing her. But your friend here is a romantic type. I had to pursue her, and pursue her long.’

I don’t interrupt.

‘She always resisted my advances. And I respected her for that. And then one evening, without any warning, she just opened up to me, like a flower. Like an orchid!!’ I can see on Pepe’s face what he must be seeing, something I could just imagine.

‘Doesn’t that put a damper on your social life with other women?’

‘Not at all. At the end of the day, she realizes, and I make sure she knows that the first and the foremost she is my maid.’

‘Yes, but we’re now talking matters of the heart. How does she feel about when we showed up in the middle of the night with the two women a couple of days go? Or was she off that night?’

‘No she was very much there, and she didn’t like it. In fact she is quite crossed with me. Thanks for being so kind to her and making her feel special. I think she is now softened a bit and I’m sure we’ll make up.’

Just a few hours drive from Santa Barbara and you’re in Mexico. What a different world? I think.

© Haresh Shah 2014

Illustration: Celia Rose Marks

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Next Friday, February 28, 2014

UNDETERMINED

Both you and I will have to wait and see which entry in works makes its way up to the top. Whichever it turns out to be, promises to be good. Stay tuned.

 

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