Grandmother, deep in her Kelantanese accent, used to say: “Setinggi mana pun Kak Long sekoloh, Kak Long kena dudok ce’rok dapor jugok.” What she meant was despite my education, I will eventually end up in the kitchen.
Of course, the little me back then, whose paramount interest was to cycle around the kampong, had no inkling what she was talking about. I brushed off her wisdom like any other child my age would.
Even when wifehood, and subsequently motherhood came knocking at my door, I was fortunate in that I wasn’t expected to do the entire gamut household chores: just a few of them. Help came in forms of mama, mama-in-law, and an Indonesian domestic help.
My friends told me I was lucky; some just smirked disgustingly at me.
I heeded not the glaring jealousy on their faces. I went back and forth to the office like any other working mom. I left my son in the care of our helper, Sue – under under Mama’s eagle-eyed supervision – and went about my merry way.
Often (sometimes more than twice a week), I found myself sipping latte at Pavilion’s terrace with friends, while watching life unravel before our eyes. I stole time to write whenever privacy permitted me to do so.
I would read myself to sleep in the dark; now I need reading glasses. I had hours of quality time to goof-off with Luqman, while Sue took to the task of cleaning, mopping, wiping and ironing. As far as I was concerned, it was an arrangement made in heaven.
Last week, Sue flew to Surabaya en route her home in Pornorogo: she wasn’t coming back.
My neat little world went asunder.
The house turned into a factory mess. Dirty clothes that needed to be washed piled up. After washing, they the needed to be hung out to dry, then folded before being sent back into their respective closets.
Without Sue scrubbing it, walking on the kitchen floor felt like walking on fly-paper. Dust coated other surfaces in the house. I had mountains (not piles, mind you) to iron. Of all the chores, I despised ironing the most.
Last night, as I was scrubbing the bathroom floor, I reminded myself to replenish the grocery supply for the family. Running a household is no walk in the park.
But, what broke my heart the most was the clutter on my bookshelves. When Sue was around, she kept the shelves intact and free of dust. She arranged the books according to their heights. Whenever I tried to rearrange it according to genre, she would put the books right back to the way she wanted them – and that was that.
I used to sit for hours in the small library in pursuit of reading and writing. I have not sat in that space for a week. My soul is dying an untimely death.
I would often fall asleep there with a book spread opened and turned over. In the morning, Sue would bookmark the page and leave the book on the bedside table under my reading lamp: one of the sweetest things she had ever done for me.
I miss Sue.
As I await the arrival of the new “family member” who will be replacing Sue, I think of what my grandma said years ago: she was right after all.
Postscript: Photo above of Luqman and Sue.