As a housekeeper, you never know what manner of mess is going to befall you when you enter a stranger’s house. However as time has gone on, I’ve come to anticipate what might greet me at a client’s home based on their name. If they’re Indian there will be human hair everywhere. If they’re White, 8/10 times there will be dog hair everywhere. If they’re Asian the pungent scent of fish or soy sauce will hang in the air, no matter how much Febreeze I dispense. Every race has its attributes that are a cemented standard.
Ah, you’ve noticed that I’ve left out a certain group – a particular culture. I’m going to get to them right now.
It is a rare occasion that I have the opportunity to clean a Black person’s house, and there is a reason for that. As a culture, our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers spent centuries cleaning up after other families because that was the only work they were permitted or encouraged to get. Oprah tells the story of her grandmother showing her how to scrub clothes for her White employer in a stream near her home in Mississippi.
“Watch how I do this, Oprah. You’re going to need to know how to do this one day,” her grandmother said.
Oprah vowed internally that she never would be someone else’s wash woman, and well, the rest is history.
Ingrained in every Black woman is that she must keep a clean home. It’s a stereotype that we have within our community. Diversion from this stereotype, therefore, elicits the ultimate of all insults:
“Ugh. That heifer is just NASTY.”
There are few things worse than being called a nasty Black woman. It could mean anything from you left your laundry in plain view of guests to implications that one is a carrier and spreader of venereal disease. There are expectations of one another within our community: something I term “Blaxspecations.” If I am called in to clean up a Black woman’s house, the most I expect to do is mop and pick up some clutter.
So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into Beverly Johnson’s house and was assaulted by the smell of wildlife as soon as she opened the door.
“Good morning,” I said with as much cheer as my soul could muster. “I’m Malaka with Spic n Span Cleaning Hands.”
She looked as surprised to see me as I was to see her. Like I said, I rarely clean for Black women.
“Good morning,” she said hesitantly.
“May we come in?” I asked, motioning to my co-worker.
She held the door open and let us in to her moderate home.
She explained that she had never had her house cleaned before and wasn’t familiar with the process. Instinctively I knew that this meant we were not going to get a tip. I saw a Biden/Obama sticker on the fridge. That only served to confirm my suspicions. Oh well, it didn’t matter. After all, I was only going to have to pick up clutter. I quickly ran over the process, asking us to show us her home and what special instructions she might have.
“ I’ve put my pets up. I have two dogs and a cat,” she informed us. “And my husband is asleep, so you don’t need to clean the room he’s in.”
I nodded and kept my thoughts to myself. What manner of working man is still asleep at 11 o’clock in the morning?
“So your name is Beverly Johnson? Like the model?” I said, trying to break the ice.
“Yes! My mother was a big fan of hers back in the day.”
She didn’t look anything like the real Beverly Johnson. She was tall – about 5′ 9″- but at a whopping 300 lbs was hardly catwalk material. I smiled and continued on the tour of her house, which was all of 3 bedrooms and common living space. It wouldn’t be that bad at all. I asked her how she wanted us to treat her wood floors. She wasn’t picky about that, she said. No matter how hard she’d tried, she hadn’t been able to get the shine back into the floors.
“They haven’t been shiny since I bought the house two years ago,” she lamented.
I noticed that my co-worker Samira had not said a word during the entire consultation. She had been frowning.
“We’re going to get our supplies and get started,” I informed Beverly.
“If you need me, I’ll be in the room with my husband,” she said softly.
She seemed like a sweet lady, which was why I was willing to overlook the piles of dog hair that blanketed the carpet on the top floor. We got our supplies and quickly got to work, choosing a bathroom each to clean.
Sweet, dear Jesus. WHY?
“Oh my GOD!” I whispered harshly.
Samira came into my bathroom and brought me a bottle of bleach.
“You gon’ need this,” she said in her thick Tennessee accent. “If your bathroom look anything like mines, you gon’ need this!”
The entire bathroom floor was covered in wet pet hair. The base of the toilet was brown with human waste, and the bathtub was blackened with soap scum and pubic hair. I suppose the bathroom I had chosen was Beverly’s husband’s domain, because the expanse of the counter space was lined with grooming products and cologne. What was odd was that there were multiples of them.
“Why in the hell does he need 3 of the same Old Spice, 4 of the same deodorant and 6 bottles of Black Opal?” I wondered to myself. I concluded that he had to be gay. No regular Black man needs that many grooming supplies.
I didn’t have time to further contemplate this odd behavior. I had a time frame to work within. I wiped the counter with a paper towel and nearly gagged.
“Sweet, heavenly Jesus in the sky,” I whimpered.
I scrubbed and scrubbed until the porcelain gleamed. It took an entire hour to clean a 5 X 7 bathroom. It should never take that long under any circumstances.
Samira was scowling as she came out of her bathroom. Her eyes were red and watering.
“Girl, you been crying?”
“Naw! It’s all that bleach I had to use on the tub, but you cain’t even damniit smell it ‘cause it stank so bad up in herr!”
She was right. I couldn’t detect the scent of bleach. A heavy canine scent still hung in the air. And she was angry. Samira is a good Christian girl who doesn’t curse. I knew she was about to come undone.
“We gon’ have to stick together in this house,” she stated. “Ain’t gon’ be no splitting up in here!”
I nodded in agreement, wishing she would lower her voice. I wanted to maintain an air of professionalism, but I understood her frustration. There was just no need to be this nasty.
Next we tackled the master bedroom, which was covered in dust and dog hair. The massive oak headboard had been dulled with years of lint, shed skin and filth settled into the grooves. I wiped it twice. It instantly looked better. I was still trying to maintain a positive attitude, but Samira was making it hard.
“Oh my GOD! I just want to walk in that room and punch both of them in the face!” she raged quietly.
I chuckled under my breath. She was such an itty-bitty thing that the thought of her taking on two huge people brought me instant amusement. It would be like a spider monkey assaulting a pair of wildebeest.
There’s no point in continuing to describe the horror we subjected to at every turn. Fecal matter cemented to the seat and lids of the toilet downstairs. Oily finger prints on every wall. The piles, and piles of dust and dirt that billowed and swirled with every broom stroke. The dead COCKROACH lying haplessly on its back in the dining room – why would you want to hear about any of that?
We concluded the clean up with 10 minutes to spare. I knocked on the door to let her know that we were finished. She didn’t answer, not even verbally to say she was coming out.
Probably in there trying to convince her gay husband to have sex with her, I thought to myself. After all, this IS Atlanta.
When we were exiting the door with our supplies, she finally walked out.
“How does everything look?” I asked hopefully. You never can tell how another Black woman is going to judge your cleaning job, even as nasty a one as she.
“Wow!” she exclaimed. “Look at the floor!”
Yeah, it’s amazing what can happen when you actually mop it.
Samira walked out and waited for me by the car. She was still boiling with indignation and rage.
Beverly pulled out a pen and began to write on a piece of paper. Perhaps I had judged her too quickly. Was she about to destroy another assumption I had made about her as a Black woman, this time in the positive? Was she about to give us a tip?
“So what are your names again? Can I request you guys when I want to get my house cleaned?”
I thought Samira was going to grow fangs and suck the life out of her. I smiled and provided her with our names and wished her a great weekend.
“You took ladies! Y’all have a great weekend too!”
She shut the door and that was it.