There is an adage that says real life is stranger than fiction, and it is a rare treat to encounter someone who is stranger than real life itself. Honestly, I thought they stopped manufacturing women like Shri Bangcroft in the early 90’s. Encountering her was like someone handing me a device run on MS DOS and asking me to send a tweet on it. (Yeah, you sit there and figure that one out.)
I was already irritated when I arrived at her house. Samira and I had driven from Cumming to Snellville in order to clean Shri’s home. The journey alone took an hour and fifteen minutes to complete, and by the time we alighted from my car we were stiff and exhausted. I extracted my heavy frame out of the driver’s seat and made my way up a flight of dilapidated wooden steps. Samira pointed out an army of ants that was scurrying across one of the cracked beams and rolled her eyes.
“This house about to be nasty,” she muttered.
I nodded in agreement. Shri was an Indian/Pakistani name, and so far each Southeast Asian’s home we have cleaned has been in deplorable condition. However, they do keep their grounds very neat. The exterior of Ms. Bangcroft’s exterior was fading blue/grey (a color so washed away it was difficult to ascertain what the house might have looked like in better days) and weeds were growing through the cracked cement. The porch was adorned with a myriad of knickknacks. A bouquet of faux flowers hung from the ceiling, accompanied by red foil decorations of parts of the solar system. I knocked on the red wooden door and waited. A lacquered octagonal shape with Chinese and Sanskrit symbols sat in the center of the door. I peered closer and saw my reflection in a mirrored portion of the object. What manner of Indian woman lived like this? And what kind of Indian name was “Bangcroft”? It didn’t make any sense. It was an peculiar mix of redneckery and mysticism…so you can imagine my surprise when a yellow skinned Black woman answered the door. She was smoking a Black & Mild and glowering at us.
“Hi,” I said smiling warily. “We’re with Spin ‘n Span Cleaning Hands…”
“Hello,” she replied, pulling her cigar to her lips. “You ladies have your work cut out for you today.”
She stepped aside and let us into her “home”. It was like stepping into a time warp. Her walls were painted a strange blue. Instead of invoking a feeling of calm, I immediately felt as though I was drowning. Of course, the heavy mixture of cigar smoke and incense might have had something to do with my sudden inability to breathe.
I tried to remain professional. I asked Shri for a copy of her receipt. She sauntered over to her computer and tried in vain to locate it.
“Y’all just don’t know,” she said, pulling another drag off her smoke. “I’ve had a week’s worth of shit thrown at me in one day!”
“Oh?” I said, trying to sound sympathetic. I was surprised that she cursed so casually with us.
I glanced at Samira. Her mouth was twisted into a ball of disgust. Her eyes had been wandering over the house and she did not like what she saw.
“Humph,” Shri continued. “I have a sixth grader who went to class and decided to act a damned fool.”
I looked at her attire. She was wearing a black and white wrap dress and black sandals with a conservative heel. Her jet black shoulder length hair was slicked to a side part. She would have looked contemporary, save for the burgundy matte lipstick that was plastered on her thin lips. I chuckled and offered a phrase of motherly support. She had still failed to find her receipt, which gave me more time to look around her home.
There were pictures of Malcolm X, Bob Marley and Martin Luther king everywhere. In the foyer there was a poster commemorating the Million Man March, circa 1995. Above the fireplace there was a mantle with all manner of Buddhist paraphernalia: aged sages sitting cross-legged and some sort of silver half human beast throwing up a peace sign. Above THAT sat an enormous rendering of a scene that is difficult to describe. In bright primary colors, two people were battling vampire donkeys and throwing their carcasses into dying trees, while other “normal” donkeys looked on and laughed. I couldn’t wrap my head ‘round any of it…which was probably attributed to the fact that my audio senses were being assaulted by strip club bangers.
Drop it on the floor
rapped some unknown entity. She finally found the receipt, which was a good thing. The guy on her mixed tape had begun to discuss how he was going to get his “d!ck hard, put it in the back door, and put her lights out”.
I wanted to flee, but I had a job to do.
“We’re sticking together, right?” I asked Samira hopefully.
“Oh, you already know.”
We slipped into our black rubber gloves and went to work. Shri followed us around, giving us directions and referring to herself in the third person…plural.
“We know that you guys usually throw away the plastic bags in the bin, but we ask that you don’t. We recycle them.”
“Sure!” I said reassuringly. “That won’t be a problem at all.”
There was something inauthentic about this woman standing there in her conservative dress. Finally, I got it. It wasn’t her. It was her DRESS. This had to be her go to outfit whenever she needed to present her “corporate side” to the world. Shri Bangcroft was more comfortable in booty shorts and a wet shirt than this dress.
If you attended an HBCU in the 90’s you’ve met Shri. She’s “that sista” who’s read every book you’ve never heard of. She concocts theories in her head and can defend them with such eloquence that even the most learned of scholars would doubt him/herself. A lover of The Roots and Talib Kweli, she shunned the emerging and invasive glam culture that took over our campuses with the advent of Amerie and Destiny and her Children. Shri hangs out with vegans, 5 percenters and weed heads from Little 5 Points…and she’s that chick who can administer at least one sexual act (or five) that will leave a man (or woman) senseless and pondering over it for days. She’s brilliant – and crazy. Like I said, they don’t manufacture women like that anymore.
That still didn’t give her an excuse for living in such nauseating conditions.
Samira went into her son’s bathroom and began to choke.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered.
“It’s a big brick of doodoo in the toilet!” she cried. “I cain’t flush it!”
I folded my hands across my chest. I didn’t want to hear anymore. I set about cleaning up the boy’s room who from the looks of it, is on track to being as odd as his mother.
I made his zebra skinned (yes, you read that right) linen and arranged his pillows. After sweeping behind his bed, I unearthed an apple core, a dumpling and some candy wrappers. From the notebooks haphazardly placed on his desk, I discovered that his name is DeKang. (For those of you who are not from or familiar with the South, that is translated as “The King”.) I imagine that Shri must have a difficult time raising her son. There were signs of mock discipline and over indulgence everywhere; from the half attempt to make his bed to the clothes that lay around the laundry basket, rather than in it. After I tidied up his room, I moved on to her bedroom – which was more like a lair than a place to get a good night’s sleep. The walls were blood red, as though it were place where she offered sexual sacrifices to the kissing, intertwined Hindu gods smiling at me from the glass encasement.
Shri had settled herself on her red silk sheets and had her laptop settled on her knees. I walked past her and decided to tackle the bathroom first. I paused at the door.
Oh. My. God.
Blackness, MOM Squad; Blackness everywhere! And by “blackness” I mean petrified poop under the rim and black mold in the tub. I frantically began to spray bleach, hoping it would melt away the besmirched surfaces. It didn’t.
In my frightened state, I had forgotten to breathe. Gasping for breath I opened the door to her bedroom, expecting and hoping for some reprieve. Instead I was greeted by plumes of Shri’s second hand smoke. How was I to choose between cancer and a melting lung? I took my chances with the bleach. When I finally vanquished my porcelain foe, I staggered to the bedroom and prepared to dust it. Everything was blanketed in particles of dead skin and dirt. Everything except a strange artifact that hung from her wrought iron head board. I got closer so that I could inspect it better. What was that? It looked like a question mark with a ball on either end. I touched with my finger tip. It was rubbery and stiff.
Visions of Shri winding this object between her tulips suddenly flooded my head. I wanted them out. I dusted with urgency and left the privacy of her erotic accommodations.
Samira was finishing up downstairs and had discovered a few things about Shri. It turns out that she WAS half Indian, and her father was a Black kung fu master from Detroit. She was also a CPA – a profession that just didn’t seem right for this character. She had hung her degrees in the darkest part of the house; in the back where she kept her vacuum. It was as though she was both proud and ashamed of her accomplishments.
Samira packed up the car while Shri inspected our work. Did we dust this? Did we make the beds? Did you vacuum that? Yes, yes, and yes I replied sullenly. She turned and looked at me. Her expression oozed of dissatisfaction.
“You know, Malaka…”
Crap! She knows my name!
“Someone was supposed to come clean my house in August and they never showed up…”
She was talking, but I was barely listening. I was too enthralled by the sound of her voice, which was husky and throaty. Was that the effect of too much smoking , fellatio, or both?
“I’m so sorry about that?” I replied. “I will certainly have the owner look into that.”
“Thank you,” she purred.
I wished her a better day and smiled expectedly. She said we had done a good job. Was it good enough for a tip?
The closed door in my face said “no”.
*Sigh* That’s okay. The image of Shri being someone’s windup toy was reward enough!