– Kirti Bhadresa
On her way to work that morning, stopped at a red light on the 32nd Avenue connector between the East and West sides of the city, the house cleaner, Chaaya, watches a city bus drop fourteen other bus drivers off across the street from the depot, ready to start their morning shift. Each person wears a dark uniform, a thick navy coat. Single file, they pass in front of her, crossing the wide road to the station like haphazard soldiers: one talking on the phone held to his ear, another looking up to a plane flying overheard, a cluster of three walking more closely together, faces down. Clouds of white hover around them in the winter air.
She takes a sip of strong tea from her plastic mug and shivers.
Twenty minutes later she pulls up in front of the sprawling grey house at the top of the hill for her last scheduled appointment.
The house overlooks the city, skyscrapers shimmering like glass in the low winter sunlight, just across the curve of the ice-covered river. She walks around the side of the house to the back door, scarf pulled up over her face, boots crunching through the crust of white. Delicate ovals cut across the back deck, bold footsteps of an urban bunny.
Pulling a ring of keys from her pocket, Chaaya thumbs through them with gloved hands until she finds the right one and lets herself in without looking around the yard or over to the elm tree, bare winter branches held quietly upward.
The house is silent. As though someone hit pause. As though the people who live here just disappeared in the middle of things, leaving behind the faint smell of toast and air freshener. She pulls off her boots, places them carefully, makes her way down the hall to the kitchen while unlooping her scarf, wisps of dark hair pulling free from their tidy bun.
In the kitchen, she surveys – morning dishes left on the table, milk still pooling at the bottom of ceramic bowls, the yellow cereal box gaping open, paper tabs torn.
She gets to work – cereal closed and stowed, dishes scraped and stacked. From her bag of supplies she pulls on a pair of pink rubber gloves. She loads the dishwasher, scrubs dirty pots from the stove in soapy water. Through latex she feels only weight, warmth, but not the textures of things.
She thinks of her children, sprawling teens eating their own cereal that morning as their father came home from his night shift – dark circles under his eyes.
Even the cleaner thinks about change, endings, the surprise of half-empty office towers, wealthy families like this one who can no longer afford luxuries, left crouching to clean the corners of their own bathrooms, at least until the next Boom comes. She thinks of the people like her who carry on, who manage – mopping this place or another, driving buses, stacking trays in the food court, filling warehouses or potholes while others sleep.
She wonders, as she sometimes does or tries not to, if this was how she imagined her life.
Before such thoughts overtake her, she pulls an old ipod from her coat pocket and unwinds the earbuds from around it, puts on her music – the lineup of songs she knows every lyric to, humming as she cleans the house room by room, until the whole thing shines like something new again.
Caffeine-fuelled political junkie, outraged citizen journalist, non-linear gardener, guerilla bread baker, daughter of warriors, mother to heroes.
Hobbies include: shouting at radios, long walks with short dogs, spotting of false dichotomies, and colouring where she wants.