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Jo'Burg Days: Taking A Bubble Bath

Taking a bubble bath is not invariably a happy experience, as Barbara Durlacher’s story reveals.

They discussed the matter after dinner when the kids had gone to bed. In the kitchen Katerina was still clattering around, putting the saucepans and roasting tin away and mopping down the floor.

“What shall we tell the children?” he asked, a worried frown creasing his forehead.

“I don’t really know. It’s so difficult, especially when they’re so fond of her. She’s practically brought them up since they were babies. Now she listens to their homework and they’re even teaching her to read and write!”

“Oh dear. This disease is the most awful scourge. She’s a wonderful woman, it seems so terribly unfair that she should be penalised like this and, unless we are prepared to pay for the ARVs, she has very little chance of living a productive and healthy life. Even then, she probably won’t have the same energy and enthusiasm for continuing with all she does for us here; she may even want to go back to her rural home to be with her family and see her own children grow up while she can.”

“Well, one thing we’ll definitely have to do this week, better not waste any time discussing it any longer. We must get that dish-washer with that special hot water anti-virus program. I really won’t feel happy thinking that her dishes and ours may occasionally get washed in the same water. I’ll pay for it on my credit card.”

Then gathering up her Vogue, Elle and Cosmopolitan, and studying her perfect scarlet acrylic nails, she sailed out of the room. Moments later, he heard the bathwater running and knew that she was preparing to indulge in another of her luxurious bubble-baths and had shut herself away from the world and that any further discussion would be pointless and get him nowhere.

“So, here I am once again left to break the news to Katerina. I’m always the one to carry the can! I’ll have to try to come to some sort of working arrangement with Katerina myself; I really hate being put into this position!” he fumed. “It’s always the same; we discuss family matters sensibly and calmly, and then she completely walks away from taking a decision. She always opts out and leaves it to me. Sometimes I think how unfair she’s being; and yet I suppose if I’m to be the head of the household, I have to understand that unpleasant decisions are my responsibility; but I really wish she wouldn’t do this to me, I’d far prefer it if she would take the initiative herself.”

Within a few days the new dishwasher was installed, Katerina had a new mattress and fresh new bedclothes, her bathroom had been completely scrubbed out and disinfected and her bedroom and sitting area repainted. Every bit of her cherished embroidery, paper and keepsakes had been burnt; even her beloved Bible was taken away from her until her tearful pleas had moved Merrem’s heart and she relented and, instead of putting it in the microwave at full power she returned it to her, with orders that it must be left outside in the summer sun for at least two hours before she could use it again.

Although she said she understood the reasons behind Merrem’s behaviour, this arbitrary disregard of her deepest sensibilities never ceased to rankle with Katerina, even though she knew and appreciated that her employers were paying for the anti-retroviral medication which would possibly extend her life.

“Merrem, my children are crying for me, they want to see me while I’m still strong and fit. I’m going home Merrem, I can’t wait any longer.”

Anger seething inside of her, she whipped round to confront Katerina. “Well, if you do, forget coming back here to work again. The moment you leave this house, I’ll find another housemaid; and as far as you’re concerned, your job is finished.”

Then, relenting slightly, she reached into her handbag and pulled out her wallet. Taking out a handful of notes, she swiftly counted out ten large brown ones. “Here’s a thousand rand,’’ she said carelessly, “take it, and never let me see you again. I’m sorry for you, I really am. Nobody would want to wish Aids onto anyone, even their worst enemy, and heaven knows Katerina, you’ve been marvellous while you were here, and the children love you. But if you want to go back home and be with your family, perhaps it’s for the best and I’m not going to stop you. To tell you the truth, perhaps we’ll both be happier when you’ve gone. I’ll get another maid, the children will soon forget you, and if you’re lucky you might still have a few healthy years with your nearest and dearest before this dreadful disease kills you.”

Within a couple of hours Katerina had packed her couple of suitcases and was gone. When James came home from work the house was dark and cold with none of the usual happy sounds of children playing and delicious smells of dinner cooking, classical music playing softly and a shaker full of delicious ice-cold Martinis waiting in the fridge.

“I really thought it was the best for everyone,” were her last words as she turned on the bath taps and emptied half a bottle of expensive imported bubble-bath into the water.

Later, when he noticed the leak in the corner of the kitchen, it never crossed his mind that the water could be coming from the overflowing bath, and the sound of her words were still ringing in his ears when he broke open the bathroom door and found her submerged under the bubbles with the taps still running.


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