Them and Us by Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar

I shook my husband awake and hurried downstairs to answer the door on Saturday morning at 7 AM. I knew they were coming. They stood at the door smiling: the middle-aged cleaning lady Maria, her stout husband, Carlos, and their equipment−vacuum cleaners, mops and sprays. It was their first time cleaning our stone-fronted five-level house.

The couple said ‘Good Morning’ as they entered, with a hearty smile and a cheer unknown to me. I asked them to start cleaning at the topmost level, which had the guest bedrooms, and headed for the gym in the basement. After 45 minutes of sweating on my elliptical, I walked back upstairs. My husband was lying on the recliner of the sectional leather couch in the recreation room, watching something on his IPad with his earplugs on. He didn’t look up when I sat on the couch, one seat away.

My phone dinged with a message from a friend about meeting at a newly opened Thai bistro for lunch and getting our nails done later. I confirmed to her. My husband was going golfing with his buddies that day. I did not expect him back before evening.

After answering some work emails on my phone, I went to the kitchen to make some green tea. I held the kettle under the chrome faucet and looked up. Carlos was vacuuming the stairs leading to the master bedroom and Maria was dusting the railing. As Carlos passed Maria, he ran his hand from her thick waist to her round hip from behind. She turned and pecked his cheek, smiling. They hugged lightly.

I looked away, stung.

I took my cup of tea to the study and sat down to read the latest issue of The New Yorker. My husband was still lost in the alleys of Netflix. Maria and Carlos were now in the kitchen− wiping the cabinets, scrubbing the counters, emptying the trashcans− amid giggles, laughter, and low-voiced chatter in their language.

Their happy voices interspersed the silences of our one-year-old marriage, the shiny surface of which inspired envy in many: young good-looking couple, seemingly in love, both employed in top-notch jobs with six-figure salaries.

After the house was cleaned thoroughly, the wood floors mopped to a shine and smelling citrus, Carlos hauled their equipment back to their beat-up car. I wrote out the check and handed it to Maria. She fanned her sweaty forehead with it, thanked me, and said they had two more houses to clean that day. She and Carlos were hosting some friends later that evening.

“When do you clean your home?” I asked her, to make small talk.

“My place is so tiny that I can touch my Carlos if I stretch my arms,” she said, laughing.  “It’s clean in no time.”

Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American. She was born in a middle-class family in India and will forever be indebted to her parents for educating her beyond their means. Her work has appeared in print and online. She is also Pushcart nominee for 2017.