A cold sweat gripped me as I took a few pensive steps from the elevator into the main body of the shopping mall. I cannot recall the last time I felt such complete and utter dread. My mind just seemed to cease functioning, gripped by sheer panic and trepidation at what was going to happen. But what was going to happen? Once out of the elevator, I walked briskly to the side and, for the first time, lifted my gaze to see what was happening around me.
That was the moment, I got my first inkling that this whole crazy scheme might really work. I am not a sceptic, but if not for my impulsiveness, I might never have even tried on a uniform. Psychologists may point out some degree of bipolarity in my personality. Usually I was this calculating, sensible businesswoman. Rich and fawned over by supplicants for my favour. But this other side of me, submissive, lustful, impulsive had recently been the one on top and had thrust me into this situation, here and now.
But as I lifted my gaze, I saw people rushing by, oblivious of what was going on in front of their eyes. The inner rush of adrenalin and excitement, none of it was visible to them: the dampness on my cotton knickers. The buzzing between my thighs. None of it was obvious. Fuck! To them, I was Marta! Or at least some Hispanic cleaner probably on lunch. I placed one foot in front of the other, gradually building up my pace till I was shuffling along the corridor, away from the exit and my car, away from my comfort zone.
I could barely focus on the shops lining the shiny tiled floor. Nothing seemed real, I was walking through a haze of emotions and then, crunch, someone bumped into me. Totally by accident, the other lady’s shopping bags upended themselves onto the floor. Suddenly eyes were all over me. I could feel them burrowing inside of me, trying to evaluate who I was, where I was going, what I was doing. The swirling of emotions I felt at that moment centred at one point: a huge upswelling of submissiveness. Instinctively I spoke in bad English to hide my educated tones: “Sorree Miss. I pick up for you”. I bent down and started picking at the spilled items. She stood over me berating me. Of course, the whole thing had been an accident, but my position at this moment, my submissive role erased that part of the collective memory. No I was to blame. I was the immigrant cleaner. I was squat down picking up her things and packing them up for her.
I never looked up at her. I never saw her face. But I could smell her perfume was expensive and she was dressed well. All I saw were her legs, as I bowed my head and did the very best I could to deal with this quickly and avoid drawing any more attention to myself. Fortunately, after some more grumbling, she softened and just strode away. I looked up only to see her walking off into the crowd, her expensively coiffured blonde hair swaying behind her.
A few passers-by had stopped to see what the commotion was about. I collected myself and quickly walked away, anywhere where people would stop looking at me. This was a curious aspect of this whole thing. I spent a lot of my life in a semi-spotlight. My sister, more attractive and vivacious, garnered much more attention than I. But still I always had preferred the shade and now I was looking to leave the shade and enter the shadows.
I really did not know what to do with myself. It had been an hour already and I had trudged my way around the mall once already. I was scared to buy anything as I only had my credit cards with me and those had my name upon them. I looked at the clock and saw I would still have to make do for a few hours yet.
At that moment, I heard another elevator chime and turned to see a woman in a uniform just like mine standing in front of a service elevator. I took a second glance, trying to stop myself from gawping or staring too obviously. She left her trolley, which was stuffed full of mops, buckets and brushes, and stepped into the lift disappearing behind the closed doors.
It seemed as though everything around me had grown quiet as I edged my way towards the trolley. I saw that the lift had descended to the basement levels and was not coming back up. Perhaps if I just stood there, next to the trolley, took my coat off? I would really be a cleaner for that moment, at least in the eyes of all those around me. That one act of standing next to it would change me. Sure they all saw the darkened skin and hair, but this would complete the identification process, this would finish the job.
I looked up again and saw the lift was not going anywhere. Glancing around and seeing no-one paying any attention, I pulled at the buttons on my coat and took it off. The feeling of removing this protective layer was thrilling. I may as well have been putting a huge sign over my head saying; “I am a cleaner!” My hands shook as I folded the coat and put it on top of the trolley. Glancing up at the lift, I saw the dial stuck in the basement. I put my hands on the handrail and pushed the cart forwards a few yards, pausing to look up, to see if anyone was looking. No-one was. I felt anonymous, ignored. The thrill was tremendous, but not enough. “When would I get this chance again?” I worried.
I needed to be seen and noticed as a cleaner. I needed to feel that judgement. I wanted to feel that disdain for me.
My eyes would not leave the elevator doors as two terrifying thoughts gripped my mind: what if the real cleaner came back suddenly; what if I somehow get caught! Both feelings paralysed me for the moment. I stood there, knuckles white as my hands gripped the rail of the cleaner’s trolley. Perhaps for once my impulsiveness was not going to get the better of me. I released my fingers from the rail and took a deep breath. This was not the time and place for this: I had a whole, careful plan laid out that would let me explore this in relative safety. What I was doing here was bordering on the crazy. I reached for my coat, when out of nowhere a mall guard approached me.
“Shit!” I thought, what is he doing here? “Go away!” I shouted at him mentally, somehow imploring him to walk the other way.
“Some kid has spilled his juice on the floor by the fountain, go clean it up immediately”.
The tenor of his voice was assertive. He obviously spoke to the cleaning staff all the time and was used to giving them simple orders. And, at that moment, I WAS that cleaner. For whatever reason, I did not panic. Instead I was highly focused: on the fact that at any moment the real cleaner may re-appear and that I needed to just deal with this situation like she would and not draw any attention to myself.
I kept my head low and spoke in as slow and accented English as I could muster. “Yes. Sir. I go clean up. Now. I go”. I wanted to avoid eye contact and, besides, the guard was busy fiddling with his phone, clearly uninterested in me. “Pleez sir. I new. Where is fowntane?”
He grunted something inaudible and I followed after him. My father had spent a fortune on my education, sending me to the most prestigious private academies money could buy and, thereafter, securing a place for me in a top Ivy League university. Now, I was reduced to following orders that were being barely grunted at me.
All I could think was how this was going to end badly. As I glanced back the service elevator, I saw that the dial still indicated that the lift was stuck in the basement. I consoled myself a little that soon I would be out of eyeshot and, should the cleaner return, I would have some time to make some kind of escape if needed.
The mall guard, rather fat and obviously not suited to chasing down thieves, was taking his time. He plodded along slowly, deeply engrossed in his phone. Still, as the two of us snaked our way along the shiny, tiled floor, I had achieved my aim: people were looking at me. People were wondering if that Latina maid was in trouble? I was a Latina maid. I was also about to be a cleaner. I really was!
Finally after a few more minutes of dawdling, I could see the fountain and the orange-coloured mess on the floor. I pushed my way past the guard and walked to the puddle of juice. I looked up and saw dozens of eyes on me. I reached for MY trolley and found MY cloth. I could have used MY mop, but did not want that. I wanted to do this in a way that showed them all what I was. I got onto my knees and then leant forwards onto my hands.
I crawled the extra yard so that I was positioned over the mess. I, Katherine Webb, heiress to a multi-billion dollar fortune, reached into the mess and started to clean it up. Images of the cleaner from the hotel flooded my mind. I began to equate myself with her. I remembered how she had acted and how she had wiped the floor and tried to mimic it. All the time, my body was experiencing incredible waves of ecstatic energy, crashing into me and making my stomach tighten into a ball of delicious nerves. I felt like, if I touched myself, I would climax there and then.
I closed my eyes and imagined myself in the place of that cleaner with the horrible manager standing over me. Further thoughts criss-crossed my imagination. What if I looked like her? What if I had that awful hairstyle? Her bulk? I parted my legs and felt the dampness.
The last of the spillage was cleaned up and I slowly returned to my feet, feeling somewhat woozy and dizzy. I looked for the guard, but he had just wandered off. I was invisible again. I was also a mass of excited, sexual energy. I felt it buzzing throughout my body. I pushed the trolley back towards the lift. The anxiety was so intense as I rounded the last column and saw emptiness. In another defining moment, I had an idea that really disturbed me, a feeling that terrified me. For a second, I actually I wanted the other cleaner to come back and catch me. I shuddered and pushed the idea away, immediately sobering up to the reality of all that was at stake and remembering my plan. My sexual energy was dangerously high and feeding all kinds of craziness into me. I rapidly pushed the trolley back to the doors of the lift and, grabbing my coat, stepped away.
I did not hang around to see the other cleaner return. The other cleaner. I giggled at the thought, the anxiety finally ebbing a little, as I made my way back to the sanctuary of my car.