by Violet Carson
My first morning at Imperial Foods had arrived. I had driven past the large old factory a number of times as AJ, but never for one moment had expected to be walking through the gates and going to reception as an employee.
At the main gate a rather smartly dressed security guard stopped me and asked who I was.
I gave him my name and was asked to sign his Visitors Book and he directed me to a side entrance where the cleaning and shop floor staff entered the building, not via the smarter main reception area that was used by management and visiting sales representatives. This was another successful downgrade I thought to myself. Why would a poor cleaner be entering via a main entrance. I was Rose not AJ.
I presented myself to a rather disinterested black girl at the small and battered staff reception desk. There were quite a few rather sad looking individuals sitting around who I soon learnt were people hoping for work on the shop-floor or as cleaners. They all seemed to be foreign immigrants of some description. I sat there hoping that I wouldn’t have any of the “little accidents” that I’d had recently and that my pants were secure or I’d probably lose my new job before it had even started!
After a few minutes Mts. Majumi presented herself to me. She was a large African woman who spoke with a strong accent that I struggled to understand. She outlined my tasks and then told me to sit in a small room with a number of other new recruits to watch a Health & Safety video. I seemed to be the only one paying any attention, as I didn’t want to be found out. After that Mrs. Majumi presented me with my overalls. Which were a white button up nylon coat, hairnet, rubber gloves and white ankle height plastic wellingtons. Apparently one of my jobs would be hosing down the floor if it got especially messy and I obviously also had my cleaning cart and mops. She told me that I was lucky today as that we could go straight to breakfast and I’d start straight afterwards. I removed my gloves and joined the queue in the canteen where everyone including me seemed to eat a full cooked English breakfast. It was something I’d never have eaten as AJ but I loved it and so needed it after my early start. It appeared that I was the only English cleaner and I sat at table with my colleagues and was introduced to about six African girls who all smiled very politely but then proceeded to speak to each other very quickly in their local African dialect mixed with some hard to follow English. I felt totally alienated in my own country. I’m sure they were all very nice but again I couldn’t help but start to have some rather unpleasant racist views.
After washing down my breakfast with the now favourite sweet milky tea, I was taken out to the production line.
I was instantly overawed by the size of the place. There were relatively few workers visible but a constant hum and clanking of conveyors moving around. I was given small silicon ear plugs to wear and told to constantly clean the number of spillages between any conveyors and staying outside the red lines for safety reasons. Any spillages that went inside those areas were cleaned at the end of the shift when the machinery was shut down.
It was completely mind numbingly boring. I was invisible in my white hairnet, coat and wellingtons. The only hint of colour came from my blue rubber gloves. I just walked up and down the line continually mopping up small spillages and bending down to wipe up any more substantial spills. I really began to think in after just an hour or so that this really was a completely mundane existence and unlike probably everyone else working here I had willingly volunteered to turn my back on my life of luxury for this. I quickly stopped my mind from wandering off into those thoughts and continued to tell myself “I am Rose, a poor divorcee desperately in need of some money simply to survive.” I alternated those thoughts with:
“This is what I want, this is who I am. I am Rose Edwards I am no longer Annabelle Parfitt.” I was also very concerned that I wouldn’t need to make an emergency use of the protective pants I was wearing. After the incident at the weekend, it was another thing to add to my ever -increasing list of humiliations and I so desperately hoped it wouldn’t be repeated.
After what seemed like years but was only actually three hours, a loud siren sounded and I followed the line of workers out into the canteen.
I noticed that at lunch we were joined by a number of the company’s managers who were all very professionally dressed and although there was no formal demarcation as to where everyone sat, it was immediately obvious that there was a clear status within the canteen. All the managers and food scientists sat together nearest the windows. There was then another few tables with shop-floor operatives and last of all were the lowly cleaners at a table next to the door to the toilets. All of my cleaning colleagues were Black Africans and I clearly stood out. However the food was good and the girls made some attempts at small talk with me, but Marj was right, this was hard boring work and I really had reached a new low. What I’d become would have been unthinkable to me a few months ago, but in another week I would have been free from my old pretentious self for four months.
During the afternoon shift I reached the decision that I knew had become inevitable. I was going to tell Mark that I no longer wanted to be his cleaner. I had a new home and two jobs. I could survive as an independent woman and I didn’t need the safety net that my old home could possibly offer me. Also, it was going to be quite impractical to squeeze in a couple of hours cleaning his house between my jobs at the food and travel companies.
At the end of my shift, I removed my overalls and touched up my heavy face powder and lipstick in the toilet before leaving. My perm had become a real mess having been squeezed under the hairnet for seven hours. I resolved to wear my curlers to work tomorrow. I would wear a scarf over them on the way in and then just take it off and wear the hairnet at work. I also thought to myself that it would help to further diminish my social status and increase the chance of people looking down on me. I could then either remove my curlers before leaving or take them out at home in the afternoon before my evening shift where I didn’t think curlers would be appropriate. I also decided to get another perm at the weekend as my curls were starting to loosen and I knew that I’d be expected to look my best for Jack, so from now on I wasn’t going to end up with my wonderful perm ruined within a few days at work. Curlers it would be!
I headed off to Mark’s house only to find Lucy’s car sitting on the driveway. I hoped Mark would be at home, but no luck, when I walked in, I found Lucy sitting in the kitchen reading Vogue and drinking a cup of coffee.
“Ms. Wu is Mark at home?” I meekly asked.
“Do you mean Mr. Parfitt Rose?” she replied nonchalantly, not even bothering to look up at me and creating the impression that the fashion shoot she was looking at in her magazine was far more interesting than me.
“I’m sorry, yes I meant Mr. Parfitt” I replied.
“I do need to speak to him”
“Well he’s very busy at work Rose. I don’t believe he’ll be back before you have left for your evening work. He’s been particularly busy lately, as I’ve managed to introduce him to some potential Chinese investors who are very interested in some new property developments. But I don’t want to bore you with that Rose. I don’t suppose there’s much you would be able to contribute to a conversation on the world of international finance is there and anyway I’m sure you have work to do,” she said in the most condescending tone imaginable.
“Well actually it is rather important.” I said trying to sound more forceful, but I had become so worn down by being continually treated as a dumb cleaner I instantly realized that I sounded stupid and pathetic.
“Rose if it’s that important then tell me, there’s nothing you can’t say to me that you would say to Mr. Parfitt,” she snapped.
“Well I intend resigning” I sighed.
“Resigning, from what? I thought you resigned from being a woman and took up being some withered old bag sometime ago Rose, or have you not looked in the mirror lately?”
How could she manage to destroy me every time we spoke and so easily, I thought! A few months ago she’d have never spoken to me like this. She has nothing but disdain for me, standing in my kitchen as if she owned it. I tried to get my thoughts together and compose a meaningful reply. I also realized that without thinking I had used the word “resigning” as opposed to “leave” as if subconsciously I now thought of myself purely as Mark’s cleaner and not his wife. I have changed so much I thought to myself.
“Ms. Wu what I mean is that I don’t want to work for Mr. Parfitt any longer. I have other jobs and I can’t do this as well. Also by not seeing the two of you together it will make it easier for me to come to terms with my new position in life and move on.”
“So Rose you’re finally admitting defeat are you. You can’t keep Mark happy the way I can. The two of you used to play your silly S&M games to try and fool yourselves that you were somehow in love, but now he’s found a real woman who knows how to satisfy him he doesn’t need that crap anymore. He to has moved on as you say! I’ll tell him you won’t be back and then when the six months are up we will see whom he chooses. A woman who he knows can satisfy him and someone he’d be happy to treat as his equal or some pathetic shriveled old crazy woman. Tell me Rose who do you think he’ll choose?”
“You” I cried, “He’ll choose you” as I burst into tears in front of her and grabbed my coat to leave, when with the worst possible timing I could feel something awful seeping into my pants. I simply didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t tell Lucy. I shut the door behind me and walked as carefully as I could feeling the intense discomfort of my pants filled with excrement being squeezed between my legs and into my long bushy pubic hair.
“Why is this happening?” I despaired, making my way slowly to the bus stop, hoping the smell was not too noticeable and wondering how I was going to sit with this coating my backside. I also now knew that from now on a spare pair of pants in my bag was going to be an essential emergency item.“How had I sunk so low?”