Scrubbing His Record Clean: From Manager to Office Cleaner
by Camille Langtry
It was 8:00 am and, as part of my shift, I’d spent the past two hours cleaning the corridors and foyer of one of the new large office buildings in Kirchberg. It was a daily routine I'd become accustomed to over the past couple of months, ever since I'd fully recovered from my surgery: get up at 4 in the morning, a very quick bite to eat, an even quicker walk to the Metz train station to grab the 4:48 train to Gare de Luxembourg, a bus to Kirchberg, to arrive a mere 15 minutes before my 6 am shift with barely enough time to change into my cleaning uniform.
I’ve always been an early riser, but even for me, this schedule was increasingly tough. I had tried finding other options, but they all started much later and clashed with my second cleaning shift over at the Auchan shopping centre. Furthermore, the early morning office building shift paid 20 Euros an hour, not the standard 15 Euros that most other places did. With Vincent out of work for the past year, it would have been criminal to lose that extra income, even if that meant being tired and sleepy a lot of the time. So I took the bullet, did my two shifts like a good girl and returned to our small rented apartment in Metz, where Vincent was eagerly waiting for me to cook his dinner.
Today I was working with Adrianne, which was bad news. Unlike Marie, my other cleaning partner, she was very slow and not very thorough - always leaving visible stains on the glass, sweeping dust under armchairs and carpets, and often “forgetting” about cleaning hard-to-reach spots. I was on my third large window, with five more to go, and I could see with the corner of my eye that Adrianne, dressed in a blue polyester uniform identical to my own, was still on her first. Furthermore, instead of concentrating on the work at hand she was busy texting someone on her phone. Stupid girl, we only had 30 minutes left! I didn’t want to be fined by the management company again. Especially if it wasn’t my fault in the least.
I quickly walked across the hall to her and hissed: “Adrianne, what are you doing? Get back to work, we are almost out of time!”
She continued texting as if I wasn’t even there.
“Adrianne!!!” I said louder, but not so loud enough that people at reception or visitors could hear me: I’d learned the hard way that cleaners should always try to remain invisible to the general public. Talking loudly, laughing or shouting were big “nos” for us.
She finally lifted her heavily made-up face from the phone screen - she was clearly overdoing it with the cosmetics - and said: “What do you want, Sylvia? Do your own stuff. What are you, my boss or something?”
I was about to lose it with this lazy woman, when I saw Victor, our supervisor, quickly walking towards us across the hall. His facial expression spelled trouble.
“Sylvia, why did you leave your cleaning cart unattended on the floor?” he charged. “I've told you repeatedly that it is strictly forbidden. It’s a hazard. There are chemicals there. Something can spill on the floor. Or something can go missing or get broken. Do you want me to deduct it from your pay if that happens? Go back to your work this instance!”
I didn’t dare protest, lowered my eyes to the floor and mumbled: “Sorry, Monsieur Drummond, this will not happen again”. With Adrianne, who was now barely containing her gloating, looking at me, I went back to my cart and continued work. I hated working with that bitch. Last time I had to clean up after her for no extra pay. That just wasn’t fair! Still, I knew better than to complain or show signs of displeasure. I was completely at the mercy of the likes of Victor, a balding, overweight guy, who treated us like dirt most of the time. That was his “management style” for lack of a better word.
I was now working on auto-pilot, grabbing cleaning supplies from my cart in a proper sequence without even looking. If this was my job, I’d better be good at it, I kept reminding myself. My shift was coming to a close - we were supposed to be done by 8:30 am, before most office workers showed up - when I saw a rather nasty-looking coffee spill on the marble floor, a short distance from the entrance. It wasn’t there before when I cleaned that area. Most likely some early-bird manager, a Starbucks cup in his hand, spilled the drink as he was rushing to an important morning meeting. I quickly moved my cart over there and took out my mop, ready to do my duty.
It was then that I heard a familiar voice. I lifted my eyes and a few meters away from me saw a professional young woman, dressed in a dark tight-fitting skirt suit and high heels, talking on her mobile phone. She quickly turned her back and made a few steps away when she noticed me, but it was enough for me to recognise the woman. Like a thunderbolt it hit me. Danielle!
There was no question it was her. Yet, she did look different. For one, I couldn’t recall her ever dressing so ultra feminine, even sexy. Despite my constant nagging, it was always pants or jeans for her, no heels, almost no make-up, very basic hairdo. She always hated the girly look. Still, here she was, your typical female executive in a form-hugging pencil skirt and 12-centimeter stilettos, her blonde hair perfectly coiffed, her beautiful face tastefully made-up in an understated, elegant way. I guess we'd both changed since we last met. However, unlike me, at least she could be recognised for who she had been.
Danielle’s heels were clicking powerfully on the marble floor as she continued her conversation. I could overhear some of the words - it was something business-related. She was meeting clients or colleagues in this building. I looked at the coffee spot again and sighed - looks like it also covered part of the carpet, not just the marble floor. It meant I had to get on my knees most likely. I’d never get it cleaned with just the mop. Damn it.
I looked at Adrianne again: she had finally done texting and resumed her cleaning, but was doing it so slowly I almost cursed out loud. She knew I’d have no other choice, but to help her once I was done with my part. And it was so unfair: I don’t remember Victor ever picking on her, only on me!
I sighed again and got on my knees, experiencing the now-familiar feeling of my large breasts shifting their weight and dragging me down. I mentally “thanked” Vincent for insisting I get a bigger pair than I originally wanted. He was a bit of a “breast man” and to him, I now looked like a wet dream, but the things on my chest certainly complicated my cleaning work. It took a while to get used to them and the attention I was now getting from men was a novelty, but at this stage, it was something I could live with. It was now an integral part of me, like my new equipment down there, my higher, girlish voice, my wider hips and my feminised face. All paid for with whatever was left of my savings after the divorce.
I started rubbing the floor in strong, experienced strokes until there was no more trace of the coffee stain. And then it dawned on me. I’d just seen Danielle and I couldn’t really care less. Was there a stronger proof of the deep change in me? I looked at her again. She was still on the phone, clearly waiting for someone to arrive. She gave me a cursory glance, not very happy that a cleaner, dressed in a tabard over a blue pants-and-vest uniform, was looking at her. I looked away and began pushing my cart.
She looked wonderful, I’ll give here that. Gorgeous even. And then something else struck me. I was no longer looking at her as a former husband would look at a woman who’s fared very well without him. I wasn't even looking at her as a man would look at a beautiful girl. I was looking at her as a less fortunate and less good-looking woman would look at a rich and successful one. With a combination of envy, contempt, and disapproval.
Here I was, slaving my arse off as a simple cleaner for just above minimum wage. I could never afford her shoes, her clothes or her bag. Her man was probably taking the rich bitch to Cote d’Azur in the summer and Courchevel in the winter. My man’s idea of a vacation was getting a drink with his buddies with me doing housework at home. She had the world at her feet. I had years upon years of cleaning and other menial work ahead of me with no way to escape. She was admired and envied. I had to put up with ill-treatment and derision. As if to prove my point, my manager appeared on the horizon and motioned for me to come over.
I looked at the clock on the wall. It was 8:30 sharp. I pushed my cleaning cart over to Victor, who looked at me disapprovingly.
“I need to talk to you for a few minutes, Sylvia. In my office,’’ he said and opened the service door. We walked two floors down in complete silence. What did he want from me, I wondered but didn’t dare ask. I only had just over an hour until my shift at Auchan and wanted this to be over as soon as possible. We finally reached his “office”, a tiny room with stacks of boxes and a narrow desk. He sat down, leaving me standing - obviously, I was not the kind of woman that deserved the courtesy of being offered a seat.
“It’s about your performance, Sylvia,’’ he said. “We've had this conversation before. Consider this a final warning.”
“But sir, I… I am doing my best... I…” I replied. “I really need this job.”
“I know you do, Sylvia. You remember what happened last time we had this… conversation?” Victor inquired and, with no subtlety of any kind, studied my bust. He stood up, leaned against the table and pushed his crotch out just a bit in a suggestive move that wasn’t hard to interpret.
“I do, Monsieur Drummond,’’ I said quietly and swallowed. This had better be quick, I couldn’t be late for my next shift.
“Don’t worry, girl. I don’t have time for this now,” Victor said and sat down again, turning his back to me. “But let this be a warning to you. Do we understand one another?”
“We do, sir,’’ I said meekly. I was off the hook. For now.