by Noëlle Lague
(Freely based on "Maid in China" by Barefoot Servant)
VII - Maid Maddie
Maddie awoke to her phone’s melodious alarm. 7:30. The first day of summer—I should be sleeping in. Maddie rolled out of bed and stumbled bleary-eyed to the bathroom. After showering and brushing her teeth, Maddie was happy to be able to dress in a pair of cargo shorts, her favorite Dr. Pepper ringer tee, and a pair of comfortable running shoes.
Her nightmare was maybe over, she thought, before passing the hallway. Maddie was instantly and sadly reminded of her new status as she nervously cast a glimpse at the hangers; her rainwear, that her aunt had told her to neatly put up there, the pink and the blue sets, were on ostentatious display. She frowned, quickly grabbing Jenny’s birthday present and continued out of the house.
The walk to Jenny’s house was a pleasant one. The girls lived only two subdivisions, one mile, apart. It was sunny, but not yet as hot as the day promised to be.
Maddie was greeted at the front door by the barefoot, uniformed Rosario.
“Oh Maddie, come in,” the maid said in her accented English.”
Maddie stepped into the house, thinking it a little odd that Rosario didn’t address her as miss or take the present from her. Of course, she knows that I’ll be her coworker soon. Why would she call me miss or relieve me of any burden? Maddie’s thoughts were interrupted by Jenny bounding down the steps. Her eyes lit up at the sight of the present in Maddie’s hands.
“For me,” Jenny asked, already knowing the answer.
“Yes…. I hope you like it,” Maddie answered, handing Jenny the package.
Jenny took the present in one hand and Maddie by the other, dragging her friend toward the kitchen.
Over her shoulder, she called to the maid, “Rosario, go get Maddie’s stuff.”
“Yes, Miss Jennifer, right away,” Rosario answered, already padding up the stairs on her bare, brown feet.
Jenny slid into one of the stools at the kitchen bar.
“Have a seat Maddie,” she said, tearing into the present.
Maddie thought it sounded more like an order than an offer of hospitality and quickly complied.
“You……. could have waited until the other guests arrived.”
“The present, I mean……… don´t you want to wait to open it when everyone else gets here?”
“Maddie, as I told you yesterday we have some plans to make before the guests arrive……. there will be a lot of presents to open later, see?”
” Ok…. I suppose you´re right.”
Jenny laid the shredded wrapping paper aside and opened the box to reveal a distressed blue ringer tee with a Pepsi logo, much like the maroon one Maddie was wearing.
“Ooh, I love this. I’m totally going to get some wear out of it this summer… and for the rest of my life.”
Maddie opened her mouth, searching for something to say, but subsided as Rosario returned. Rosario was carrying a small stack of clothing in clear plastic wrap.
“Now,” Jenny said, eyes widening, “I’ve got something for you.”
Rosario handed the small stack of clothing to Maddie. From the colors, baby blue and white, Maddie couldn´t tell what it was. But it was obviously some kind of clothing.
”Go ahead, Maddie, open the package”, Jenny continued.
Maddie bounced at Jenny´s challenging tone but slowly motioned to unpack it. With a rustling noise, she unfolded a light blue smock. It was of knee-length, had a big white Peter Pan collar and white cuffs, big white buttons at the front and short puff sleeves. The smock was, as Maddie could note rubbing it softly between her fingers, obviously made out of the same surprisingly thick and stiff fabric that she had gotten used to at the Unit. Rosario´s uniform looked stylish in comparison, this one looked babyish. Maddie hated the sight of it immediately.
”There´s more to it”, Jenny said expectantly pointing at the package.
Maddie cautiously put the smock aside and froze a second before digging again into the package. With an embarrassed look on her face she got hold of a white bib apron with large shoulder straps. Maddie bit her lip.
”Oh, and there´s still one last thing Maddie”, Jenny said.
Maddie finally emptied the package and found herself holding some sort of a white maid´s cap in her hand. The headpiece had a band to secure it beneath the chin and resembled a waitress cap, but it´s high and large rounded arc and, not the least, the fact that it was made in a shiny and stiff fabric made it look almost like a sou´wester or, eventually, an Amish rain bonnet. It was simply ridiculous.
”You will use the bathroom to put on your uniform, Maddie. And Rosario, go fetch mother will you,” Jenny instructed.
”Yes, miss Jennifer,” Rosario answered, quickly leaving the kitchen.
Maddie looked up at her friend with a dumbfound expression and clumsily lifted the clothes as Jenny solemnly with a swift gesture directed her toward the bathroom. Maddie, with half-open mouth, discretely passed Jenny on her way to the bathroom, unable to say a word.
She emerged hesitantly from the bathroom a short while later, neatly dressed in her new attire. She had without any doubt put quite a bit of effort in getting especially the headpiece in place. It was obvious that Maddie struggled to look unmoved, which added to the wretchedness of her appearance, but the outfit of course in itself did its job to embarrass her thoroughly, the bizarre waitress cap being the cherry on the cake. Jenny and Rosario were waiting, now joined by Mrs. Kim, Jenny´s mother.
”Come here Maddie”, Mrs. Kim said in a shrill voice.
Startled Maddie promptly speeded up her movements and approached them, accompanied only by the discreet rustling noise produced by her uniform. Awkwardly parading in front of the three she finally stopped next to Rosario, arms along the sides, glancing down and away from her spectators. Mrs. Kim made a gesture to Jenny who instantly approached Maddie and calmly slid a finger under her chin, forcing her to look up. Maddie met the determined eyes of her classmate before again looking aside, petrified as Jenny proceeded to do the top button of the smock, that Maddie had obviously forgotten. It felt unpleasantly tight around her throat. Jenny corrected her collar a little with both hands and finally stroked her cheek softly with the back of her hand.
”You´ll remember this next time, won´t you?”, she said with a motherly smile.
Maddie blushed furiously and cringed as Mrs. Kim, still staring at Maddie in her uniform, spoke.
”It is a perfect outfit for you, Maddie. How do you feel in it?” Mrs. Kim looked condescendingly at Jenny´s classmate, now on her way to becoming her maid.
Maddie sighed discreetly, unable to give expression to the humiliation she felt.
”Well, Maddie?” Mrs. Kim was not going to let her new maid get away with her silence.
Maddie looked down.
”It….it´s……..a little stiff”, she answered with a weak voice, hardly audible.
”Speak up, Maddie,” Mrs. Kim barked.
Maddie submissively repeated the ridiculous answer causing the three women to burst out in laughter. Maddie, by now beet red, was fuming with indignation at the sight of them.
”It is the regulation uniform for the maid who is lowest in rank, according to the tradition in our family. It is therefore perfect for you Maddie. You will wear this for the service tasks in our house. For your cleaning duties you will of course get another outfit. Light blue for service and pink for cleaning.”
Rosario noticed Maddie’s brightly colored running shoes in silent disapproval.
”Maddie,” Mrs. Kim continued, “in the Hainan region of China, where we are from, maids traditionally work barefoot.”
“It’s always warm there, plus, when have you ever seen Rosario wearing shoes,” Jenny interjected, pointing at the maid’s feet.
Playing along, Rosario wiggled her bare, brown toes. Maddie now felt a strong urge to save faces with her classmate and put on a stiff smile.
“Oh….I guess I’ll be barefoot a lot starting next week, uh… can I change back to my own clothes now?”.
She said it like a defiant little girl and threw a quick glance at Mrs. Kim, nervously poking at her apron before making a discrete attempt to motion toward the bathroom. Maddie froze in a rigid posture, as Mrs. Kim cut her off, her voice strong and determined.
“Maddie, don’t you remember? According to our contract, your start day is today, June first.”
“But….. but….” Maddie stammered, “Jenny’s party is today.”
Maddie looked at Jenny with a puzzled expression.
“Of course it is,” Mrs. Kim explained, as if talking to someone of low intelligence, “which is why Jennifer asked you to be here at nine o’clock sharp.”
Maddie´s face screamed indignation as she looked at her now broadly smiling classmate.
”The uniform is not less your own clothes than the clothes you were wearing when you came here today and not less than any other outfit you will experience this summer. This uniform is fully your own from now on. Actually, Heather insisted on decorating all your uniforms with your name, ”Maddie”, a task Rosario performed. So, there can´t be any doubt about who, besides Rosario, will be wearing uniforms in this house, can there?”
Mrs. Kim stared expectantly at Maddie.
”Yes….. I mean… no, Mrs. Kim”, Maddie stuttered.
”I have also, at no cost for your parents, luckily we must say, given their financial status, provided a new and more suitable wardrobe for you to wear when you´re off duty this summer and in the future.”
Maddie stiffened at this strange comment, what was this? Future? She cringed nervously.
”Heather asked me if I would let her choose the clothes for you to wear, and as it initially was her idea I think you will understand that I gave her license to do so.”
”I…yes, Mrs. Kim”.
”As a matter of fact, Heather knows far better than me what suits an 18-year-old maid best for her spare time.”
Maddie got confused, what was this about a new wardrobe?
Her thoughts were interrupted by Jenny´s mother who continued.
”I expect you to find your new clothes practical and suitable for your station in our household, now, if you are hoping to find racks of designer clothes like the ones my daughters and most of their friends wear I am afraid I have to disappoint you. You will of course remain uniformed the overwhelming part of the time and I can assure you that your off-duty time is going to be reduced to a minimum.
Now, Jennifer will help Heather to see to that, isn´t that so Jennifer?”
”Oh yes indeed, mother, I´ve given Heather the responsibility to make sure Maddie is thoroughly supervised in performing all of her duties. I know you always have a lot of friends coming over for dinner or for the whole weekend, Rosario will certainly appreciate seeing Maddie take over the heavier and simpler chores, working hard to make our guests feel comfortable.”
Jenny paused for a moment.
”Am I right, Rosario?”
”Yes, Miss Jennifer”, Rosario answered.
Jenny continued with her usual self-confident expression.
”And myself, I have no intention to spend a less luxurious time than last year, on the contrary, now that Maddie has willingly agreed, which both I and Heather were convinced she would, to sign up to become our maid - and our friend’s maid - conditions are better than ever for us all to be able to enjoy the time of our life, to begin with this summer.”
Jenny took a few slow steps, approaching a shamefaced Maddie, stopping almost in front of her, but leaving the possibility for Mrs. Kim and Rosario to see her face. With a stern expression on her face and an index under her chin Jenny forced Maddie´s pleading eyes to meet hers before delivering the final sentence which would send poor Maddie down to new depths of humiliation.
”I am convinced Maddie will make the necessary effort in fulfilling her tasks properly, to our satisfaction, and I have, for this purpose asked Heather to counsel Maddie the whole summer.”
Jenny turned with a triumphant smile towards her mother.
Maddie, now hyperventilating, looked aside, shocked by Jenny´s tirade. Mrs. Kim, approached her.
”Look at me, girl”.
Maddie complied, her mouth half open. She felt small.
”Rosario will also take care of your personal belongings and, as you won´t be needing them for quite a while, they will be given back to your parents before we leave for China. But, all this is clearly stipulated in our contract, which…………. you seemingly haven´t read very closely, Maddie?”
Mrs. Kim stared at her new maid, waiting for an answer.
”No…. Mrs. Kim, I…..I´m sorry”, Maddie meekly responded, casting a glimpse at Jenny only to receive yet another condescending look.
”I´m not convinced Jennifer is as much,” Mrs. Kim chuckled looking at her daughter.
”Well, neither am I”.
Maddie winced, she didn’t even have to turn to recognize the voice as belonging to Heather Kim. It was an unbearable humiliation for Maddie to be seen by Heather in her new role in the Kim´s household, their respective appearances being a more shocking contrast than ever, Heather as usual dressed in expensive designer clothing, casual and smart, Maddie in her ridiculous maid´s outfit. Maddie looked pleadingly at Jenny, quickly understanding no pity was to be found there, Jenny stared at her ex-protégé with a broad smile. Maddie was about to become Heather´s helpless prey.
”And why be surprised by the fact that Maddie hasn´t been able to fathom the significance of a written text? She´s at the Unit for a reason, isn´t she?”.
Maddie seethed, tears of anger and humiliation welling up in her eyes. She hated Heather.
”I think Maddie´s maid´s uniform is absolutely perfect for her”, Heather concluded triumphantly.
”Well, Maddie,” Mrs. Kim continued, ”although you´re older than Heather, you will take orders from her from now on, but of course also from Rosario who will guide you in the simple tasks you´re expected to perform. You will try to be perfectly attentive to all instructions you are given, is that perfectly clear Maddie?”
”Yes, Mrs. Kim,” Maddie quickly answered, lowering her eyes, defeated.
”Oh, I almost forgot, now that you´re here Heather, one thing you wanted us to go through together…. the curtsying, right?”
”Yes mother, the importance of having Maddie continuously give her betters proof of her inferiority, cannot be enough emphasized,” Heather said staring sternly at her victim.
”You´re right about that, Heather,” Mrs. Kim concluded matter-of-factly.
Turning toward Maddie with a sudden change of expression Mrs. Kim commanded, ”stand straight girl.”
Maddie obediently stretched for a more rigid posture.
”Now, Rosario will show you how to curtsy the way we require in our house, you will observe painstakingly Maddie.”
Rosario lowered her head, took hold of her smock, gently pulling it to each side, and finally bent her knees down into a deep curtsy before regaining an upright position. It was a humiliating thing to do Maddie thought, and it also looked absolutely ridiculous.
”Go stand in front of Jennifer,” Mrs. Kim instructed, ”and show us what you were just taught.”
With her arms tight along the sides Maddie shambled toward her friend and stopped uncomfortably in front of her. She paused for a second, drowning in humiliation, before offering her spectators a second good laugh.
”It is always good to try Maddie, you will have many occasions to practice thoroughly on that. You´ll get a second chance right now, in front of Heather,” Mrs. Kim concluded.
Sweating and blushing Maddie complied and padded in front of her young tormentor. For some reason she couldn´t resist the impulse to look Heather in the eyes as she curtsied. Maddie offered Heather the final demonstration of her subdued station, she was beaten and defeated, the proof was given. Heather made no attempt to hide her pleasure in seeing the poor girl thoroughly humiliated in front of the family. The stupid fatty was finally on her way to be taken down to where she belongs, she thought, at the bottom of the poop barrel. Heather seized a short moment to whisper to Maddie while Mrs. Kim was saying something to Jenny.
”Oh Maddie, we will be able to have so much fun together you and me, now that you´ve found your worthy place not only at school but also in our house, won´t we?”
Maddie swallowed Heather´s intimidation agape, her bullying was nothing new but why was Jenny relishing in seeing one of her friends - at least Maddie thought she was - degraded? It made her confused. Why didn´t Jenny protect her from being so humiliated? Once again her thoughts were interrupted by the harsh voice of Jenny`s mother.
”Now, remove your shoes and socks, Rosario will get you started with your duties for the day.”
“Yes Mrs. Kim,” Maddie answered with a short but noticeable curtsey.
She did it reflexively, blushing again before tugging at her left shoe while balancing upon her right foot. It was dawning on Maddie that she was going to be at her classmate and friend´s birthday party, but not as a guest. I am the help. Maddie struggled to hold back her tears as Heather gave Jenny a beaming smile.
”And Maddie, from now on, you will address Rosario as Mrs. Dalaga”, Mrs. Kim instructed.
”Yes, Mrs. Kim” Maddie answered and curtsied again.
Her humiliation was completed.
“Follow me Maddie,” Rosario
said heading towards the stairs.
It felt odd, Maddie thought, taking orders from Rosario, but she immediately complied.
”Yes, Mrs. Dalaga”.
Even Rosario was her superior. Soaked in sweat and to the burst limit filled with intense feelings of degradation, Maddie padded on bare feet along behind her fellow maid, up the stairs, soon out of sight for the family members, down a long hallway, to a door on the right. Without realizing it, she was now where not only Heather but also Jenny wanted her, were they thought Maddie belonged, in the maid´s quarter. Maddie felt stupid, why was this happening to her? Rosario opened the door to reveal a small room with two twin beds, a shared nightstand, and two closets. There was another closed door in one corner of the small bedroom.
“Bathroom,” Rosario said, pointing toward the closed door.
“My bed, your bed,” she continued the tour before opening the cupboard close to Maddie´s bed.
“Here are all the clothes for your off-duty time.” Rosario giggled while Maddie, mortified, looked at racks of white blouses with Peter Pan collar, plain crew neck cardigans, white or in various pastel colors, tartan dresses and skirts, bib pants and, furthest to the right, coats and pants in screaming colors.
”As Mrs. Kim tried to explain to you, not much of the designer clothing Mrs. Jennifer, Mrs. Heather and their friends are used to wear.”
”Or what do you think Maddie?”
”No, Mrs. Dalaga” Maddie obediently answered as she got a glimpse of a pair of white Mary Jane´s shoes and gray rubber boots on the bottom shelf, under the racks.
Finally she took a second look at what she thought looked like rainwear. Rosario watched her as she discretely pulled forward a pair of the pants and - carefully touching the shiny thick fabric with the other hand - immediately realized that it was similar to the rainwear she was forced to wear at the Unit, they were bib pants with snap buttons and elastics. Maddie moaned throwing a glance at a smiling Rosario.
”All your maid´s clothing is in a closet near the kitchen, Mrs. Heather will show you when it´s time to clean up after the guests.”
”We have a lot of work to do before Mrs. Jennifer´s classmates and the other guests arrive”, Rosario explained.