Story of the Week: Piss-poor Tubicle and the Princess of Misfortune

In characteristic neglect of my feminine duty, I had forgotten (“память девичья,” that poor faculty of retention, as my host mother likes to tease) to wash the Miras Moldova office when my turn turned up. I was a week late.

My partners had reassured me, suggesting that I invite our new French volunteer to assist. Now wouldn’t it be much easier this way!

My eyes rolled back. Assistance for the loathed chore! I couldn’t wait to put the newling to work! What a sweet suggestion, a vision of a glorious possibility: was there some way I could orchestrate a “first week clean-up” for all incoming volunteers? Not hazing, certainly – only a welcome, let-me-show-you-the-ropes-fresh-blood. A month before, my partner had printed a chore sheet with our names and an “It’s your turn now :)” post-it that we’d slick over to that week’s custodian. I could go in and tinker with the order for an imminent arrival. No one would mind a seasoned partner, anyway.

So she arrived. Profile: young (I won’t say her age), French (that bit is out there), female (revealed, also, it’s painful to use a neutral pronoun when writing), conscientious and helpful. Dear perfect candidate! You’re quick as a whip to notice movement – at the drop of a pen, you’re there! I flicked the knife from the cutting board days ago, and your lean mirrored mine as I bent in retrieval. You already do the dishes as I cook! Beautiful, observant soul…

Give me a moment, I need to shake off the budding affection.

So she arrived, and we trekked to the office Thursday morning. We went to meet a friend, who was standing in as our new volunteer’s mentor (my partners are away at a training, now). After a quick trip to the local rehabilitative center where Newling will volunteer, our mentor dismissed himself. We sat and worked for a while. I wanted to feign productivity before we battled the dust mites.

Eventually, my seated companion began scuffing and bouncing (she has an impatient knee). She was bored. I looked over, and she asked, “Clean?” Time for the deed, then.

We swept and washed that week’s abandoned teacups. We wiped down flat surfaces, dusted computer screens, erased the tails of old English notes from the whiteboard. When the time came to mop, I suggested we wait. My English student would come in an hour, after all, and wisdom’s word was to pause. But the kitchen tiles were mud (splashes from the sink mixed with dust), so fine – just that area, then.

I went to show the new miss how to turn on the water in the bathroom to fill the mop bucket. I gripped the red handle at the end of the hard plastic hose that jutted from a joint in one of the water pipes feeding in through a hole in the wall. Water’s gotta flow to the toilet somehow. And I gripped the handle, and pulled, and something hissed, and burst! The wall was wet, my face was wet, the floor was wet and a waterfall defied gravity to arc upwards before its descent. The piss-poor tubicle had popped out of its nesting place. The bathroom floor (let’s say one meter by two meters) was already flooded. I rushed to unplug a heater that had been humming in the bathroom to dry out the walls (life’s irony) for an attack on black mold. Electrocution in the first week of a new job is undesirable.

My new friend sloshed with me to the kitchen to try to tighten knobs on our little boiler, to stop the flow. Stuck fast. We shuffled back to the bathroom to try the knobs there – and a guest arrived. It was a student from one of the high schools, dropping off a form for a program Miras is now running. I asked him if he knew something that could help the situation. He stared. He stuttered.

Eyes lemur-wide, he offered that it might help to call the water people located up the road from our office. “Do you know their number?” He grumbled something adroitly and backed out through the open door, leaving a few half-wet footprints in his wake. For a moment I maintained hope that he would come back with help – and then I laughed at myself. He had seemed so wary, so skittish as he humbled away. No.

So we girls faced the wet furor on our own.

My quick companion managed to turn off the water, and we were left with our own small ocean to navigate. We used two mops to clean up. (The girl really bullied through – her mop’s head had snapped, so she crouched for the front half of the room, wringing the cotton like a princess of misfortune. I swear it wasn’t hazing.)

Our unexpected event brought a kind moment. My friend and I sat after we got up most of the water. She was writing passionately, I was texting passionately – and we looked at each other, and I said, “You’re writing about this?” She grinned and laughed. She really glimmers when she smiles. “Yes.” “Me too.” I found a new ally. And understood which side of our office is lower than the other.

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