We were greeted and led upstairs by one of those kind fat old lady types, affectionately known as “Mama” by staff and guests alike. In terms of her attire and build, she reminded Michael and me of the owner of Tom, the cat from Tom and Jerry.
In the morning Michael and I were dismayed to hear that the hot water wasn’t working. I was wandering around the room with my toothbrush hanging out of my mouth and my towel draped around my waist, when Mama grabbed me by my arm and guided me to the outside kitchen.
We were on the second floor of a quadrangle which had crisscrossing washing lines draped from opposing balconies. You could smell the artificial freshness of the detergent in the air.
Mama stood me in front of a small sink and pointed at the pan of water warming on the stove. She then left me outside, so I took the pan from the stove, rested it in the small sink and I gave myself the most thorough wash I could under the circumstances. I let the residue water run off me, back into the pan, as I leaned over it. Just as I’d put the pan, now half full of the water that had run off my body, back on the stove, Mama came back in with a beaming smile and a couple of mugs.
“Oh no, no, no, Mama, I’ve just used this water for washing,” I said, realising that she’d boiled the water for tea and not for me to wash with.
“Niet! No wash,” she instructed, wagging a stern finger, “Chai”[tea]
“But Mama, you don’t understand” I pleaded. “I thought you had warmed the water so I could wash with it. The pan is half full of the filth that has run off my stinking body. I haven’t washed for a few days. Look, there’s even a few hair-”
“Is there anything I can say or do to stop you drinking this water?” I said placing my hand on the handle.
“Niet,” she replied, lightly rapping my hand away.
“Fair enough, Mama,” I sighed, with a shrug. I could see there was no use in arguing with her.
“Chai?” she asked, pointed at a mug.
“Errrm… I’ll be ok thanks” I replied eying the film that had built up on the simmering water.
How vain would you have to be to drink your own filthy water? I thought to myself.
I turned back to Mama, “On second thoughts, yes please, black, no sugar”.
“Hey Michael!” I called into the bedroom
“Do you want a cup of tea?!”
“Yes please mate”
As I watched Mama gently dipping the teabags into the hot water, I allowed myself a small chuckle at the image of myself, doing something very similar a few minutes before. A slightly deranged smile stayed on my face as I sat there, supping my tea with Michael and the kindly old woman, picking the odd hair out of my mouth and laughing without a care in the world.
“Ha ha, you’ve got a milk moustache,” Michael said to me, pointed at my top lip.
“You have too, mate, and look! So has Mama!”
“We’re like the three milk musketeers!”
We shared a nice light-hearted morning chuckle.
I stopped laughing when I realised we were all drinking our tea black.