This morning, at the ungodly hour of 9:00am on a Saturday, I heard the doorbell ringing. I hastily put down my Amy Tan novel, reaching for my pagne to tie around my waist, shuffling and mumbling down the hallway to the front door. Expecting one of the doormen to ask me to move my car, I raised my eyes to see a Congolese woman at my door step. I let her speak for a minute, assuming she had the wrong apartment and would soon realize it. But wait…she was speaking to me in Lingala!
I took me a few seconds to process that:
(1) she was speaking to me in Lingala and I was letting her voice lull me because I liked the sound of it
(2) I did not in fact understand Lingala
(3) I was flattered that she tried to speak to me in her language. Was it the pagne that made me look oh-so Congolese? Or that I was a young woman in a large apartment thus making me a probable Belgian from an ex-Colonialist family?
(4) She was convinced that she had the right apartment
I asked her to repeat in French, which she did with no trouble:
“I am the cleaning lady upstairs and I lost a flip-flop on your balcony, can I come retrieve it?”
On my balcony, she leaned over to retrieve the flip-flop, only to discover that it had fallen on the ledge of the balcony below mine. I offered the longest broom I had but, even while being perched dangerously over the edge wielding the broom at the end of her grip, the tip fell a few inches short of the flip-flop.
She left dejected.
Fifteen minutes later, she’s at my door again holding the longest broom I’ve ever seen, explaining that the downstairs neighbors are gone on vacation (lucky buggers). She tries reaching the flip-flop again but is unsuccessful.
Being the smart cookie that I am, I offered a sturdy piece of rope that we tied around the head of the broom. She was then able to dangle the broom in the direction of the flip-flop to brush it off the edge and onto the street below. Unfortunately, the head of the broom being on top, the whole contraption was unwieldy and its off-set center of gravity made it hard to control, pushing the flip-flop further towards the inside edge of the ledge.
Being the smart cookie that she is, she asked for my broom again, tied the two brooms together tightly and went at it again. She had to rearrange the device several times until it was long enough to touch the ledge. Then, with a graceful sweep of the broom, she brushed the flip-flop from the ledge unto the street.
She thanked me profusely and ran downstairs to rescue the flip-flop before someone else could get their hands on it.