english was her second language

Hong Kong skyline

1. Alexander misspelt her name ‘Merry’ but he pronounced it right so his mother didn’t bother correcting him. Besides it suited her, thought Sophie; Mary was a cheerful little soul.

2. Mary cleaned their house, took care of Alexander, now five, and walked Heather, their poodle. Mary wasn’t the most eloquent but she loved Alexander like a son. She saw more of him than her own.

3. She left her hometown ten years back to work in Hong Kong, earning four times what she would have in her country.

4. The Hong Kong government was not famous for its fair treatment of domestic helpers. In fact, it would not be unfair to say that they viewed maids as mere commodities and imported them out of necessity.

5. At lunch with gweilo wives, Sophie was the first to mention that there was room for improvement in the system. But we can’t ignore that these women chose to come here to work, she was quick to add. No one forced them. Sophie prided herself on being rational and fair.

6. On Sundays– a mandatory holiday– domestic helpers numbering in the hundreds of thousands gathered in pockets all over the city: in parks, walkways, the pier, taking over every shaded public space. But Sophie and Mary had a special arrangement. Mary gave up two Sundays of every month to offset her slightly higher salary.

7. Sophie often pointed out that the minimum wage was ridiculous (even before taking inflation into account). She liked to quote Rob Connelly, a well-known human rights lawyer: “domestic workers are probably the most undervalued workers to work in Hong Kong”. Sophie was adamant that it was the moral responsibility of the employer to pay her maid more, even if they had to work around the law.

8. Mary had been in Sophie’s employ for five years and understood the parameters of Sophie’s generosity. She felt fortunate to escape the physical and psychological abuse common within her community. The worst she endured was Sophie’s genteel irritation when once Mary burnt the quiche for Sunday lunch. She was newly hired then and still learning to prepare western dishes.

9. Mary was a stoic soul.

10. She accepted with equanimity when Hong Kong’s highest court ruled against granting eligible domestic helpers permanent residency. Mary listened to Sophie argue that this decision was unconstitutional and yet another form of discrimination and oppression.

11. Mary sighed but did not offer an opinion.

12. When Sophie was done, Mary asked if she would like a gin and tonic. Sophie said, yes, Mary, thank you. Use the Bombay Sapphire and not too much ice, please.

You can read more about the treatment of domestic helpers in Hong Kong here and here.

This week’s word prompt is ‘raw’



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