The Russian Hedgehog




The Putzfrau comes home each week, to vacuum the floors, hardwood downstairs and carpet upstairs, to polish the hardwood floor panels, to clean the shower, toilet, and occasionally the windows. She is a Russian woman, in her late forties, with a quiet manner and a child-like smile. In her loose-fitting clothes she looks like a colourful bean bag, and although she moves slowly through the apartment, shifting from one room to next, her movements do not appear lethargic but suggest a steady force at work. At the end of three hours the apartment is transformed: no trace is left of the previous week’s disorder.

She has a key to the apartment. On Thursday afternoons, at around 1 p.m., when both Wife and I are away at work, she enters the apartment and leaves three hours later, carrying with her the money we place at the agreed spot on the kitchen counter, next to the Nespresso machine. On the days we forget to place the money, we return in the evening to find on that spot a sticky-note, or a paper napkin, with a message in clear letters: Geld!! On such days the apartment is as clean as on other Thursdays.

Thursday mornings are a stressful affair. Wife insists on getting the house clean before the cleaning lady arrives — to her there is no contradiction in this, it is just an “employee satisfaction measure” — so we load the dishwasher, gather clothes lying around, throw the garbage out, all this to make our home look “presentable”. The result, then, on Thursday evenings is a cumulative effect, due in part to the lady and in part to our exertions. Sometimes we are unsure who has assumed the larger burden.

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