Zelwande doesn’t even ask what job it is. She runs to the front passenger door.

“No, sit at the back!” snaps the woman.

She finds Zelwande in the rear-view mirror. “I am Mrs Govender. What is your name?”

“Zelwande, madam.”

“I’m looking for a good worker. No funny business.”

“No funny business, madam. I’m a good worker.”

Mrs Govender steers the car out of Chatsworth. They enter Merebank and continue to the richest part of the area. The car comes to an abrupt halt as Zelwande is marvelling at the beauty and sheer size of the mansions in this area. They are in front of the gate of one such huge home. Mrs Govender presses a remote control. The gate glides open.

The mansion is huge, but in disrepair. The paint on the walls has faded, the water in large swimming pool is greenish, with floating leaves. Mrs Govender opens the front door. Zelwande has never seen a house this big.

Inside, it smells of alcohol and cigarette smoke. A fat, bare-chested old man, with the biggest beer belly Zelwande has ever seen, appears from the lounge. He drags a cigarette, and drinks from a whisky glass.

A bad feeling courses through Zelwande’s body as the man smiles at her.

“Darling, who’s this?” says the man in a coarse voice. He staggers, leans onto the passageway wall for balance. He looks at Zelwande with a drunken squint.

“This is our new maid, honey. Her name is … What’s your name again?”

“Zelwande, madam,” says Zelwande quickly.

“Nice to meet you, Zewalne,” says the man.

“Zelwande, sir.”

“No worries. I’ll just call you Rose. Isn’t that lovely?” says the man.

“Rose, this is the man of the house. My dear husband, Mr Govender.”

It hurts Zelwande deeply that the Govenders have given her a new name. And an English one on top of that. Her parents gave her only isiZulu names because they wanted her to be proud of her heritage. But she quickly swallows her pride when she remembers why she is here: to work, get money, and feed her siblings.

Mrs Govender is kind and smiling as she makes Zelwande tea and jam sandwiches. But it is the calm before the storm. As soon as she has finished eating, Mrs Govender points to all the rooms that need to be cleaned. It is the whole house, and it is full of cobwebs and dust.

“Top to bottom, Rose. Top to bottom, quickly,” says Mrs Govender, hovering over Zelwande’s every move.

She is dead tired by the time she gets home. She buys her siblings fries, yababa Russians and bread with the money she is paid today.

They look into her tired eyes and realise she’s in no mood to chit chat today. In hushed tones they help each other with schoolwork.

Zelwande dozes off, wishing she had a boyfriend to massage her throbbing feet.


Tell us: What do you think about Mr Govender calling Zelwande ‘Rose’? And should a domestic worker address their employers as ‘sir’ and ‘madam’?