You may wonder how I, Nosipho Mtati, came to live in the West Wing of ‘White Villa’ in the leafy suburb of Constantia. Sometimes I wonder myself. What I can say is that I have got quite used to it. It’s been five years since I first walked up that very long driveway and knocked on the door of that huge house.
It was Alfred, the Hilton-White’s gardener, and my good friend, who told me that they were looking for a new domestic. The Hilton-Whites had lost their last one quite suddenly.
“One day she was there. The next day she was gone,” Alfred told me, rolling those big eyes of his as he steered his green Toyota Cressida down my street in Gugulethu, dodging the potholes and swinging up onto the pavement outside my house.
“All I know,” continued Alfred, “is that they are looking for a ‘sleep-in’ maid.”
That was all I knew when I arrived at those big marble gates that had ‘White Villa’ carved in fancy letters into the stone – like on a funeral card. I also knew that I needed the money. My last employer had left the country for Australia.
As I pressed the buzzer I looked down. There on the gravel was a tiny bird, fried by the electric security wire. It gave a twitch and then died, right there in front of me, just as the gates slowly swung open. I picked it up and buried it under some leaves. I am a kind, considerate person – most of the time.
It was a long walk up that driveway lined with oak trees. The leaves made a strange song in the wind. It made me shiver. I was very glad to see Alfred when I crossed from the shade of those branches into the light of the gravel in front of the house. Alfred was already hard at work in the flower bed. He was digging fertilizer into the soil around the roses.
“These are Mr Hilton-White’s prize roses,” Alfred said proudly. “They need something special to get them so big and full.” He winked at me: “Just like you, Nosipho.”
“Stop flirting with me,” I told him firmly. “You are a married man.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate beauty when I see it.”
I was secretly pleased when he said that. Everyone likes a compliment.
“Where is Mrs Hilton-White?” I asked.
Alfred nodded towards the house. “Inside. But Mr Hilton-White is away on business,” he said, making it sound very mysterious. “He is often away on business.”
I pressed the doorbell and waited, and waited. When the door finally opened I could see why Mr Hilton-White was away on business so often.
They talk of ‘mutton dressed as lamb’. Well, Mrs Hilton-White would walk off with that prize! She was dressed in a white tracksuit and gold running shoes. Her hair was blonde, but I could see from her neck that she was old and wrinkly under those clothes and wig. Her neck was shrivelled and scrawny like a chicken’s. She had so much gold on that small body that she could have bought everyone in my street in Gugs a nice new house.
“Who are you?” she asked me, like she wasn’t expecting anyone.
“I am Nosipho Mtati,” I told her. She frowned. “I am the woman you spoke to on the phone. I have come to try out for being your new maid.”
Her eyes lit up. “You are the new girl. The last Sophie really let us down. Come inside. I will show you what I expect from you.” Her voice was high and ugly. “Well come on, don’t just stand there!”
I followed her inside. I had a bad feeling in my stomach as I walked across the black and white tiles in the entrance. Everything in the house was white or cream or gold. The carpets were white and fluffy and even the grand piano was white – it was just like the house in the soapie I like to watch on my small TV.
“This way,” she said. She moved very quickly. She had soft rubber soles on her shoes so they didn’t make any sound at all on the marble floors. I followed her as she opened and closed doors, showing me room after room of white and gold treasures.
Tell us what you think: Why did Nosipho feel strange when she entered the house?