“The house is divided into two wings, west and east,” Mrs Hilton-White said. “The maid’s quarters, where you will be living, are at the back, behind the kitchen.”

Yes, I thought, out of sight of the main house. ‘Out of sight out of mind’, is what they say.

“No loud music, no men, no drink and no slaughtering chickens,” she told me firmly. “I have watched the news. I know what you people get up to. But we are civilized here,” she went on, as we entered the kitchen. It was bigger than my entire house, and I have one of the biggest houses in my street.

“This is Prudence, my cook,” she said. Prudence didn’t smile. There was no sisterhood there, no ‘maids uniting against the madam’. She just stared at me.

She had plucked a chicken, and it was sitting in front of her on a wooden cutting board. She looked at me and then she brought the huge meat knife she was holding down and chopped that scrawny chicken’s head right off. It rolled away and a smear of blood was left on the knife.

“If you need anything just ask Prudence,” said Mrs Hilton-White. “You will clean and polish, and wash clothes. Prudence will prepare the meals. She goes home at five pm. You will take over from her with the meals then. Heat the food and serve it at seven pm sharp. You will get one weekend off a month. Anything else?”

We were standing back at the entrance. I was looking at that big door to the west wing.

“You are not allowed in there,” said Mrs Hilton-White as she followed my eyes. “It is strictly forbidden. It is where I work. Not even Mr Hilton-White is allowed in there. You are never to go inside. Understood?”

I nodded. Then she handed me a uniform, frilly doek and all. Who cleans the west wing? That is what I wanted to ask her, but she had already disappeared.

The sun was setting behind the tall trees in the driveway when I finished ironing the last of the washing. The house was very quiet. Everything felt very lonely and empty suddenly. I watched Prudence taking off her uniform in the kitchen. She nodded at me before leaving through the servant’s entrance. I felt like calling after her, even running and shouting: “Take me with you!”

But it was only my first day. I couldn’t give up that soon. Besides, I am also a curious person and I wanted to know what was behind that door to the west wing. What was so important that only Mrs Hilton-White could go in there? It was a big secret, of that I was sure.

I walked out onto the driveway to find Alfred, but he had already gone home. I looked at the neat beds of roses he had tended: they were arranged in stripes of, red, white and yellow, like a flag.

I went to the kitchen, heated the food that Prudence had left and took it on a tray to the dining room in the east wing. Mrs Hilton-White was sitting alone at the table, paging through a magazine. When I came in with the tray she indicated that I should put it down on the table next to her.

“You can go to your room now,” she said, not even looking up.

Tell us what you think: What is in the west wing?


Tell us what you think: What is in the west wing?