Alma stood in the doorway, a suitcase in each hand, her neatly braided hair trailing the length of her back. Shades of evening blue spilled from my window highlighting her feet, adding a surreal feel to the scene. I was in my bathrobe and slippers pushing uncombed hair from my face, as I watched her white limousine pull from the curb.
Alma was a client. She was alone in a foreign country and extended a desperate hand in my direction after her husbands sudden death. Our work was the foundation she stood on to recover and quiet the tears that shamed her into isolation. She summoned me in the dark hours of night, the lonely hours when her defenses were weak and the raw places in her heart felt unmanageable. I had agreed to be delivered like a living security blanket to wrap around her emptiness. More light shone in her face now, she’d found a new well of courage, not a lot, but a beginning.
I had pneumonia when she called and was slow to heal. We will meet later, I told her. Now here she was, standing like an aberration in the entryway of my home. What brings you here, I asked?
She placed her tapestry bags on the floor and lowered her eyes. Karen, you saved my life, I belong to you now. I am here to serve you. In my culture, when a person saves your life, you belong to them.
You belong to them.. Her works washed over me in quiet disbelief.
Alma dear, What I did for you was my job. You paid me well, You owe me nothing. I am deeply touched but no, please, you do not ‘belong’ to me. She smiled, touching the silk of my bathrobe as she moved to the kitchen. You have saved my life, she repeated, I belong to you.
My daughter pushed open her bedroom door wiping sleep from her young eyes. Mommy, who is that strange lady in our house?
Alma opened her purse, pulled out herbs and carefully placed them on the counter. You will do nothing, I will cook and clean for you. I will serve you in all ways. She took a lime colored wrap from her neck and transferred it lovingly to my shoulders.
Oh dear, I thought. Oh my, this is going to take some serious sorting out.
Alma made herself a bed on the couch and I went back into my room, wrapping my fingers around the warm fragrant liquid she’d provided. You’ll see, she said, as I closed the door between us. I will do a very good job. Her words hung in the air, sending shivers of dread down my spine.
It took a full month to recover and to convince my devoted servant to leave and go on with her life.
During that time I learned that I liked cooking for myself, doing my own laundry, making my own bed, tending my own children and shopping for my own food. I hadn’t known before how those activities defined the fabric of my independence. Leisure was a kind of death to my spirit. My health returned and dear Alma returned to her own country, her debt fully paid.