Now, the more diligent readers among you will doubtless recall that after my inadvertent visit to a puticlub, I explained that I exchanged numbers with one of the charming courtesans, a vivacious young lady from Colombia called Sofia, saying that “It was to prove a very wise decision on my part”. The time has now come to make good on the implicit promise contained therein. In the three weeks before lockdown, we spoke a few times, just gossip and chat that mainly consisted of her laughing at me, at my Spanish and at my entire being, really. A really fun girl.
One day, she asked me if I wanted to come and meet her and her friend, another Colombian girl, for coffee. I said I would be delighted to, and thus it was. Her friend Janneh was hilarious. A cleaner and a mother of a young five-year-old boy, she captivated me to the extent that I instantly fell in like. Pretty, vivacious, and also with a throaty chuckle, she showed me such warmth and acceptance from that very first meeting that I was reminded once again of the wisdom of my decision to leave the toxicity and hatred that has become so rampant in the UK and to reinvent myself in this beautiful, verdant city. And all the more so in my bohemian neighbourhood of Ruzafa, often called “the Soho of Valencia”. It’s about the size of Soho, is equally central and is thronged with bars and restaurants most of which have terraces on the wide, boulevard-style pavements.
Now, Janneh has recently given up working in a bar and had decided to return to her old job of being a cleaner – the hours are more family-friendly and she is a very devoted mum. In fact, as she told me, “I don’t want a boyfriend, I have one in my son, he’s more than enough. By the time he goes to bed, all I am good for is watching a bit of telly and falling asleep.” But with Coronavirus, her timing was less than impeccable because people were furloughing their cleaners, not looking for new ones. Don’t talk to me about timing, love…
Well, it just so happens that I am the sort of bachelor who needs a cleaner. I am slightly OCD but it is a form of OCD that is allied to an equal – if not greater – form of laziness. So I have no qualms whatsoever about paying someone handsomely to iron my shirts, mop the floors, sort out the laundry etc. So the enormous smile that broke out on her face when I said I could give her five hours a week was humbling. So suddenly I was a bachelor with a cool four-bed, two-bathroom pad in the trendiest neighbourhood in Valencia, and now with a cleaner/housekeeper. A wise friend said to me the other day, “Remember, Euge – you once dreamed of being where you are now.” Living. The. Dream. Allegedly.
I began a platonic love affair with Janneh that was reinforced and grew through the lockdown that was yet to come. Since she is a cleaner, she has three admirable qualities. She has OCD. She is a workaholic. And, despite her slight build and pretty, enchanting features, she is as strong as an ox.
She came twice before lockdown. Her first act, in a now-well-established ritual, is to work out how to take my TV off HDMI mode (I have a Fire Stick) and find the input mode for terrestrial Spanish TV channels. She is addicted to Veinte Cuatro Horas, a little like Sky News, a surprisingly good news channel with correspondents in every country. She is incredibly well informed. Then she puts on my laundry. Then she sets about mopping, polishing, rearranging my furniture and “arreglando y ordenando tu piso porque tu eres un Tontin”. Lucky I don’t speak Spanish, or I might be offended. She is like a cross between Mrs Danvers and Jennifer Lopez in Maid of Manhattan. Que rico.
After working her nuts off (figuratively speaking, she’s not a lady-boy, AFAIK), she collapses onto my mid-century sofa in the sala de estar. One day, I caught her on the balcony yabbering away looking up to the heavens. At first, I thought she was talking to me. Until I listened. She was saying, “Padre Santo,” – actually, I will do this in English. First rule of journalism, know your readers – and as the only person I know who reads this blog is my dad, and he doesn’t speak Spanish, I shall do so. In fact, perhaps I should just send you emails, Dad?
Any road up, as I believe they are known to say in That Yorkshire, she was saying, “Holy Father, I know I prayed for you to send me a guardian angel and I am happy that you sent me this one. But he is a gilipollas y un Tontin y un loco ingles, I do not wish to appear ungrateful but is there any chance you could take him back and send me another one? Thank you so much, Holy Father.”
I think it was a joke for my effect. She is actually very fond of me, and sends me a message every morning to ask how I slept, whether I have had a coffee and to wish me a beautiful day. She always ends with (in caps, for some reason) “DIOS TE BENDIGA Y TU ANGEL DE LA GUARDIA TE CUIDE” (May God protect you and your guardian angel look over you). She sends similar messages every single night to say “q duermas con angelitos” – may you sleep with cherubs – and is fiercely loyal and protective of me.
Occasionally, I have expressed my sincerely held belief that there is no God and that I am a devout atheist. She pouts, and says “Voy a pegarte en los huevos” – I am going to kick you in the balls – but follows through, trying to do so until I flee down the long hallway to retreat to my office, my sanctuary that she is only allowed to enter for a cursory clean with her literally kicking me “en el culo”, or Aris as we call it back home. I often ask myself who is working for whom, but this rhetorical question gets short shrift from La Colombiana.
My dad has fallen a little bit in love with her. I talk to my daddy most days on FaceTime (actually, WhatsApp video) and my mummy as well. Janneh likes to chat to him as well. He speaks a scrap of Italian, she speaks it well having lived there for some years, he doesn’t speak Spanish and she doesn’t speak English (except for, after a rapid stream of unintelligible Colombian “Spanish” [sic], she says “Ju unnerstan me”, plus she can say, “berry, berry good”). So it’s like a virtual Tower of Babel, but they seem to rub along just fine.
She has become, in a short period of time, one of the most important people in my life, and I am not ashamed to say that, in my own “loca de mierda manera propia inglesa” as she puts it, I love her without condition and without qualification.