The dishes were washed, the table was cleared, the kitchen floor mopped when her eyes rose and spotted it – a cockroach on her kitchen ceiling. How she hated the sight. After all her labouring, that black speck showed only how old and rundown the house was, how futile her efforts. There was still the living room and bathroom needing to be tidied and cleaned.
She grabbed the Mortein out of the cupboard and went to look for a dry broom. Below the black spot she propped up a dining chair and had just stepped up onto it when the doorbell rang.
Grudgingly, she climbed down off the chair to answer the door.
It was a young boy, about fifteen. After a moment she recognised him as Vu, who was in her youngest daughter’s after school tutoring class.
‘Sorry Vu,’ she said, ‘Jessie’s not here. She’s gone to the movies with some friends.’
‘Can I use your toilet?’ he asked, as if that was what he wanted all along, ‘I really need to go.’
She let him in. One stepped through the front door directly into the living room. For the innocent soul this provided an unconditional, warm welcome but against the shallow, worldly heart, the house appeared exposed and pitifully vulnerable.
Vu’s eyes went to the kitchen, where the dining chair stood as its own little island under the black speck, to then scan the messy living room.
And suddenly, she didn’t want him to go to the bathroom, the oldest and dirtiest room in the house. But it was too late now.
She knew where he lived, in one of the biggest mansions in Cabramatta and less than a five minute walk away – how many times had he asked Jessie if he could catch a lift home with them from the tutoring class, while his own mother never offered Jessie one in return.
The bile rose in her. She knew why he was here, to scope out Jessie’s possessions. She knew with certainty, she felt it in her bones. And she knew she could never tell Jessie.
He thanked her and left. She went back to the kitchen to get rid of the cockroach. It was gone.
She felt ashamed that he dared to look down on them, on Jessie, who was born to this and could not help it. After years of war and starvation, she and her husband had done the best they could for their girls, and this was supposed to be a better life. She sat on the chair, curled up her legs, dropped her head onto her arms and cried.