I don't want to get out of bed. My body is just too heavy today. My room is shaking again, which means my Master’s hover car just flew over. He should be gone until 18:00. I feel like I'm a thousand pounds. I shake my thin wristband. It displays 8:30. I think back. Did I miss anything?
6:00- Wake up. Get dressed in the white gripper and white handkerchief, to hold my hair back. White flats and bright yellow belt, so they know you're new and permanent. I didn't forget the white gloves and white stockings, I still have trouble putting the stockings on because slipping them under the clunky ankle bracelet on my left leg isn't easy.
The dress is comfortable enough, but I hate wearing it. It is tight in the wrong places. The handkerchief won't stop falling off, and the gloves and stockings feel like a bit too much, it’s embarrassing to wear. As far as work uniforms go I suppose it is fine though. They all come with a degree of humiliation after all.
6:30- Make and eat a light breakfast in kitchen. The hired servants will arrive at 7:00. So, clean the mess by then.
7:00- Remember. None of these people are your friends. None of these people are your equal. They leave at night. They arrive in the morning. They are paid. You are owned. Watch them as much as you can. Learn everything you can. Don't become entangled in their lives.
7:30- Wake the masters up with breakfast. Clean their bed: change their linens and make their bed. Lay out Mr. Finke's suit for the day.
8:00- Clean up breakfast. Take care of the kitchen's dishes.
I have a hard time being this close to them. I come in every morning when they are both in bed. I open their curtains, and let the sun in. Mrs. Finke always wakes up first, or at least she has the last 4 days. She is significantly younger than her husband, but still at least twice my age. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's how comfortable they both are, being in that state of dress, around me. Even though I'm not their first indentured, I still had expected them to be somewhat off put by me the first few days. At the academy they had said it would be like that. They said people had to get used to a new Indentured, and that it could take months sometimes, but they never act uncomfortable in my presence. I don’t know why it matters. Well, I do, but I can’t think about that right now.
Yes, I did do everything I was supposed to do. I now have to help the Mistress with whatever she feels I should be doing. It takes all my strength, but I manage to pull my thousand pound body off the hard bed. I walk slowly through the hallway with my head hung. Their floor is hard wood. When I was younger, maybe 13, I was taken to a wealthy man’s home, well, he seemed wealthy to my young self, and he had this pseudo-hardwood, laminate flooring. It was softer than the Finke’s floor. If you put enough pressure on in it it would bend. They are both better than the concrete and ancient carpet that all the other homes I had been to had. I like the Finke’s floor. It has tiny lines in it that formed patterns that were sometimes hard to see, but always better than the dot patterns in the rock floor of my old home. It is shiny too. Light seems to bounce off it. I’ll probably be responsible for that at some point.
I hold my head up when I reach her door. I open it so quietly she can not hear it. They trained me well at the Academy. They better have, after my family spent all that money on it. I suppose they did well enough. I sold for an above average price. My family, at least, has a chance now. I close the door behind me and kneel next to the door.
This is the part I dislike the most. I kneel here until she asks for something, because there is nothing scheduled for me to do in this time. They have servants for most everything including cleaning. I feel I am redundant in this house. That was expected though. People like this want everything to always be perfect, and if that means they need extra help to cover for emergencies they will hire them. I had been managing to avoid this particular duty my first few days because one of the maids had been sick, but today she returned so now the first kneeling session of the next 20 years begins.
She was sitting at her desk going through the finances. I find it odd how they divide their work. My parents, when there were two of them, both worked. All of my friends’ parents both worked. For her not to strikes me as one of the most confusing things about this place. She had said that her job was running the house. I don't really understand that idea, I guess. To me it seems a house “runs” itself. Every individual takes on some of the burden of the chores, and everyone “runs the house.” Shouldn't that be how the maids and chefs and landscapers all work? They all take on the little bit that they are supposed to take on, and as long as they are responsible, the house takes care of itself, but she watches over all of these things. I imagine she views herself as more of a manager than a participant. She manages the house.
Sitting in this silence as she writes down everything that needs to happen is incredibly boring. That’s also strange about this woman, she writes things down on paper. Who does that now? She even has carbon copies of things. Even in the worst shanty town I've ever been to they send emails and texts to get things done. That or they shout. Maybe if you have the money to waist on paper you do. It seems irresponsible, environmentally speaking. Given how much money these people have it is completely possible that they have some form of machine that recycles paper into new paper. So it could be better than I think it is. What do I know? I wish there was something to complain about other than the boredom. Something else to think about. Like leg pain from holding this position. There isn't even that to focus on. Just the quick hand movements of Mrs. Finke.
I breathed out heavily. This was a mistake. I had made a noise. That was rule one of Kneeling in Wait. You are to make no noises. She stopped writing and turned. That was my first mistake so this would be my first reprimand. My eyes become wide and I try to not show how much my body is shaking. I can see her face staring back at mine. She looks surprised. Like she has never had someone do such a thing, while under her ownership, in her presence before. At least she isn't allowed to physically or mentally torture/abuse me. At least organizations like ISSHA exist to protect me from that. Her breath was rapid. She would soon speak. I wonder if her voice will be shrill.
“How long have you been there?” She asks not shrilly but more like she was confused.
I stare back vacantly and try not to shake because now I do not know what is going on. I’m doing what I'm supposed to be doing. I’m waiting for my next order. I legitimately don't know how to respond.
“Sorry. You can relax.” she motioned with her hands in such a way that I knew she wasn't angry. “I just didn't know you were in the room. You scared me.”
My eyes shrunk back to a normal size, but I still shook a little.
“You’re a jumpy little thing aren’t you?”
I nodded yes.
“Why are you kneeling in my study?”
“They trained me at the academy to, when you don’t know what to do, wait for orders by kneeling in the room of your Master or Mistress until given an order.” My voice came out quiet and meek and most of all fake. It felt insincere to me. It reminded me of yelling at my younger brothers.
“Oh. Marie, our previous you, never did that.” She then stared at me in silence for a moment. “Did they teach you much math at your academy?”
“Some. Mostly just in reference to bookkeeping for inventory purposes. It was actually one of my favorite classes.” That was maybe too much information. I should keep away from personal details. She doesn't care. Also, watch your tone. At least you've stopped shaking as much.
“Really? So it probably wouldn't be a big step for you to learn how to manage the finances of the house?” She seems genuinely interested.
“Yes, and I really do not know. It depends on how much is involved in it.”
“That’s right. Marie was like that too. You guys are trained to always be honest. I hear they drill that in early. Why is that?” It’s true they do train us to never lie. Lying was grounds for expulsion at the academy. Although they did give us lots of warning before going that far.
“It’s an old tradition dating back to when indentured servants first became legal again. It helps build the trust between the master and the servant. They used to force servants to take a pill every day that caused the servant to be honest regardless of their will.”
“And ISSHA allowed that?”
“This was before ISSHA.”
“Well, anyway, stand up and come over here.” I obeyed. “I would like to teach you how to do this. The more you know how to do the more I can depend on you.”
“You would trust me with the house’s money?”
“Maybe not right now, but once we've gotten to know each other better, and you have proven that you are capable of it. Yes. Which reminds me, starting today you will be assisting me in the afternoons with my exercises. I need a partner. Someone to do things with promotes my will to do said things.”
Her desk has a small notepad with the Finke letterhead on it, a large book that seems to be used for recording expenditures, and several pens that look nicer than any stylus I've ever touched. She begins to explain what she is doing, and how she is doing it. It’s too complicated to understand without asking any questions, which is daunting. I barely manage to ask any, but I do manage to ask some. She doesn't seem to mind me speaking up at all. It takes several hours for her to explain what she is trying to do, but I believe I mostly understand it all. She believes she will have to explain it again tomorrow. I trust her instinct.
I serve her the lunch that the chef prepared for her at 12:00. It’s a lean, skinless chicken breast covered in a fruit sauce and sautéed vegetables that are arranged prettily on the plate. It looks like something you see on the billboards above the highways that stretch over some parts of my hometown. I’ve never seen food as pretty as this. I wonder what it tastes like. I don't let myself think past that point though.
I set it down in front of her. “Thank you.”
I nod and begin to back away.
“May I ask you a question?”
That seems like an odd thing to ask someone you own. I nod to confirm she may.
“What do you eat?”
“There is food set aside for me in the kitchen that I prepare for myself. Usually a piece of fruit, some cheese, and a little bread. Sometimes there are vegetables. Pretty much anything that the chef has decided you shouldn't eat because it is less than.”
“So, the scraps?”
While that is somewhat true, if you consider how much he decides isn't fit for them to eat, it really is quite a lot. Unfortunately, he is good at not wasting meat. Maybe in the winter I’ll get leftover soup. “Yes.”
“Well, that will not do. Tell the chef to make what he made for me for you.”
“Oh, I couldn’t…” At the academy they told us to accept whatever gifts your masters give. If they want to be nice let them. It isn't your place to question why they do anything. They didn't buy you to tell them how to treat you. “… will do. Yes ma’am.”
“Good girl.” She says with a smile.
The chef roles his eyes when I repeat her order. I shrug in response. It wasn't my idea. He even has the gall to go and ask her as a confirmation. He comes back and begins cooking again.
“I’ll clean up after if you like?” I hope that appeases his annoyance at his orders. If it did he didn't let me in on it.
The meal is the most amazing thing I think, no, I know, I’ve ever had. It somehow retains all of the individual flavors that went into it while also letting them all combine into new ones. The chicken is moist, tender, and most importantly, doesn't taste like it was ever in a can. The sauce is sweet and salty. I watched him make it this time, and there was no butter in it like I had thought. It wasn’t creamy but somehow mildly translucent. Its texture is light and runny, but it also sticks quickly to whatever touches it. The vegetables, that I am honestly not sure what are, are crisp but also soft. It was an amazing texture combination that I had never experienced before. They were seasoned with a reddish combination of powders that made them spicy but not too spicy, and when the powder's flavor mixed with the sauce it seemed to cause an explosion of delight in my mouth that I didn't know I could experience. It brought me to tears. It’s ridiculous. How could food make me feel like every good thing I had ever had was trash? She gave away, on a whim, something truly spectacular. Something that felt like art in a new form. This dish, to her, is simple and plain. To me it’s an entirely new world that I have never experienced. If I had grown up in this world I would look down on people from my own world as trash. I would buy us too.
I eat everything on my plate until my efforts have cleaned it. I don't show any decency in my actions. No one is in the kitchen with me, after all. I gratefully clean the mess the chef made for me. The next time I see him I will have to come up with a way to thank him.
It’s 13:00. Mrs. Finke is speaking to a friend over the phone. So I go back to my room.
My room is about one and a half by two meters. My bed takes the whole of one wall and half of the room’s width. There is a dresser in the closet and a full length mirror next to the door. My room is simple. Just like my life. I wake up, and do what I'm supposed to, and there will be no end to it. That’s what is killing me. Even if I get to experience new things that are beyond what I could ever have come close to experiencing in the slums, even if I learn how to do useful things that could, much later in life, give me great opportunities, and even if what I’m doing is for the good of those I love, I still don't get to decide for myself what I want to be. At least, in my room, I can drop my face and let it be alright that for the next twenty years this is where I’ll live. I’ll be thirty-eight. I won’t have a husband or a kid. I won’t have a job. I will be formally educated in one thing.
I stop thinking about it for a moment. I lie down and stare at the ceiling. My eyes slowly close. The world disappears for a while.
I wake to the feeling of my wrist vibrating. The mistress is calling me. It’s 14:22.
I find her in the courtyard. “How was your meal?”
I pause to think “I don't even have words for it.”
“So you liked it?”
I nod yes.
“Good. I’ll have you start training with Ellis [the chef] tomorrow.”
My eyes grew wide.
“In case he ever gets sick, or if you want to make yourself a good meal sometime. I expect you, by the end of the next year, to be able to replace anyone who works here should they not be able to do their job…” She paused and watched as I tried to hide my widening eyes and trembling body. “…including me.” That sent me over the edge. I can’t do what she can do! I now tremble undeniably in front of her. “You’ll be able to do it. We picked you for a reason.”
I couldn't stop my eyebrow’s rise, but that stopped my trembling so it’s a good trade off.
“You’re a competent young woman. Your test scores more than proved that. Have faith in yourself.” She paused for effect. “Ok, like I said before, I need a partner for my exercises. We can’t eat lunches like that and not follow it up with some effort to stay in shape. I won’t have either of us becoming pudgy.”
The next few hours were spent doing what, for me, was a light exercise routine. Lots of resting and easily done movements. The academy made sure we were strong. Mrs. Finke did, however, spend a lot of time speaking to me about what she expects, and how she expects me to learn. It all boiled down to me shadowing multiple people around the house until I mastered their jobs. She made it clear that I would have no more time to devote to Kneeling in Wait. Eventually, she wanted me to train new hires, and even make my own decisions about how the house is run. Her plans had some freedom for me, and that was nice.
After a quick shower, I am with Ellis in the kitchen. He seems to like the idea of having a student. It doesn't hurt that I am having trouble stopping my endless stream of compliments for his previous meal. Once the first one came out, and I saw the delight on his face, I couldn't stop making him look that way again and again. He keeps saying things like ”By the time you've learned what I’m going to teach you, you’ll be plumper than a Christmas turkey.” Followed by him shoving another spoon, or fork, full of some new substance into my mouth and asking what I think of it. According to him, some of my opinions on what foods are good are wrong. I suppose, if he can make a meal that made me cry, he knows what opinions are right.
The master arrives at exactly 17:30, earlier than the last few days. I walk into the dining room at precisely 18:00. My masters are both waiting for their meal, which I’m carrying. They stopped speaking the moment I walked in, the first sign I’ve seen of either being awkward in my presence. I lay their food out and step back.
“Wait a moment.” The Mistress says. “Does my husband scare you?”
My face feels like it’s so filled with blood I might spew if I open my mouth.
“I don’t scare the girl, honey.”
“Yes, you do. Look at her. If you put paint in her hands for a few moments it would be perfectly mixed.”
“I don’t think I can be blamed for her current state. This is on you.”
“Answer the question.” She looks to me again.
Now I don't know what to do. Honesty is how I must respond, but who do I obey?
“Instead, tell me if she scares you.”
Before I can open my mouth, another interruption. “At this point I’m sure it’s a tie.”
He looks to me again “Is that true?”
I nod in the affirmative.
“Oh, ok.” He states flatly. “You may leave now.”
“Yes. Thank you, sir.” I say quickly with more relief than I thought possible.
As I leave I hear the master say “Oh, you are cruel.”
“I thought she might pop.” She snickers.
Ellis ignores my obviously frazzled state and insists I help with the dessert, a fruit pie. I’m sure he’ll make something beyond my wildest dreams. I steal a bite of leftovers after they finish. I was right.
It’s 20:00 before I’m done cleaning the mess up. I go to the masters’ room and lay out their pajamas. I then prepare a cup of tea for the mistress and a drink (an old fashioned) for the master that was taught to me only a day ago. They both seemed pleased with their drinks and let me stay quietly in the corner of the study as they both read their individual articles and had the occasional droll conversation. I would have studied a new job, but the staff had gone home for the day. This lasts until 22:00 when they both go to their room for bed. I tidy up after they leave, and go to bed myself.
As I stare up at the ceiling of my room, I can’t help but wonder if I can do this. The mistress is convinced I can. I feel like I’m too nervous to function. I need to calm down. What if they decide they don't like me. They have the right to sell me. They can even lend me. Stop! Think about them for a moment. They have one of me, not seven. They aren’t greedy. They aren’t perfectionists. They understand where I am coming from. That’s good. I think I got lucky. I didn’t get bad people. Sure, they tease me, but they don’t yell. Sure, they order me around, but they order me to learn. They don't want a mindless servant. They don’t want someone they have to order around all day. It could be much worse.
My life might be over, for now, but at least it won’t be miserable until I get to be in control of it again. I think I can live with that. Maybe I can even find a job here that makes me happy. Cooking has that potential. I have an entire life to live here. I’m sure there is something great to be discovered. I hope it’s more than one thing. I hope it’s a lot more. Well, it’s been a long day, and, at the very least, when I close my eyes in a few moments, sleep will follow quickly. That is more than most, in my position, can say.