Bibi Mohammed's eyes popped open exactly two seconds before her alarm went off at 5:15. Monday mornings tended to do this to her. From the her favored position in the crevice of her two twin beds pushed together, Bibi rolled over and slid the tab on her digital alarm clock off, afraid the imminent insistent beeping would wake her family sleeping in the room next to her. Her long skinny legs hit the plush peach carpeting with a school girl's sass, while her hand gingerly supported her aching back. Shuffling over to the window opposite her bed she contemplated the silent admonishment offered from her across-the-street neighbor, Archie Donovan. The sun had not yet launched, but she could still make out the white adhesive letters against his navy van. Above the two square windows on either side of the back door there was this:
CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS
And below the windows this:
IDLE MINDS ARE DEVIL'S WORKSHOPS
USE YOUR TIME JUDICIOUSLY
On the passenger side of the van, Archie had meticulously arranged the stickers to spell out the complete Ten Commandments, completely plastering the back panel. However, Bibi couldn't see these from her second-floor perch, and therefore did not feel that she needed to pay them as much heed. "First the nuns, then this nutcase make me feel like I gots to be always fighting the evil," Bibi muttered to herself as she walked away from the window.
Not that Bibi Mohammed wasn't herself a soldier in the battle of good versus evil. Cleaning, the continuous struggle of eradicating persistent dust, grime and filth from otherwise pristine surfaces, is how she actually afforded her position living across the street from Archie Donovan in the Bellerose section of Queens. Fifteen years ago Bibi had interrupted her Muslim husband, Bobek, in the middle of his morning prayers to let him know that she had enough of their simple little life in Guyana. "I just want to see more of the world. I don't wanna die knowing only this poor little country." Bobek's small brown head remained firmly planted on his red kilim, which Bibi took to mean that he had no intention of stopping her. She came to America alone, Bobek and their three teenaged children stayed behind in the small red-roofed white house on a hill near the beach in Georgetown. Bibi's cousin, Marilyn, got her her first job, which set her on a course of cleaning for increasingly wealthy families in apartments where even the laundry rooms were professionally decorated. The transition from Guyanese housewife to live-in housekeeper for the Neskis, a quiet elderly couple, who lived in a cavernous but creaky apartment with their Persian cat and Picassos on the Upper East Side was not as jarring as one might expect. Bibi loved living in her compact maid's room, the sink in her private bathroom no larger than a golden ripe pineapple. The strangest thing to Bibi was the rain. In Guyana she would lie in bed and the rain would beat against the metal roof like a thousand cockroaches each pounding away with a miniature mallet. In New York, tucked into her slender twin beds, the rain sounded like an afterthought, random pings against the double-pained glass. Then Mr. Neski died, Mrs. Neski was whisked away to a posh assisted-living facility, and Bibi worried that she would never find another job that would also provide her with such a comfortable home. What she didn't realize though, is that in the service capital of the world, a reference citing superior organization and polishing skills, a professional demeanor, and lack of familial responsibility makes for splendid opportunity. She soon found herself recruited from one family to the next, leaving as the opportunities, and the size and appointment of the maid's room, got better and better. Her path of upward mobility came to a screeching halt, however, with the Danzingers.