Working is hard during a real life soap.
| Working Through A Soap Opera
I encountered the MacKinnon family when I was in my early thirties. I dated Charles MacKinnon for a bout five years. Two of those years we were engaged. His parents Martha and Clive MacKinnon were raised in a proper home and it was difficult to get used to their strict ways. After breaking off the engagement I found it hard, but ten years down the road I couldn’t see myself with Charles. We remained friends because Martha had become sick and I volunteered weekend time to help her with chores around the house. Both Charles’s parents were seniors and Clive had to help Martha through the week
It came to be that Charles moved into their basement, mostly to keep an eye on his elderly parents. I had become used to Martha’s ways and literally became her right hand for her, Charles still hoped we’d be together so he enjoyed my weekend helping.
Several years had passed when Martha passed away, and I spent all my time helping Clive. Charles had to get through the death of his mother, and I remained a loyal friend. Charles immersed himself in his work following that. When he finally drifted apart from me to be on his own, it was a relief. He studied nights at school to make a higher income welding for the company he worked for. This got him more work, and he had to be on call doing various jobs. I became glad he made his own life for himself.
It was some time along there that Charles met Sharmia, a West Indian girl at one of his job sites. Sharmia constantly called him to talk when I was there working. He always said, “I love you.” Sometimes louder, and it got me curious. I hoped he wasn’t trying to make me jealous, and I simply ignored it.
Several weeks later I learned that Clive had heard about Sharmia from Charles. He’d never met her, but I knew that by the way he spoke what he thought. Clive and Martha had grown up in the days where slave workers were common. Clive himself had made comments that in my opinion sounded racist. I pretended as though I didn’t know much when Clive mentioned Charles had been talking to a new friend named Sharmia. I simply helped with dinner, laundry and other chores before I went home.
Home gave me my sanity; I had my own life to enjoy outside of work at the MacKinnon’s. So the next time I went to work I focused on my own life. Charles spoke about Sharmia to me, “She’s from Tobago, but she lives here.” I continued with the laundry really not interested and replied, “Oh.” Charles continued informing, “She’s a citizen though, she’s got family here.”
I realized he wanted to share his information with me and wasn’t letting up. Trying not to sound tow interested, but being polite, I asked, “Does she have family in Tobago?” Charles replied, “Some, but Sharmia has kids here.”
I wished that had been all I learned, I wished I hadn’t asked, but I did, “So where’s her ex-husband, is he in Tobago?” Charles replied, “Her husband is still here with her, and he’s big, and scary.”
It made sense why he told me all this; I had nobody to tell his situation too. I never could even if I did, and Charles knew that. Clive hadn’t heard him talking to Sharmia like I had, and Charles wanted to confide in me. I didn’t know what else to say besides, “Oh.”
Somehow I got out of further discussion by an excuse of a chore outside. I never asked questions of Clive either, but he volunteered the information to me later that day. He told me that Charles and Sharmia were meeting with him and relatives for dinner on Sunday. So I simply stated, “So you won’t need me Sunday afternoon?” Clive shook his head, “No.”
I had to wait until the following Saturday to find out how dinner went the previous Sunday. Charles was out, and I was glad, I hurried downstairs with the laundry before he returned. When I was back upstairs later, Clive told me about Sharmia. The best comment he had said was that she was polite and kind. I was too busy wondering what excuse they’d given Sharmia’s husband? Luckily I had work to distract me from conversation so pretending to be somewhat interested was easy.
Later Charles came in, I over heard him on his cell phone through the open window when I was taking in the laundry from the line. He was telling someone he loved them, I guessed Sharmia. He was still talking when I was returning the laundry baskets down stairs. He still talked, “I love you.” Ignoring it, I set the baskets aside in the laundry cupboard. He repeated it again louder, and as I headed back upstairs I heard him say, “She heard.” I hoped to be able to avoid Charles, and managed to do so the rest of the day.
Sunday I was out pulling weeds in the garden when Charles came out. He did the yard work Clive could no longer do. I hoped he would work and not speak, and minded my business, but he had something on his mind. He explained, “Sharmia is jealous.” Pulling weeds and pretending not to get it I asked, “Of what?” he answered, “She’s very jealous of you.”
She had nothing to worry about, but if I said that it would sound like I was putting Charles down to discourage her.
“Oh”, I simply said. I hadn’t anything more to say.
The next thing I learned was they were planning for Charles’s birthday barbecue. I learned that Clive didn’t like Sharmia’s family coming, but it was Charles’s birthday. I had to be there to help Clive out, and I would’ve looked very bad if I tried to make an excuse. It was a fine edge I walked anything nice I said made me sound like I liked Charles, anything bad and I would sound jealous.
Clive didn’t like the new arrivals, but he was polite. I met Sharmia, her husband, and children. I kept my appearance as ‘the help’ and tended to the chores and nothing else. Sharmia’s husband, Sharif, looked suspicious, he remained polite and quiet though. Sharmia couldn’t look jealous around her husband so I was sure to be in the opposite direction of her and Charles whenever I wasn’t around Sharif. It worked well; I didn’t have to worry about any confrontations. The sense of her jealousy, and Sharif’s suspiciousness was still there though. I was glad when that was all over and I was back home again to my own life.
If I thought that was hard what came next was harder. The next weekend I had to start the laundry again. Quietly I went to work, I thought maybe Charles was asleep, but I heard him on the phone, “I know.” It was obvious he hadn’t heard me, he sounded serious. I continued working hoping he wouldn’t notice and start proclaiming his love again. Charles said, “I know, but I think I know a way we could make it work.”
I decided to slip quietly back upstairs and prolong the laundry not wanting to hear more. I tended to other chores, and I didn’t hear anymore proclamations from Charles. I guessed my disinterest at the barbecue had stifled that. It actually worked well; Charles didn’t say anything more about Sharmia’s jealousy. I managed to finish the laundry and wondered if what I’d overheard had something to do with it. It sounded like he was busy making a plan, and no longer interested in my being there at all.
I was surprised the following weekend when he announced he was taking a vacation and asked if I could stay and help Clive. It was definitely easier for me to stay without Charles there, so I didn’t mind. I learned Charles was going to Tobago, Sharmia was taking him to meet her relatives for a holiday. I vaguely wondered what Sharif thought of that.
So the holiday came and went, the most interesting thing that happened during the absence of Charles, was the visitor’s Clive had. It seemed like every time that I stepped into the MacKinnon house that I was meant to over hear things. Clive told everyone the same thing about Charles, and when it came to his sister’s visit he said, “I don’t understand what he’s doing, he’s enjoying himself though.” His sister asked, “What on Earth would Martha say?” Clive replied firmly, “She’d have sat him down and had a good long talk. I’ve tried, but it’s his life. What can you do?” I wasn’t sure if either of them knew that Charles had been carrying on with Sharmia.
When Charles returned he seemed pleased. I learned that Charles had met Sharmia’s cousin Nafisa in Tobago, a girl fifteen years his junior. Although of legal age, it was surprising to learn there had been a relationship. Charles’s co-workers dropped by on various occasions and on one visit he told his friend Kevin that he and Nafisa had a Hindu wedding in Tobago. Kevin later on told me what he’d learned asking if Charles had told me. Indifferently I replied he hadn’t, but I now understood why Charles had told Sharmia he knew a way to make it work. If he was Nafisa’s husband, he had an excuse to be near Sharmia. I could guess what was coming next; somehow he would bring her to the country and marry her. I was beginning to hope Clive would consider going into a nursing home so I wouldn’t have to continue working there while this charade carried on.
I couldn’t leave, not after so many years of helping, and all I could think about was how ten years down the road knowing them, I had been right in my judgement about Charles.
I would like to say the end came here, but I can’t. Not long after the vacation it was Nafisa’s turn to come to the country and see Charles’s home. She would be staying with him downstairs, and I got the impression Clive was not happy. He seemed more grateful to have me there though, and it played on my heart strings.
To see this aging man I’d known for so many years watch his son court a girl from another country that was fifteen years younger than him. I stayed working there, and met Nafisa, she was a quiet, young girl appearing rather lost in a new country engaged to a different man. She appeared as though she truly loved Charles, but I had to wonder if they were only together so she could marry him and be a citizen.
I never inquired, but I discovered there would be a wedding, a Christian one here, and I was invited. Clive was not pleased, but he accepted his son’s choice. My roll in the wedding was to help out, so I figured I could get through that fairly easy. I knew all the people on Charles’s family and friends list. I would be with good company, and working would make it easy.
I still worked weekends while Nafisa and Charles lived there, luckily they were out doing things when I needed to do the laundry downstairs. I learned they went to visit Sharmia a lot.
I noticed Clive appeared to look defeated with his life there, as though he no longer held control of his home. I felt bad for him having a strange woman from another country living under his roof. He had never been in his house with traditional Tobago cooking, and the scent was strong whenever I came. I had friends that I’d visited in school, and well used to their customs. Clive appeared to have trouble accepting it all, and his health deteriorated.
His sister’s son drove her, Clive and I to the wedding. We had trays of food in the trunk to bring. I had left my wedding gift to them back at the house. I got them a serving tray with their names and wedding date engraved on the back. It showed that I saw them as together in marriage.
The wedding had no problems, and I actually was happy to see a lot of Charles’s old friends. They all seemed to feel a bit sorry for me though, his best friend told me, “When Charles said he was getting married and wanted me to be his best man, I thought it was to you.” I was surprised, but took the information in stride as I made polite talk with him.
Sharif didn’t look any different than the last time I saw him. I almost wondered if he was like Clive in his own family’s decisions.
With the wedding over, I figured things would get back to normal. Charles and Nafisa went away and I stayed and worked helping Clive. He seemed to like my company so much during these last few months.
Nafisa seemed to be polite with me, accepting me as Charles’s friend who worked there. After all, that was what I was. However Clive decided it was time to go into a home. He reluctantly had his house put over into Charles’s name.
It was a sad time; it seemed like that bothered me the more than Charles’s affair with Sharmia continuing on. Clive had lived in that house all his life; it had been his father’s house. Now he was giving it to his son, it was almost as if they had chased him out of it.
With nobody to work for there anymore I had my weekend’s back, and after fifteen years of being around Charles it came to its final end. It was sad to see him in a nursing home with just a room for himself.
Charles and Nafisa held a small dinner party inviting Clive and myself. They had redecorated the house to their tastes, and wanted to show everyone their work. Clive still seemed like he’d been beaten, he held his head up though and got through the dinner.
I was leaving with Clive that night, and I said to Nafisa, “Call and keep in touch.” Nafisa gave her polite smile, “We will.” Clive and I left, and I walked him to his room that night.
Walking through that nursing home was depressing, the staff trying to help the people who couldn’t help themselves. I realized I couldn’t visit Clive there anymore. I had decided to rely on Charles and Nafisa to bring him over for visits and see him there.
Weeks passed, I never heard from the MacKinnon’s again. It didn’t offend me, I guessed that Nafisa didn’t tell Charles my message about keeping in touch. I went on with my regular life, and wondered about Clive more than Charles.
It’s been at least another ten years, and I wonder if Nafisa is still with Charles, if they have children? Is he still having an affair with Sharmia, does Sharif know? Once and a while someone will ask, “I wonder what happened to Charles?” I give my usual indifferent shrug, “I don’t know.” I remember the soap opera I worked through and I add silently to myself, ‘But, it sure would make a good story.’
Copyright © 2005 by Dèsirée Doucette