Amina was clean. There is no better word to describe her. Her children were clean too. I am sure her husband was also in immaculate order. Not a hair out of place. Not a button unbuttoned. Not a shoe unshined. Of course, Amina’s house was perfectly clean as well.
I met Amina at a mothers’ and children’s group many years ago. She had two little girls with tightly braided hair, and scrubbed clean faces. One was called Allison and the other was Nicki, though according to Amina, she should have had another name altogether. “I wanted to call her Sage but my husband wouldn’t agree.”
Amina and I used to see quite a lot of each other. I don’t know why. I am not like Amina at all. I'm surprised she liked me. I probably frustrated her immensely. Why did she risk her health eating at my house? At the end of each day, I didn’t hoist all the chairs upon the kitchen table and mop the floors. I never wore disposable gloves when handling food. Disinfectant? Amina might have bought bottles and bottles of it. I never did.
One day Amina gave me a little present: a new washing up brush. I hadn’t noticed how dirty and worn my old brush was until she handed me the new one, with its full complement of white, straight, stiff bristles. “How thoughtful, Amina,” I said, turning slightly red. “No one has ever given me a washing up brush as a gift before.”
Amina had a passion for cooking. For religious reasons she was a vegetarian. I decided to become a vegetarian too. I don’t know why. But Amina must have approved of my change of diet. She kindly shared all her recipes with me. I learnt how to make vegetarian chicken nuggets and vegetarian meatballs and best of all, deep-fried creamed corn balls. Oh yes, these were delicious. We made lots of them.
When my eldest two children were baptised, I invited a number of friends and family to join us for a post-baptismal celebration. Amina volunteered to help me with the cooking. Not only did she mould mountains of corn balls with her gloved fingers, she also lent me a pile of decorative serving dishes to display them on. I hadn’t invited Amina and her family to the baptism. They didn’t share our faith. They didn’t believe in infant baptism. But did that matter? They could still come along to the ceremony, couldn’t they? As Amina was mopping my kitchen floor, at the end of our cooking session, I said, “Would you like to join us on Sunday?” Amina smiled and accepted my invitation. But she didn’t turn up. I thought she’d changed her mind. She just forgot to come.
One evening, Amina invited my husband Andy and me to dinner. She invited a few of her church friends too. We arrived on time. We had a box of chocolates for our hostess and a bottle of wine to share. We didn’t at first understand the odd looks everyone gave us. Then Amina’s husband handed the wine back to us, saying in a low voice, “You might like to drink that at home.” We turned a little red. No meat and no alcohol. We had a lot to learn.
Despite our differences, Amina and I were close friends for four years. We even kept in contact for a few months after we moved house. One day I received a letter from her: “Sage has started school.” Sage? I thought her daughters were called Allison and Nicki. (I'd forgotten the disagreement-over-names conversation.)
Apparently, one day Amina had said, "Your father wouldn't let me call you Sage," and her eldest daughter had replied, “I like the name Sage. I don't want to be called Nicki any more." Two against one. So Nicki became Sage. I wonder what her father called her.
It’s been years since I last saw or even thought about Amina. Her name only popped into my head because of a new washing up brush. I was washing the breakfast dishes yesterday morning and noticed a brand new brush rubbing shoulders with our three old and worn ones. “Who bought this new brush?” I asked, as I tossed one of the old ones into the garbage bin. (I couldn’t bear to part with all three.) No one shouted, “It was me!” so I haven’t yet solved that mystery. Well, it wasn't Amina this time.
The more I think about Amina, the more I want to put her into a novel. Don’t you think she’d make a great character in a story? But would Amina recognise herself from my description? I wonder. We never see ourselves as others see us. Now I’m wondering… How would Amina describe me?
Have you ever put a friend into a novel? Perhaps you've also been given a washing up brush as a gift. And is it okay to change a child's name? I wonder what you think.
|Virgil gets a Bath, by Justin Baeder, (CC by 2.0)|
Amina didn't have a cat. But if she had one, I bet she would have bathed it every day.