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.


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  1. Sue, yes I've used rea life inspirations for character sketches though after reading a writers book I wondered if I could get sued or unfriended. I do love a quirky character in real life and literature. Amina sounds interesting.

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    1. Anabelle,

      Quirky characters? Oh yes! Some people are so interesting they just have to be turned into characters in a novel. I will add Amina to my writing notebook!

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  2. I know someone just like Amina. She vacuums and mops all of her floors every single day. One thing I've wondered as I notice her totally scrubbed house and my own (not-so-scrubbed!) one is that my friend has never had children... much to her sadness. But obviously Amina does.... so there goes my long-held theory as to why I'm not as tidy as my friend!!! I do love the fact that there are various kinds of personalities in this world.. it makes life fun!

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    1. Nancy,

      How sad your friend was unable to have children. Perhaps she lavishes her time and attention on her home because of this. There is no doubt it's hard to keep a house well-scrubbed when we have children. Yes, Amina managed but I think she had her family well controlled. I think she was rather pleased her children were both girls. No untidy wild boys with muddy football boots to clean up after! The reason you are not as tidy as your friend could have something to do with the fact you are a writer. Well, that's my excuse. I never notice the mess when I am immersed in my writing world. It's not important at all!

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  3. Such a look on the cat's face as it is getting washed. Sort of resigned to the fact its being washed and acceptant. Amina sounded like an interesting woman, I'm glad she was part of your life for the years that she was, Sue. I think with a little variation here and there, you could probably use her as a character in one of your stories. I would imagine other authors do similiar things in their writings. I love the name Sage myself and interestingly, son has a friend (could be girlfriend, hard to pin him down until he's ready to be pinned down) that he brought over last week whose name is Sage.

    Now you must tell us if you ever find out how you got a new washing up brush.

    betty

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    1. Betty,

      I thought the same thing when I saw the cat's face! Our three cats always protest when they are immersed in water. (They are long haired cats and sometimes need help with their grooming.)

      Probably all authors use real life inspiration for their characters, even if they just take borrow a trait or two from someone they know. Yes, I think I could possibly modify Amina a little and make a very good character out of her!

      Sage has a great meaning if I remember correctly. Was it wisdom or wise?

      I found out that it was my adult son Callum who bought the washing up brush. I don't know how he knew we needed a new one because he rarely washes dishes!

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  4. Yers people like this really exists. I once knew someone who also cleaned immensely. We jokingly said that she gave her chikldren boiling hot water each night to sterilize their insides :)

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    1. Uglemor,

      I had to laugh over your comment. Clean children inside and out! I must admit at one time I tried to keep a very clean house, and even now, I wouldn't mind living in an immaculate home, but there are more important things to do other than housework... like write stories featuring characters like Amina!

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  5. The Husband and I are always on the lookout for the perfect small bottle/jar brush. I got a perfectly good medium size brush stuck in my water bottle. I threw both out only to find the Mama sitting under a tree in the backyard trying to take the brush out of the bottles. hahaha. I waited 2 weeks before I threw them out, this time hiding them in the garbage can.

    Amina traits would make for a great character. I just finished reading a novel by Fannie Flagg. Amina sounds like someone Flagg would put in her story.

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    Replies
    1. Susie,

      I love your bottle story! I can see the Mama doesn't like to waste anything. Perhaps she likes a challenge like me!

      If Fannie Flagg likes characters like Amina, then I would probably like her books too. I must find out more. I love discovering new authors, and now I've decided to waste less time on the Internet, I will have more time for reading. Well that's the plan...

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    2. I just finished "The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion". It's set in the South (U.S.). The 59-year old character finds out that she's adopted and is really 60 years old. Flagg interweaves the character's present with the past of her real family who are from Wisconsin. Her mother and aunts were pilots. I liked how Flagg also told us the story about the Women Airforce Service Pilots who served in WWII, and their history hidden for several decades.

      Did you ever see the movie, "Green-fried Tomatoes" with Kathy Bates? That was based on one Flagg's first novels.

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    3. Susie,

      I have just placed this book on my wish list! It sounds interesting. To get to the age of 60 and then realise you're adopted (and older than you thought!)... that would be hard. I never did see "Green-Fried Tomatoes' though the title is familiar to me. I might read that Flagg novel as well. Thank you for the recommendation!

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