When I went inside I learnt another lesson. Always tidy up your own personal belongings before she arrived. I had to hunt all over the house to find the binoculars, the laptop bag, and the papers that had been organised across the table in a certain way were in one tidy heap ready to be sorted out again by me.
I learnt, but there were relapses. She could turn up any time on a Saturday morning and if you had not prepared yourself in time you were in trouble. I knew I was to do a lot of walking in the tropical sun, and that carrying water bottles takes up a lot of room in the bag when you are on a trek. So I had specifically purchased, at quite considerable expense, a collapsible water bottle from Platypus for the work in Mauritius. It was thick tough plastic, with a firm base but its body would fold down to about a quarter of its original size. I used it several times on my walks. I’d leave it to drain on the work surface.
We had planned to do some field work one Saturday afternoon, and, several hours after Sarah had gone, I was packing all the items I needed for the hike, and could not find the bottle. I realised with horror that I had left it in the kitchen as usual; Sarah without questioning anyone (words were not her way), had thought it was just another recyclable bottle, and it had gone into the trash, into the dumpster with the rest of the community’s waste. It was the last time I left anything of mine in her path again.
The car port where we spent most of our time
Interestingly some of the other birds learnt from this too; some of the more confident sparrows would hop over and take bread from your hand, some would flutter in but often they were too clumsy to take the bread from your hands, and the amount of scrabbling around often made me drop the bread before they had a chance to grab it.
In the end we had to stop feeding the birds. One morning Mike saw me dish out half a baguette on the floor and he observed that the birds we had been feeding were a lot larger than they were when we started. In fact some were positively obese. An occasional bit of starchy dough may not harm them but these birds had been supersizing at the fast food joint of our project for a couple of months. The sparrows could hardly hop about any more. OK that is an exaggeration but their little torsos were severely swollen. Of course when we stopped we got lots of squawking and complaining like a spoilt brat who has met their strict uncle. Within a couple of days the rabble of 50 or so birds we had built up started to disperse in the mornings, then they would not even bother to turn up, and we were reduced to a handful of hopeful sparrows and pigeons and the odd fody.
This pleased the cleaner no end. Mike had hired her through our landlord when he first arrived. He said he had no intention to spend his weekends cleaning up after the rest of the project team and the project could afford about £10 a week to get someone in. Sarah was already in a routine by the time I arrived and I got caught out the first Saturday morning when she arrived. She never smiled. She barely said a word. She would walk in up the driveway, deposit her sandals on the step next to the car port, plop her small bag down on our dining table and get started. As is my habit, I had left various items around the house where I had stopped using them; a set of papers on the table, my binoculars on a window ledge, my computer bag on the floor. I was sitting in the car port tapping away at the laptop as usual. It got a bit difficult to concentrate as Sarah started crashing around in the kitchen, cleaning up the dirty dishes from our late dinner the night before, dumping the wine bottles and scouring the surfaces. Worse was to come. I was sitting in the centre of the car port, with the French windows behind me. She nearly scared me out of my skin when she emptied a bucket of water out on to the driveway from within the French windows. I was equally started when she chucked a huge plastic bag of refuse onto the grass for her to put in the dumpster later. I heard her pummelling the cushions on the sofa to within an inch of their lives. She’d scrape chairs around the room to locate those pesky bits of dust that tried to hide from her. She started cleaning the floors, but not for her a damp mop, her method was to more or less sluice Noah’s Flood over the tiles then push the excess out in a tidal wave of pine fresh gunge. Then she started on the car port. I realised my life was in danger, so picked up the chair and carried it and the laptop into the garden under a shady tree. I could not work at this point, I watched this wiry petit lady lay waste the dirt of the house, banishing it to the garden of oblivion forever.
Our modern but comfortable base
Just before she left, Mike came down from his room and gave her some rupees, and she soullessly picked up her limp bag, slipped on her sandals and clopped back down the driveway.
I took my chair back into the still sodden car port. Mike grinned at me. “You realise why we don’t stay down here when she comes round. The only part of the house she never touches are our bedrooms. So we lock ourselves in there when she is around or else you might get picked up and put out with the garbage.”