As I have written about before, my roommate is a very simpleminded person. Nothing in his life is actually all that complicated, but his understanding of the world and how to live in it are definitely much harder than they ought to be.

One of the more luxurious (and blatantly colonialistic) things about living in Saudi is the ability to have hired help for just about anything you’d like. Anything vaguely manual or dirty is usually done by someone else, and it usually costs next to nothing. I’ve managed to take advantage of this, though not to the extent as your typical Saudi, and it comes in the form of a ‘house boy.’ Submissively gay moniker aside, my house boy is actually an old Pakistani man, who prefers to be called Bob. He cleans my apartment on a biweekly basis outside of his normal day job, but also comes around to fix things if they happen to break. Bob is one of the nicest people I’ve met here on my compound, and I greatly value what he does, mostly because it involves a considerable amount of looking after my roommate.  

Because of the terms of his contract, Bob gets one month off per year to visit his family in his native Pakistan. He took his leave last week, and in his absence found another person to keep his obligations to myself and the 20 or so other apartments he cleans. Early on in my employment of Bob, he and I came to an agreement that because my roommate, David, refuses to pay his share of the costs that his bedroom and bathroom will not be cleaned, and that his half of the kitchen (and all of the things that accumulate there) will be left alone. Bob does a fairly good job of sticking to this agreement, especially considering Bob is a very tidy person and is usually in a very visible state of annoyance when he cleans around David’s things. Because Bob left for his holiday and the new house boy hadn’t cleaned my apartment before, he was not aware of this long standing agreement.

I didn’t think much of having a replacement cleaner and figured it would be business as usual. When he came this morning, albeit much earlier than Bob does, he started cleaning, and nothing out of the ordinary happened. I was pleasantly surprised, and left to get some breakfast. When I returned I found him cleaning David’s bathroom and quickly told him that he could finish cleaning there, but that he should not clean the second bedroom no matter how dirty he felt it was. He gave me a funny look and asked why, and I told him about my agreement with Bob, though in much fewer words and many more hand signals. Thankfully, he didn’t think it was that big of an issue and finished his duties. I paid him. He left. Things were fine.  

I have currently lived in my apartment for around 18 months now, and in all that time I know of two specific incidences when David has cleaned his bedroom, and they have not been very recently. I haven’t noticed whether he had ever cleaned his bathroom, but based on the level of mold in his shower and the thick layer of dust that had accumulated I figured it was somewhere less than once. As one would expect, his rooms have a distinct smell, and as such, his doors are kept closed whenever I am in the apartment. I like to describe David as a man person of routine, and his actions are very much based on a set of his own unique habits. One of them is his fear of Bob and of the dark, which has meant that every other Friday when Bob comes to clean David disappears for most of the day as soon as the sun comes up. When he returns, he turns on all the lights he passes by, does a very loud walk-through of his bedroom to see if anything has been touched, then continues on to mark his territory in his bathroom. He spends a considerable amount of time on the toilet every day, and I haven’t even the slightest idea what might be going through his mind as he relieves himself after our apartment has been cleaned. Once he’s content with his territorial conditions, he returns to his room. He leaves the lights on and does who knows what until he goes to bed. He will not leave his bedroom until the next morning. I come home at some point, usually after sitting at the pub for a prework-week tipple, turn off most of the lights in our apartment, shut his bathroom and bedroom doors, and open a few windows to let out the odd smell of bleach mixed with aged body odor.

This afternoon when he arrived home I happened to be there, and I knew something would eventually have to be said about his bathroom being cleaned. Per usual, he paraded through the door flicking all the light switches he could reach and headed straight for his room. He came out several minutes later, clip-clopped to his bathroom and stopped in the doorway. He took several deep breaths through his nose, then slowly backed out of the doorway and walked into the dining area where I was sitting.

David: Do you, like, smell something funny?
Me: Funny as in good, or funny as in bad?
David: It’s like, I dunno… a funny smell.
Me: The cleaner came today.  
David: Yeah?
Me: He cleaned the apartment.
David: Oh… so is that, like, why it smells funny in here?
Me: If it smells clean to you, then yes.
David: …
Me: Because he cleaned.
David: Ok…
Me: …
David: … Ok…

He walked back to his bathroom and stood there for a few minutes. Then walked back into the dining area

David: Are you sure, that like, that’s what that smell is?
Me: I’m fairly certain that’s what it is.
David: But, it’s like, everywhere.
Me: He cleaned the entire apartment, except your bedroom.
David: Ok…
Me: Just like every other time he cleans.
David: Ok…
Me: …
David: …
Me: He cleaned your bathroom.
David: …Ok…
Me: That’s why it smells like bleach.
David: …But…Like…It doesn’t usually smell like that…
Me: No, it doesn’t. He cleaned it this time. He doesn’t normally clean it. That’s why it smells.
David: … He doesn’t?
Me: No. He doesn’t.
David: …
Me: …
David: …
Me: … Do you like that he cleaned it?
David: …I dunno.
Me: Would you like him to clean it on a regular basis?
David: …I think I need to think about it.
Me: Ok. You think about it.
David: …
David: …
Me: …It doesn’t have to be right now. You can tell me later.
David: Ohhh! Ok, cool. I’ll think about it, like, later and tell you what I think.
Me: Sounds good.

He walked back to his bathroom and stood there for a minute looking over everything. He then hurriedly walked back to his bedroom and looked everything over from the doorway. He was mumbling the entire time, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. Clearly he was working through something very difficult in his mind. He came back into the dining area and looked at me but didn’t say anything.

Me: … David?
David: …Yeah?...
Me: Did you think about it?
David: … Think about what?
Me: If you want the cleaner to clean your bathroom.
David: Oh… Yeah, I thought about it.
Me: …What did you decide?
David: I’m not, like, totally sure.
Me: … The cleaner will come back in two weeks. So you have some more time if you need to think about it some more.
David: …Ok.
Me: But David, he doesn’t clean for free.
David: … Huh?
Me: I pay him now to clean my space. You will have to pay him to clean your space.
David: …I’ll have to like, pay him…
Me: Yes. I will not pay for you.
David: …Ok…
Me: …
David: …I need to think about this…
Me: You go do that. Let me know what you decide.
David, as he slowly walks away: Ok… Thanks man…

You’re welcome David. You’re very welcome indeed.