“Raju, the windows…”
“Mim told me to clean windows. I do garden, not windows. Mim angry.” Mim was the term of address for the lady of the house; men were usually called “Mister.” That Raju spoke to me with no form of address was a matter of pride or cheek—I couldn’t decide which.
Emily had phoned after the confrontation that had gone the way Raju had described, except that Raju had told her that he would sort out the problem with me. Livid, Emily asked about the sorting. Without the faintest idea, I told her that I would handle it. That made her even angrier.
I said, “Raju, what are we going to do about the windows?” I had learned the inclusive “we” from a negotiations seminar; the idea was to shape a challenge that “we” could resolve.
Raju ignored my gambit and said, “Mim Zimmerman had same problem; Mister Zimmerman fix everything.”
Raju shrugged his shoulders.
We finished our cigarettes, and Raju said, “Talk to Mister Zimmerman.”
Fred came out of his office and pointed at his watch. I walked Raju down the stairs and toward the trees where he had locked his bicycle. In the front basket were his tools: a parang (long knife in Malay) for the invasive orchids, pruning knives, clippers and a folding saw. We said goodbye, as Fred was driven up in his car. On our way to the Gulf luncheon, Fred said, “What’s up with Raju?”
“Raju and Emily argued this morning. He won’t do the windows; she’s furious.” I had been to Fred’s home a couple of times, and his windows seemed clean enough. I was about to ask about them.
But Fred said, “Let’s go over the points we’re going to make.”
Fred once told me that a successful banker was a high-wire artist who balanced between his customers’ wishes and senior management’s imperatives. Fred was an excellent banker; he never failed to accommodate a customer, and the bank’s management respected him. The meeting and lunch took hours; we left late that afternoon after the customer had agreed to our proposal.
Fred was expansive from the wine at lunch, “You’ve got a problem with Raju?”
“There’s a remedy,” Fred told his driver to take us to the American Club. I liked it when Fred took me under his wing. At the bar, Fred said, “Years ago, Raju was hired as the gardener for the expatriate staff homes. There were maybe three back then; there are probably twenty now. When Raju and Marion argued about the windows, I told Raju that he was my servant and would do as I said. Raju set me straight: he isn’t my servant or yours. He’s a bank employee; so I don’t tell him what to do.”
“You tell me what to do.”
“You’re not in a union; Raju is.”
When Emily and I moved into our home, Raju showed up and announced that he was the gardener and was to be paid monthly. We thought Raju’s services were inexpensive and agreed. I said, “So the money I pay Raju is on top of what the bank pays him?”
“It’s the old Asian squeeze,” Fred said.
“Does anyone else in the bank know about his arrangements?”
“Don’t know, don’t care. I do know that Raju will keep his job until he retires. He’s an excellent gardener and sticks to his guns.”
“Who does your windows?”
“I do,” Fred said. “When Marion’s at her bridge club, I hose down the windows and tell Marion that Raju did them.”
“Do your servants know?”
“Yes. And they laugh behind my back. But there are other considerations.”
“Not arguing with Marion?”
“What if Raju tells Marion he didn’t do the windows?”
“Since their argument, Marion and Raju don’t speak. And I’m sure Raju knows what’s going on.” He finished his drink. “Marion knows too. It’s one of those things we don’t discuss. Oh, this goes no further?”
“It won’t. I’ll take a hose to the windows.”