I arrived at the Bed and Breakfast sometime in the steamy morning after a grueling 36-hour trip. My exhausted body was ready to surrender to the cold tile floor, but Suzie pulled back the sheets, closed the hurricane-proof shutters, and left me to sleep in the humid darkness. Until that moment my mind had been swollen with panicked excitement. I had been overwhelmed with the rental agreements and work contracts of which I couldn’t make out the details. Just before my body hit, I remember remarking on the absurdity of a square bed with square pillows…
Susie and Didi were unhappy. Tedious meal preparation, constant cleaning, blood-sugar monitoring, a gambling son, an illegitimate grandson. And yet they always smeared away the chagrin from their sweat-stained brows, shrugged off their personal burden, to reveal their dutiful, welcoming gaze.
My room was next to theirs. The mumble of their nightly squabbling was audible only because a large placard was inserted into the space where a large doorway had been. Except for the partition between our two rooms, all the other walls in the house were concrete, forbidding words or bodies from crossing. While this portal denied physical entry into my room, it did not filter the jab and moan of their banter, rendering me submissive to their melancholy.
They grew weary of pandering to whining guests, mopping the square white tiles, never making ends meet. They prayed to the Holy Virgin Mary at a Tamil shrine out back. I soon joined their daily chores hoping to alleviate them; hoping to accumulate vocabulary; hoping to dissipate some of the pain (I inevitably absorbed) seeping through the cracks in the wall.
Suzie all too gladly handed me the mop and bucket. She hoisted the linen pile up high, so I was ironing square pillowcases beyond the early dusk of the tropics. She oiled my hands in order to pull apart sticky jack-fruit fibers and laughed at my squeamishness in plucking the rooster for supper.
The line between benefactor and benefited began to dissolve. I had to remind myself of the facts: I was paying them in exchange for room and board. Three quarters of my paycheck ensured a place to sleep and food to eat. But I was isolated: their house was far from town. Didi refused to allow me to come and go after dark. They began to insist on my once voluntary involvement in their business. “My Little Blondy” or “Whitey” Didi would sweetly call me. Despite the mounting pressure to please I knew that Didi and Suzie did care for me, I was the one outsider who was not passing through as quickly.
Who was generous here? Who was vulnerable? “Am I growing or am I caught in a doomed stasis?”
My movement through their lives, like the sinewy strands of molasses in water, was slow, heavy, and fragrant.
 A “placard” like an armoir or a wardrobe, is a piece of furniture used for storing clothes. I used to the North American convention of arranging ones clothes in a subset of the architecture of a bedroom, (a closet). The placard was made into a provisional wall only by its placement in this doorwar and the plywood that covered the remaining gap.