Them and Us?

My cleaner is more than that. She is a dear and trusted friend. She is from Lithuania. I will call her Lydia. Lydia came with her family twenty years ago to make a better life. Her daughter Carolina looks like Claudia Schiffer. Between Lydia and Carolina, they have looked after me for fifteen years.

Lydia came today. She asked to change from 2 short days to one longer day per week. She travels fifteen miles. She doesn’t want to leave me in the lurch.

Her husband Vlad has been laid off. He has severe asthma and a heart condition. He’s looking after their grand-daughter and grandson whose school is closed.

She seemed a bit low. “Something bothering you Lydia? I guess you are worried about the virus and the family and your husband?”

“Oh no, Robin, I’m not worried about that. This is normal for us. I’m worried about the people in this wonderful country.”

“Really? Surely things aren’t as bad as they were for you when you were growing up under the Soviet regime?”

“Hah!” she clapped her hands. “Today I walked past Tesco. There were queues outside, including old people. I looked inside and the shelves were empty. No bread, no fruit, no potatoes. This is exactly like my life for twenty years.”

“So is the memory bringing you down?”

“No Robin. It’s normal for me … but  I just see the people and watch the news. The people are in a panic. They are grabbing all the food for themselves. They are pushing people in the shops. They are not giving their place in the line for old people. This is so sad.”

“Didn’t that happen back in Soviet times?”

“There were bad people who ran black markets. There were soldiers who went first to the shops and pushed us away. But not the people. We always shared what we had. We always helped the old people go in first. All our families lived together. I never knew a single person who lived alone in Lithuania.”

“But you came to Britain for a better life?”

“Yes, the British are great people. But I learned about democracy.”

“What do you mean, Lydia? What did you learn.”

“In my country, everyone had a job. It wasn’t a great job but it was a job .The State made sure of that. Everyone had a home. Maybe three families shared the home. Maybe it was damp but everyone had a home. The State made sure of that. Everyone had food. Maybe you queued for two hours and maybe you only got enough for your family but everyone got food. In a democracy, some people live in castles, drive Rolls Royces and live like a king but others live on the street and have nothing. No home. No food. No job. Now more people are looking maybe at that reality and they can’t bear it and this makes me sad, because your country doesn’t know that not everything was bad about socialism. A lot but not everything.”

Then she put my laundry in the machine and sang to herself, as she always does.