Eighty-Eight Boxes

This post was supposed to be about dining tables


Enlivened by the prospect of the arrival of our long-anticipated freight shipment, I set about woolgathering, preoccupied by visions of adornments, livingroom embellishments, and frillery of all sorts. This geometric dining table; that chair, simple lines, striking blue ; a cluster of ornaments placed just so; a gallery wall speaking to my quirk and easy good taste.


And so our boxes arrived. Eighty-eight boxes exactly. Eighty-eight boxes of clothing, kitchenware, toys, handbags, shoes, books. All the regular trappings of middle-class Canadiana. Eighty-eight boxes on my livingrooom floor.


Eights are expensive in China. A telephone number, rich in eights, will cost you dearly. A licence plate full of eights is only for the the very wealthy. Eight is a homonym for prosperity. Everyone knows that eight means rich. 



Eighty-eight boxes denoting my good fortune. 


Our nanny took my girl down the hall while the movers were here, keeping little hands out of boxes, and little legs out from underfoot. As she was leaving, she asked how many boxes I had. I estimated twenty.


But, eighty-eight.



Our nanny is working for us to pay for a degree in Management. She was born to a bajaj driver, and like millions of others, came from village to sprawling city. She saved three months salary to buy a netbook, but the battery is on it's last legs, and replacing it is going to be a major investment. She lives in a room smaller than my daughter's and shares it with another nanny.  


It was left unsaid, but I could feel it.


One box held nothing but shoes. If I walk ten minutes beyond our gates, I see kids who don't wear any shoes. They have none.


Our nanny will help us unpack all eighty-eight boxes, asking where we got this bowl, and where she should put this pot, and what exactly was this thing for. She won't say anything, but I know she feels it. Will she ever own eighty-eight boxes of middle-class artifice?


I told her I was embarrassed. I was ashamed that I had so much when kids in this country, in this city even, don't have enough to eat. I told her I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. It's not fair and I'm sorry. 



I daydream about an origami table, deliberate about colour schemes, tell myself that I really do need another pair of shoes. Which is, basically, bullshit. 


Because I have eighty-eight boxes. And she might have two.


I took her out to dinner tonight, asked her to stay late, and paid her overtime. It was a gesture, empty and vapid, but I hope she understood. 


And life isn't fair. 


I did nothing to deserve this.