I don’t know about anyone else, but I would not know how to write 41 quadrillion in numerals if my life depended on it. Even writing it like this in letters causes the demise of several neurons. You would have to put two laptops side by side to fit in all those noughts. If you wrote it on paper it would be even worse. How many noughts can a page take before it spontaneously bursts into flame? Probably about 41 quadrillion. You’d need a whole exam pad to write that figure down. I think I thought a quadrillion was a made up number, like when you’re telling someone how much you spent at Zara. I wasn’t even aware of the story of Tokyo Sexwale when I was headed for – yes – Zara and got a whatsapp from my best friend who is also my chief source of information on this planet. And what she told me was that the above number of monies had somehow gone missing and it was all the ANC’s fault. Only, this was so many monies. I had to read it a few times to let the number settle.
And what she said next – and she has said this before so I’m starting to believe her – is that this is the last straw and she’s leaving and going to be a maid in Sweden because being a maid in Sweden is better than living someplace where R41 quadrillion can randomly go missing. I have to say, I agree. Also, maids in Sweden are paid very well. We paid our Serbian maid more per day than I’ve ever earned in my life. Not to say she wasn’t worth every penny and is absolutely the reason we are all currently here today with our sanity more or less intact. There were many times my gratitude for her existence was a bottomless well, but the time that really stands out was the winter of the kräksjukdom (pronounced ‘krrrekshwookdom’); or in South African English, the winter vomiting disease.
This is a disease that grips all the children of Sweden at the same time, and also just when their parents’ light deprivation-induced depression is at its bleakest. That is the exact moment when the vomiting of the children begins. Not a word of a lie, it’s a thing. And, grown-ups can catch it. We have many sad and unfortunate occurrences here in South Africa, but children’s winter vomiting disease is thankfully not one of them. On that particular morning (was it morning? Was it night? There is so little sun it’s impossible to tell) I woke up feeling exceedingly vomity, but the worst was yet to come. The worst was that my two very young charges (I think they were one and three at the time) had the vomiting disease even more robustly than I did. Few things are worse when you’re vomity than having other people vomit on you. There was only one thing to do: call Menka.
Serbian Menka, who started off being our cleaning lady but was rapidly promoted to granny and best friend in the world, was already up and about and headed to her morning Swedish class (her and I went to so many Swedish classes, yet only ever communicated in sign language. I think it was a kind of rebellion). Bless her kind, kind heart, if she didn’t do an about-turn right then and there in the snow and come straight to my house where she cleaned up vomit for hours. To my dying day I will be grateful. I still visit her in Sweden in her small flat (where her entire lounge is taken up by a jumping castle for her granddaughter because she is that kind of wonderful) and we eat sataraš and spinach pie and confide in one another other in sign language.
But I digress.
I got the whatsapp from my friend just as I was walking past the Gucci store, and wouldn’t you know – right there in the window was the perfect maid’s outfit. Coiincidence? I think not. And she could probably even afford it, given her Swedish maid’s rate. If you’re going to be a maid in Sweden, you might as well be fabulous while you’re at it. Be a maid amongst maids; a Gucci maid. And then we started exchanging worrying things on whatsapp like how Zondo Commission Cyril was totally lying to that polite and patient judge (I watch those body language videos on YouTube so I know), and I started to seriously ponder the question: would I rather live amongst thieves or Swedes? I love Swedes, don’t get me wrong; I’m slightly Swedish myself, and I really prefer not to get bludgeoned in the night and have people steal so many quadrillions of rands that we have neither trains nor an airport. Well, we have an airport but there’s nowhere to park anymore and also there are no planes. But that winter. It doesn’t surprise in the least that everyone starts vomiting.
Then later that day after I’d been in a froth for hours, my husband (and other, possibly more accurate source of information) whatsapps me from Sweden where he’s waiting to get a massage and tells me to calm down, the money was fake. Fake money? Like Monopoly? How many games would it even take to rack up that kind of number? The mind boggles. But I’m happy we don’t have to emigrate anymore because there’s nowhere left after Covid, and anyway the thought of leaving forever gives me vomiting sickness for real. So I guess it’s back to business as usual.