Strong Hands

“How is your hand still so soft after all the house work you’ve been doing?”

I smiled. My nanny had gone off for the Easter break so I had taken a few days off work to stay home and do chores. I am not OCD but my house has to be cleaned everyday. It must have something to do with the lingering fear of disapproval from my mother who ensured that everyone (male and female) grew up doing chores from the moment you got off your bed until she was satisfied. You both could be sitting in the living room having a nice chat and next thing she’d tell you to go bring the broom becausethe rug felt sandy. In fact, no one ate on Saturdays mornings until the house was cleaned to her standards.

Today, my toilets look as clean as the day we moved in and you could eat off my floor… at least before the boys came along. We had a security guard who used to help me with the cleaning when I got pregnant. He would be so exasperated by Madam following behind him with her long tummy and long brush, sweeping up the dirt he left behind while he swept with the broom. I had helps who must have thought me an utter nutter because of the way I hounded them for not sweeping the corners well because the toothpick I saw at the corner the night before was still there. (Yes, my mother’s disapproval still haunts me when it comes to cleaning my house).

Then why are my hands so soft? When I was still young enough to be impressionable, I read a novel that gave me quite a scare. In it, the heroine worked her way from the bottom barrel of the social order to the heights of English society. Not bad, you’d say. But because of all the years of hardwork, her hands were rough and badly scarred from scrubbing floors and scraping by to provide for her self and her child.

In that society at that time, the texture and appearance of a woman’s hands signalled her class as it revealed the quality of life she had led. So no matter how much money and success that she acquired, the moment anyone got a look or feel of her hands, she would immediately become the woman who used to clean the chamber pots (Old English for a pissing pot or potty). A grim reminder of her penurious beginnings. She invested in so many hand creams and treatments to get rid of the roughness but none ever worked. And so she took to wearing gloves, everywhere! Ha!

When I thought of how long it took me to finish my chores each day and what those chores entailed, I became so haunted by this tale of the damage that hard work could do. Imagine not being able to show my hands in public. And I won’t be able to wear gloves in this hot climate! I remember dropping the book and quickly going to moisturise my hands and I have been doing so ever since after every contact with soap and water. I have handcreams in my handbag, car and office drawers. Yet, I always felt that my hands were still a bit hard around the edges.

So when my girlfriend exclaimed that they were deceptively soft despite all the housework she knew I’d been doing,  I brimmed with joy. All my effort had not been in vain afterall. Now that I am older, I understand why I was affected by that novel. It is really about taking care of oneself. Her quest to make good of her life made her neglect something as simple as taking care of her hands. We forget so much more in our drive to achieve today. I have also learnt that every hand has a story and it doesn’t matter how much lotion I apply on mine, I will never rub away the valuable lessons my mother taught me. My hands are soft today, but they are also very strong. Especially for the ones I love.


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