x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

When a husbandly helping hand isn't always so helpful

Why is it that whenever you ask your significant other for something, as obvious as it may be, his first response is always 'what' or 'which one'?

We were putting dinner together in the kitchen a few nights ago in our continued attempt to make food preparation a happy event in our little family. This involves me doing pretty much everything while Mr T parks himself in front of the stove and insists on stirring the contents of all the pots, regardless of whether any stirring is required in the first place. I don't mind terribly because he's still pretty good at fetching when I bark orders before rushing back to his stirring. Let him stir.

I needed to peel a couple of cucumbers for our salad. I opened the kitchen drawer, the one that exists specifically and exclusively to house the kitchen utensils, and I started rummaging in its depths. Usually, not much rummaging is required: my utensils are organised and easy to see. However, the peeler was nowhere to be found.

"Where's the peeler?" I asked my husband, so taken with his vigorous stirring that he couldn't even risk looking up from the whirling contents in the pot.

"What peeler?" came the standard reply. Why is it that whenever you ask your significant other for something, as obvious as it may be, his first response is always "what" or "which one"? Try it. Ask for the car keys and it'll be "what car keys?" Ask for the remote and it's always "what remote?" Ask for the iPad, which incidentally happens to be the only iPad in the house, and you get a shrug accompanied with "what iPad?"

So I took a deep breath, reminded myself that the kitchen was our new "happy place" and said, through admittedly gritted teeth, "The peeler that we use to peel things. Like cucumbers."

"I don't know," he said to me. "Shouldn't it be there?"

Exactly. It should. Which is why, after I checked the sink, the dishwasher, our drying rack and the other drawers, I had no choice but to widen the search. Soon after, I came across the peeler nestled between the plates and bowls in the upper cabinet, and turned to stare at my blissfully oblivious husband, stirring away.

"Sweetheart," I said to him. "Darling. Why would you put the peeler in the cabinet where we have the plates? How does that make any sense?"

His indignation was immediate (this is becoming a serious problem recently). "Why would you assume it was me who put it there? I have nothing to do with that peeler."

How do I respond to that? There are only two adults who live in our apartment and have access to any type of kitchen utensils: myself and my absent-minded husband. I know it wasn't me, so who in the world else could it be? My husband's imaginary friend?

I tried to communicate this course of logic to him, but he would have none of it.

"I bet it was Mhae," he said. "I'm telling you, whenever you can't find something or things are in the wrong place, it's Mhae, not me."

And that, my dear reader, is the reason my husband and I can never have live-in help.

Mhae is our cleaning lady who stops by once a week for a maximum of five hours to tackle the ridiculous amount of dust that accumulates in any apartment in the Gulf. She does not tackle laundry, nor does she empty the dishwasher, nor does she put things away - those tasks are always done for her. Her sole responsibility is to handle the tedious cleaning tasks that are the bane of my existence: mopping the floors, dusting the bookshelves, turning the bathroom mirrors back into reflective surfaces - that sort of thing. She does not handle any food preparation, nor does she have to remember where a particular platter is stored when it is not in use. She does not put away the clean socks in their right drawer, nor does she have to put DVDs away back in their cases when they're left outside to gather dust.

Mr T, however, does not seem to grasp this concept, and insists on using the poor lady as his scapegoat every time he is rightly accused of misconduct. Did he eat the last remaining cookie that I had hidden in the microwave? No, of course not, it must have been poor Mhae who did that. Did he forget where we usually store the towels and decide just to hide them under his jeans in the wardrobe? No, why would he, that must have been Mhae who did that, too. And what about the fact that all the pots are in one cupboard and all their lids seem to have been shoved into our oven, out of sight and out of mind? "That's absolutely Mhae, why would I ever do that?" he insisted.

There are countless reasons why I don't want live-in help, despite the fact that it might be the only way I can return to work once our little family of two becomes one of three some day. We will lose a lot of the privacy and intimacy we have become used to in our little corner of the world; we will become very much responsible for another human being who will need to be clothed and fed and entertained and provided with a full life; we will have to find space in an apartment that does not really allow for a third adult, and so on.

But my biggest qualm about ever hiring a live-in maid, or even a full-time helper who comes by daily and becomes a more regular facet of our lives? Mr T will have found a way to get off the hook, permanently, and gathering the requisite amount of evidence required to figure out whether it's my husband or our hypothetical maid responsible for some transgression or other is going to become old, and fast.

For now, I'll give him his little scapegoat. Once we finished dinner that night, with peeled cucumbers and all, both of us tidied up the kitchen. One lone pot remained in the sink, and I thought Mr T was getting ready to wash it when instead, he began drying his hands.

"But there's one pot left, how come you stopped? Do you want me to wash it? I don't mind," I said.

"Oh no," he insisted. "You don't have to do that. Isn't Mhae coming tomorrow morning? She can do it, right?"

• Hala Khalaf is the deputy Arts & Life editor at The National


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