When I was 16 I lived in Malawi. I went to boarding school in a separate town from where my parents lived. Some weekends I went home with friends. There was a day student, whose name I don’t remember, but for some reason I think it was Alice. She was heavyset, with long black hair. She had a huge house with a lot of servants. We all had large houses and servants. The houses were left over from colonial times and hiring servants was the best way to get our money in to the local economy.
If you were European or American and wanted to live anything like a normal life, servants were necessary. There were no dishwashers or washing machines, grass was cut by machete, not a lawn mower. Clothes were washed by hand and hung out to dry, then they had to be ironed to make sure tse tse flies or some other creature had not laid eggs in them.
So we were all very rich, those of us whose parents were being paid in American Dollars and British Pounds and anything other than the Malawian Kwachas. But some of us, like me, were temporarily rich, because we lived in Malawi and not our own country. We lived mainly like normal people, only with the servants.
This girl was rich because she was rich. When I spent the night at her house, I had my own guest room. At night, about an hour before I went to sleep, a servant would put a hot water bottle in my bed.
I’ve been getting very cold during the night lately. Last night I was thinking about hot water bottles and what an amazing thing they were and wondering why we no longer use them.
Then I remembered about Alice and the hot water bottle in my bed at her house. Five seconds before, while I was thinking about how quaint and nice a hot water bottle was, I had completely forgotten about Alice and her hot water bottles. It shocked me for a minute that hot water bottles still happened. Hot water bottles still happened not only in my lifetime, but in my actual life. There was a time when I lived a life where someone was paid to put a hot water bottle in my bed.
As with so many things, it can all be brought back to Elizabeth Bishop:
I lost two cities, lovely ones.
And, vaster, some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.