True horror stories of exploitation of immigrants in Paris-part 24


In hindsight, I was always uneasy that Mme. HARMONY constantly reminded everyone around her of her good deeds.  She called herself a harmonious person yet underappreciated.   It may be very Japanese of me, but I was brought up with the idea that one should not demand rewards for one's good deeds.  Otherwise, it would be barter, not good deeds but business.  It was unfortunate because she did not need to remind me of her kindness because I always remembered it.  When she asked me to print all her private documents, I did not doubt her explanation that she found modern technology difficult.  I had to go through several ink cartridges, each quite expensive in France, but I was happy to do them for her free. 

However, one night, Mme HARMONY needed her vast documents to be printed and expected me to deliver the documents after 22:00 when she would return from her outing.  Unfortunately, after hours of consecutive printing, my printer broke down.  As I apologized to her that it was not all done, I saw a printer hidden behind her books.  Mme. HARMONY looked sheepish for a moment, saying that hers was broken and she never got around to repairing it.  She would wait till I got my printer fixed.  Had she not told me to deliver her documents late at night because it was urgent?  I felt uneasy but tried to suppress my suspicion.  Japanese are too loyal to question their friends' motives.  So I agreed when she asked me to take one of her chairs to her other apartment on my way home. 

It was heavier than it looked, but I would not suspect that Mme HARMONY, who did volunteer work to help immigrants, would exploit me, another immigrant, by economizing 15 euros worth of taxi fares.  My arms hurt after 30 minutes long walk while holding onto the heavy chair.  Still, there were another four staircases up to her apartment, now vacated by Jupiter.  I tried to focus on the honor of being trusted with the key to her apartment.  Of course, Mme HARMONY saw the situation differently because with the keys came another instruction: to open her windows every morning to let fresh air into her vacant apartment.  Of course, the windows had to be closed every afternoon too. 

Mme HARMONY proudly told me that the syndic referred to me as her 'little secretary' at her disposal.  I served Mme HARMONY for 16 months because I did not want to be one of those ungrateful immigrants.  Furthermore, I was grateful for her friendship, just like Jupiter was in the past.

Mirror that reflects your soulOne day Mme HARMONY and I were in Leroy Merlin, a hardware shop in Paris.  Paint needed to be purchased to paint her apartment because she did not like Jupiter's chosen colour.  Her apartment was big (two floors), so it would be a big job.  I assumed her son, who lived in Paris, would help his old mother.   Mme HARMONY replied, 'Oh, no, I cannot ask my son (and his wife).  Their time is precious.'   So my time was not?  Mme HARMONY chatted away about how well she was getting along with her son and daughter-in-law.  I pondered why none of her family ever invited her for Christmas dinner or anything.    

Suddenly her eyebrow moved up as Mme. HARMONY spotted some paints sold at a reduced price.  She asked a shop assistant if it was suited for painting over a dark colour.  The assistant replied, 'Non, it is semi-transparent.' Now Jupiter had left black wallpapers on the wall, yet Mme HARMONY wished to paint the walls in light beige.  She should have a professional painter remove the black wallpaper or invest in high-quality paint.  Mme. HARMONY chose neither because both options were costly.  She purchased the cheap paint and decided I should paint many layers to compensate for the poor quality.  I sighed but convinced myself that she had no idea what a mammoth workload she was demanding of me.  My loyalty to this French friend of mine was that I wished to help her economize.

I had to take all the heavy cans of paint to her apartment because Mme HARMONY would not spend 50 euros on delivery.  Mme. HARMONY thought I deserved some reward and served me a pumpkin soup.  It was the weakest soup I had ever tasted; even water would have had more flavour, but 'it is the thought that counts,' I told myself.  Then one of her man friends knocked on the door.  I shall refer to him as Mr STOOL, for he was summoned to do odd jobs for Mme HARMONY on many occasions.  She had asked him to come to give her some advice on painting her apartment.   I was amazed by her transformation.  

She behaved coy and flirty; her voice was a pitch higher than the one she would use with me.  Well, that's a French woman for you; I was amused until she started telling lies.  Mr STOOL said painting the entire apartment was too much for an amateur woman like me.  He advised Mme HARMONY to use good quality paint to compensate for my want of stamina.  However, Mme. HARMONY replied, 'Don't worry, I have just bought the best that the shop recommended.'  

My French had improved enough to understand her lies, but my speaking ability was never on par with a native speaker.  As soon as I opened my mouth and uttered a few words of French, Mme HARMONY spoke over me to shut me up.  She said to Mr STOOL that I insisted on doing this favour for Mme HARMONY because I wished to repay her for the kind services she showered me all the time.

That was true, but she omitted to add that I had been paying all the legal fees to fight the restaurant from Hell to save the weak, her tenants included.  I never asked to split the bill, but she never offered to pay.  My former French lawyer had also warned me that Mme HARMONY would often ring him to ask for advice for her business at my expense.  I did not confront her about it because I wished to indulge my friend, who was also an elder.  Perhaps, she did not know what she was doing for her mild senile.  But here she was, Mme HARMONY was using me to impress Mr STOOL.  She knew exactly what she was doing.