Sima the Lioness
Photo by Avi Ofer
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She stood in the doorway to my apartment, appearing to be about the same height and width. If it weren't for the jeans, the fake Crocs and her beaming red face, my first guess would have been that someone decided to surprise me with a big industrial-size refrigerator.

"I need a penthouse," she said as she crossed the dining area, adding, "You shouldn't have got divorced."

"Did you know my ex?" I asked in astonishment.

"No, but I can see that you put on a good show, but you don't know how to get along in life. You haven't even bought a living room set. You have kids?"

"Three boys."

"Nice, may they be healthy. I have seven."

"Girls?"

"Three girls and four boys."

"So that's why you need a penthouse? To have room for everybody?"

"They're big already, not at home anymore, except for one who brought his Russian girlfriend with him, too. I told him: I'm not saying anything, she may be a fine girl, I don't know her - but I'm not cooking for her."

"So why a penthouse?"

"Why should my sister have a penthouse in Netanya and my ex, that son-of-a-bitch, be living now with his girlfriend in Akirov? He always gave me such a hard time, and when he cheated on me I told him: Get out of here. I closed up the grocery store because I couldn't run it alone, and I started cleaning. You'll see, in another year I'll have a penthouse. I only need another NIS 600,000."

"In Netanya?"

"Forget Netanya. In Bat Yam! I'm never leaving Bat Yam."

Thus began my relationship with Sima (a completely made-up name ), the most sado-machistic type relationship I've ever experienced. Not since Regina Fleischhacker, Ephraim Kishon's mighty babysitter, has there been a more formidable character than Sima, the cleaning woman I've been trying to get rid of for three months now to no avail.

I got Sima's phone number, with warnings, from my friend Tamar (not her real name, which though commonly cited in this column, must not be mentioned here because Sima simply terrifies her ), who got her name from Carmela, who has been using her once every other week for the last four years.

Tamar has some very amusing stories about Sima. She says Sima is always late or doesn't show up at all because she often has a funeral to go to. And when she doesn't have a funeral she has a bar mitzvah or a brit or a wedding somewhere around Netanya, or even as far away as Pardes Hannah.

As for me, I fled the house a few minutes after the start of my fateful affair with Sima. Big mistake. She instantly realized that she was dealing with a spineless client and so she called later to inform me that unlike the rest of my friends, she would charge me NIS 50 an hour instead of NIS 40, and that although she said she would stay for five hours, after three and a half, she was "finishing up and leaving because my son asked me to come and cook something for him. You know what kids are like."

"How old is this kid?"

"Forty-two," she said. "But a child is a child. So what do you say? Shall I just go now? He's already waiting for me downstairs. Okay, I'm leaving."

When I got home I found the door unlocked and the furniture and everything else arranged in what I've gotten to know as typical Sima style, which I might sum up as "eclectic": various piles - consisting of, for example, three books, a toothbrush, a bracelet and a neatly folded kitchen towel - lying atop a chair placed upside-down on the table.

Sima, who has to be in her sixties, is astoundingly strong. She moved the double bed to the other side of the room and I had to wait until the kids came for a visit so that I could move it back. She casually shifts the refrigerator aside before going through it and tossing out anything she doesn't like.

When it came time for her second visit two weeks later, Sima was two days late. The first day was because she went to a funeral and the second - because she went to another funeral.

Unfortunately, on the third day I was sick in bed and couldn't take "the dog" with me, as Sima insists on calling Shoshana, and go out for a walk. I should note that Sima did try once to take Shoshana out, but the latter responded to this by darting under my bed and shaking all over. While I lay there burning up with fever, Sima came to me with a question.

"Where do you find such nice shoes in your size? I'm exactly the same size and I can never find any," said the lady in fake Crocs, adding, "I tried on all your shoes and they all look great on me."

"So did you fire her? You have to," said Vita, who also once had "the cleaning lady from hell," as she put it.

But that's just the thing with Sima: It is simply impossible to fire her. And I know, I've tried. The next time she called to tell me she'd be late by a few days because of a "family event" - I seized the chance to explain to her that I could no longer tolerate her irregular schedule and that anyway she was overcharging me.

Sima fought like a lioness. She lowered the price to NIS 40, swore it was the last time this would happen and also remarked "the house is very dirty."

"You've got to be kidding," Tamar laughed at me. "Twenty minutes on the phone and you couldn't manage to fire her? Well, actually, I've been trying for three years myself."

And so it happened that, the last time I returned home, an hour and 20 minutes before Sima was supposed to finish working, I found her all dressed up and holding my most expensive pair of sandals in her hand.

"I'm taking these for a family event," she informed me, explaining that it was a wedding this time, near Jerusalem.

"But it's not okay with me for you to take the shoes," I told her, mustering strength from I don't know where. Thus, I, the exploiting capitalist pig, yanked my fancy sandals out of the working-class woman's calloused hands.

"Now are you going to finally fire her? What's so complicated about picking up the phone and just telling her not to come anymore?" asked one of my kids when I told him the story.

So now I am seriously considering telling Sima that I have to move abroad for work.