I had just finished a week of all-nighters and, thankfully, made the deadline. Now, if my damned boss would pay me on time, I could just about make the rent.
I looked around my apartment. It looked like a bomb site. Scrunched-up papers were strewn around the floor, dishes were stacked in the sink, half-eaten sandwiches were stashed under the sofa. There was something powdery green going up the walls around the doorway to the kitchen. Was it mold? I didn't want to know. I couldn't let the landlord see it, either. I'd have to do something about it - and pronto!
I am very lazy by nature. Last-minute is my preferred method of completion. Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. Better still, never do any day what you can pay someone else to do. There was no way I was going to clean this up on my own. I'd have to use a bit of my precious coin for a cleaner to take this abomination off my hands.
Luckily, I remembered a flyer that someone had stuffed through my letterbox. I hunted it down. I found it under a chair. It looked as if I'd used it to blow my nose, but it was still legible.
"Tip Top Tots" was the name emblazoned on the header. That sounded nice. Very efficient, I'd imagine. The price looked reasonable, too. Almost, too reasonable. But, who am I to quibble? Cheap is cheerful, after all.
I rang the number and got an answering machine, so I left a message with my instructions. I didn't want to be home when they came. I wasn't worried about valuables - I didn't have any. I was more worried about facing condemnation when they saw the mess they'd gotten themselves into. Many years ago, I had an elderly polish lady who came once a week. She'd shake her head, suck in air and cluck with disappointment whenever she came. I felt so guilty that I'd clean up before she arrived. What was the point in that? That's buying a dog and barking yourself!
Feeling smug, I decided to take a walk around the neighbourhood and take things in. I hadn't been outside in awhile. It was a pleasant spring morning and I felt like standing still with my face radiating in the sunshine, like a sunflower. Just then, I was interrupted by someone who tried to give me change. I guess they thought I was a bum. It was then I realised I hadn't showered, or shaved, in several days.
Actually, the panhandling turned out pretty well. I wish I'd thought of it before. I collected close to twenty dollars by lurking in doorways to cafes and supermarkets, hand outstretched. Well-dressed people felt guilty when they looked at me. Giving me money assuaged their guilt and I was thankful for it.
The sun was starting to go down, so I headed home, curious to see if "Tip Top Tots" had done a good day's work. When I opened the door, I was horrified to see babies all over the place.
"What the hell?"
They were crawling all over the floors, the furniture, and touching everything they could get their hands on. There must have been thirty, or more. And they were all wearing the same uniform - a bodysuit covered in bright yellow strings. There was one not far from me, so I used my foot to roll him over. He burbled happily, enough, so I went to take a closer look.
"These aren't strings - they're mop brushes!" I said to myself.
"Ah, mister Gavanish!" Said a voice, emerging from the kitchen.
I turned to face an elderly, Greek-looking gentlmen, who held two babies in each hand, like pot-scrubbers. One of them had green all over his bodysuit, so I suspect he'd been rubbing the walls.
"What the devil is going on here?" I asked.
"These are my top tots, mister Gavanish," he said, smiling. "They make your home nice and clean."
"This is outrageous," I spluttered. "This is slave labour!"
"No, no, mister. This is playdate. They enjoy themselves. Look."
I took a moment to survey the situation. They did seem to be having a good time. Actually, they were doing a really good job at cleaning, too. I could see how easily they squirmed under furniture and scrunched into places that brooms couldn't reach. Some of them had silver polishing mittens on their hands, taped around their wrists. It made it hard for them to pick things up, so they kept trying, over and over, all the while scrubbing the objects clean. Sometimes, they drooled on stuff, but this only helped with the polishing. Frankly, I'd never seen my place sparkle like this, before.
"Where did you get them from?" I was more curious, now, than upset.
He explained to me about an arrangement he had with a local day care centre. It sounded dubious, but I couldn't think where else he could have collected so many at once. Apparently, the place was short-staffed, so the babies lay in cribs all day with nothing to do. He assured me that they found this much more exciting. Every day was like a new adventure to them, exploring people's apartments.
Nevertheless, it seemed a cheap shot that this fellow employed an army of babies, when he was the one collecting the money. "Never do yourself when someone else can," he said, smartly. He had a point.
"What if you can't get enough babies for the job?" I asked. He seemed confused. "Well, it looks like you need a lot of them. What happens if you get a job and they don't have enough at the day car centre?"
"I order on E-Bay."
"Some people rent their baby on E-Bay," he said, shaking his head, sadly. "They say too much hassle. Hard to feed. Nuisance. I bring them here. They very happy. Have a good time. I return them later."
"How much do they rent them for?"
He grinned, "That is trade secret."
"You must make a margin, I suppose."
He laughed. He made it clear he didn't want to talk about the finances. He had a good thing going and didn't want me to muscle in on it. That is, until it came time to settle the bill. He was a very skilful negotiator.
He packed up the babies and headed off to return them. Suddenly, my place felt very lonely. It was, however, exquisitely clean. The "Top Tots" were cute. I wished - for only a moment, mind you - that they could have stuck around a little while longer.
Well, I'll probably need to give the place another going over in a couple week's time.
I pinned the "Tip Top Tots" flyer to the fridge.