Doña Elena was rich and she liked everything in her house just so. One day, she decided to hire some people to clean her whole house. She went to the market in the morning and spoke to some of the vendors who had bought their produce to sell. “Come and work for me today,” Doña Elena said to the first three, “And I’ll pay you what you would have made selling your tomatoes, plus a day’s pay for a cleaner.” The women immediately agreed. They left their produce and followed Doña Elena back to her house.

Word quickly got around that Doña Elena was cleaning her house.

The first three women had been working for an hour, washing every piece of glass in the huge chandelier that hung in the sala of the house, when there was a timid knock at the door. Doña Elena opened the door and there stood two teenage girls.

“We heard you were cleaning, Doña Elena,” one said. “Could we work for you today?”

“Yes, ladies,” Doña Elena said. “There is plenty of work to be done. Come in.”

She got them started polishing the silver cutlery that Doña Elena’s ancestor had brought over from Spain.

An hour later, there was another knock at the door. This time, it was an older woman, with a defiant look on her face. “I’d like to work for you today, Doña Elena,” she said.

“Certainly, come in,” said Doña Elena, and she gave the woman a duster to clean the massive paintings of fruit that hung on the walls round the hallway.

And so it went on all day.

The sun was beginning to set when there was the tiniest knock on the door. If Doña Elena hadn’t been passing, she probably wouldn’t have heard it.

When she opened the door, she saw a child, a girl of about ten.

“May I work?” she asked.

Doña Elena looked about her. What was there left to do?

She led the child into the kitchen. In the sink was one china cup.

“You may wash that cup,” she said.

The child was too small to reach the tap easily, so Doña Elena brought her a chair to stand on. The child washed the cup with infinite care but even so, the task was soon completed.

The other women were beginning to gather in the hall, anticipating their payment.

Doña Elena took out a bag of coins.

She began with the first three women.

“Here is the money for your produce, five pesos, and ten for the day’s work. Thank you.”

She then turned to the teenagers and paid them the same, fifteen pesos.

She worked her way around the room, paying each one exactly the same amount.

Finally, she came to the little girl. There was a tense silence in the room. She counted out fifteen pesos to her, too.

One of the first women burst out, “But patrona, how can that be fair? We worked all day, from early morning and you are paying the same to all the others?”

Doña Elena looked at the woman and said, “Did I pay you what I promised you?”

“Yes, but…”

“I paid you exactly what I promised. As for the rest, I can do what I like with my own money. Take your payment and go.”

One by one the women left. Some were embarrassed and couldn’t look Elena in the eye. Others murmured their thanks.

But the little girl flung her arms around Doña Elena’s neck and kissed her cheek.

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