Martha groaned as she felt a hand gently shake her shoulder.
"Come on," Jenny cooed. "Time to get up."
Martha opened her eyes to see Jenny's beaming face. She just groaned and rolled over, pulling the quilt tighter around her body in an effort to keep the cold out. It was dark and the entire school was still asleep. With a sigh Martha reluctantly threw the quilt off and shuffled out of bed. She made her way over to the porcelain bowl that sat on their dresser and poured water into it from the pitcher. She splashed the icy water onto her face, her arms, and underarms; this was the only sort of washing she'd get until the weekend.
"I think we should switch jobs today," Martha stated as she buttoned up the front of her corset. Only half way done and already she could feel it crushing her lungs.
Jenny laughed. "I don't think so! You're the new girl!"
"You're a terrible friend."
"I know." Jenny grinned as she fixed her apron.
Martha placed the white cap on top of her head, scowling at her reflection as she did. Her roots were showing. Martha futilely tried patting down the tight curls in hope that it would magically straighten the unruly strands.
"Come on, time to go."
Martha followed Jenny down the stairs. As Jenny turned right to head towards the kitchens Martha made her way to the dormitories. Martha entered each room as quietly as she could so as not to wake the sleeping teacher or student. Her mouth pressed into a thin line as she retrieved each chamber pot to be emptied. It wasn't like she hadn't had to deal with this sort of thing before. She was training to be a doctor after all. Still, it was just… different somehow than changing a bedpan.
She had just finished emptying the last pot when she realized that it was nearly seven o'clock. Martha hurriedly walked to the kitchen. She couldn't miss this! It was her favorite time of the day. The cook, Mrs. Bucket, rolled her eyes at Martha's obvious earnestness but didn't comment on it. She merely gestured to the lone serving tray waiting for her on the table. Martha smiled her thanks and took it to the Doctor's room.
"Breakfast!" Martha called out cheerfully.
The Doctor was already up and haphazardly trying to do his necktie. "Martha! Have a good morning?"
"Yes, Mr. Smith," Martha lied as she set up the tray on his table. She shooed his tangled hands away from his neck and began to do the tie herself. The Doctor stood perfectly still like a good little boy as Martha righted his clothes. It was all so domestic. She sighed blissfully.
"You know, I just wanted to say thank you for coming with me," The Doctor mumbled quietly. Martha looked up to see he was avoiding her gaze, his skin tinged with pink. For a moment Martha thought that this was the Doctor – her Doctor – thanking her for being his companion. "I know you'd be able to find better work in the city, but…" No, it was John Smith thanking her for being his servant.
"Think nothing of it, sir." Martha smiled up at him. "I'd follow you anywhere."
Then Martha was rushing the Doctor out the door before he was late for class – again – and Martha was hurrying off to the kitchen to do the washing.
Martha wiped her brow as she scrubbed the linen shirts against the washing board that sat between her knees. Gasping for breath Martha sat up from where she was hunched over the basin, trying to breathe through the restrictive corset. It made her work so difficult. "Martha!" The girl nearly jumped out of her skin as the sound of Mrs. Bucket's voice coming from the kitchen where the woman was cooking lunch. "Stop taking so many breaks!" Under her breath Martha could hear her mumble, "Lazy girl."
Martha scowled as she bent back over her washing. It wasn't her fault she wasn't use to this!
The tinkling of a bell sounded. Martha finished dumping the dirty water into the field and headed back towards the school. She entered the kitchen and stood in front of her chair, waiting for Mrs. Bucket to give the signal to start breakfast. Mrs. Bucket nodded her head and the three of them sat down and began to eat. Martha nearly sighed as the porridge hit her empty stomach. She thoughtlessly tore off a piece of bread before she had even finished swallowing. Martha could feel the condescending look that Mrs. Bucket shot her. Great, Martha grumbled in her head, now she thinks I have bad manners to go along with every other stereotype about black people she's ever heard. Martha suspected that no matter what she said or did she'd never be able to convince Mrs. Bucket otherwise.
After breakfast Martha set to washing the pans and pots, trying to keep up with Mrs. Bucket as she finished the boys' lunch. The room was boiling hot from the oven and Martha longingly looked out the open kitchen door at the bright field while she scrubbed. After everyone had eaten lunch, Martha found herself scrubbing all the dirty plates and dishes. There was roughly a hundred people at the school and the mountains of dishes looked to Martha like they'd never get done. At least she had help this time. Two maids appeared – Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Worth, two widows who lived in town and worked at the school part time – and stoically began their work beside her. Mrs. Bucket started cooking dinner.
It went by quicker than Martha would have expected and by late afternoon she's helping Jenny with her work. They work quickly, laughing and chatting all the while. If they finished their cleaning before supper they'd be able to have a few hours to themselves. They were scrubbing the tiled floors when Martha heard the high-pitched laughter of the boys. She could feel the hairs on the back of her neck rise at the sound.
"Why bother with a rag?" One of the boys snidely asked her as he passed her by. "Your hair already looks like it'd make a good scrub brush."
Martha bit the inside of her cheek to keep from retorting. She focused on her work. She couldn't say anything. If she said anything she'd be forced to leave and then where would the Doctor be?
The servants had supper in the kitchen while the rest of the school ate in the mess. Afterwards, Martha once again was scrubbing dishes. This time not only did she have Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Worth, but Mrs. Bucket and Jenny as well. It was still almost eleven o'clock by the time they finished cleaning and putting everything away.
Martha trudged up the stairs to the room she shared with Jenny. She was exhausted. She opened the door to find Jenny standing there in the middle of their room and holding two bottles in her hand. "I got these from Madam Redfern, just like you asked."
Martha smiled and shucked off her black dress, standing there in only her corset, chemise and bloomers. Martha sat on the chair as Jenny prepared the mixture. She closed her eyes as she felt Jenny begin to apply the lye onto the roots of her hair. Within a minute she could feel the burn start. Martha gritted her teeth and waited patiently for the next couple of minutes. Then she was up, rushing towards the porcelain bowl filled with water and soap to wash the relaxer out before it could damage her hair. She didn't want it to fall out. Jenny handed her the other bottle, this one filled with oil instead of lye. Martha poured some into her hands and massaged it into her hair. She smiled as she thought about how she would be brushing her nice, straight hair in the morning.
By midnight she was crawling into bed, ready to wake up at six o'clock and begin everything all over again.