Timothy Littlewood lowered himself down onto the wedge of cardboard. Worn and brittle from months of use, it offered his knees no protection from the rough surface beneath.
He dunked the brush into the metal bucket, shivering as his hands plunged into the icy water. He lifted it out, slippery with soap, and bent to scrub the floor.
A whistling sound warned him, and he cringed as the whip lashed across his shoulders. He knew better than to cry out, but his breath escaped him in a silent, shuddering sigh.
“Go faster, you slacker. Think you’ve got all day down here?” Her voice was harsh, with a strong South African accent.
“N-no, I’m sorry, mistress.” Timothy didn’t dare look up. He crouched over the bucket, head bowed. All he could see was the dark gleam of her leather boots.
“I don’t want apologies from you. I want action. You clean this floor every day, and every day I have the same damn problem. You don’t work hard, you don’t work fast.”
“I know it seems that way, mistress. I’m trying, really I am. But the basement is large, you know. And the floor is rough.”
“Don’t give me excuses. This room stinks because you’re too lazy to do a proper job.”
“You’re right, of course. I am lazy. And I’m sorry the smell offends you. It’s an underground room, you see. It never gets sunlight. Perhaps it has damp.” He returned to his task, scrubbing with renewed vigour as if his efforts with the soapy water might somehow eradicate the damp.