Theory by April Yee

Theory

Labour, we nodded to each other over gins, was a performance. So, five gins in, sun still high, he squeezed his lats into the French maid dress I’d bought years ago in a market in Western China, and he began baking.

His bread had the texture of hardtack and his muffins ran raw in the centre. But on video, with his face in the background, they appeared artisanal. Post-gin, we continued. I recorded hundreds of TikToks of him pouring batter into my silicone heart moulds, lifting the lid of my Dutch oven to reveal a risen loaf, whipping double cream with my favourite red spatula from Crate & Barrel.

Once we had an audience – and what an audience, hailing from all the IP addresses ever sequenced – we began hyping the website I built, themanmaid.com. I sold branded swag: replicas of the French maid dress that I’d sourced from an Alibaba merchant (“sexy FRENCH maid housekeeper helper BRAND NEW”). I drop-shipped 50, 100, 5,000 to our salivating viewers. I sold dresses to people in Bhutan. We were that big.

Or he was that big. If I had worn the dress, who’d have watched? I’d be a woman baking. He was white, male, and spoke in the kind of accent adored by Americans – that is, British, that is, just a little foreign, that is, not scary horde-at-the-borders foreign. The Americans thought his accent was fancy, but I knew it was middle class.

He tended to the TikTok. Too caught up to notice the bank account was only in my name. It hit £100,000, enough to buy a decent villa in Thailand and hire a maid, one of my people. I left. I called it decolonisation.

April Yee is a writer and translator of power and postcolonialism. A Harvard and Tin House alumna, she reported in more than a dozen countries before moving to the UK, where she reads for Triquarterly, contributes to Ploughshares online, and mentors for University of the Arts London’s Refugee Journalism Project.

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