An unusual Astana love story02 april 2015, 16:13
It took more than a year for Mike to realize he was hooked on Ainur.
Their love story didn’t start the way a lot of them do, with an instant, magnetic attraction between two people.
Instead, it grew slowly as they got to know each other, until -- all of a sudden -- both knew.
Mike, an investment-banker friend in his late 40s, was divorced in his 20s. It was a distressing experience, and he vowed never to get married again.
Mike likes to come home to a clean apartment after a long day’s work, and though he did a good job of keeping his place tidy, he didn’t have time to give it the deep cleaning it needed every couple of weeks. So he began looking for a housekeeper.
He doesn’t remember who told him about Ainur – it was four years ago.
But she was exactly what he needed – someone who strived for perfection in everything she did, including cleaning, and who was learning English, so he could tell her exactly what he wanted done.
Ainur, who was in her mid-20s, was getting a bachelors degree under one of those programs where you take intensive classes once every four months.
Although she was already working as a secretary, and lived frugally, she needed extra income to cover her university expenses. Mike made her a good offer.
Mike had hired lots of housekeepers in places where he’d lived over the years – Singapore, Hong Kong, Zurich and Kiev.
But Ainur was by far the best. Everything she touched sparkled. To his surprise, she even insisted on washing his windows – at no extra charge.
Not only that, she was cheerful. Mike had a sense of humor, and Ainur loved his jokes. And she would respond with jokes of her own.
“I had a girlfriend at the time – Zhanara, a tall, gorgeous travel agent,” Mike told me recently. “She knew she was gorgeous, and she demanded that I spoil her. And I did, but sometimes it got old.”
Ainur is attractive, with a tall, thin model-like figure, but she was no stunner like Zhanara.
Yet, imperceptibly, Mike began falling in love with her.
It wasn’t just that she was diligent about everything she did and that she had a sunny disposition.
After a while she began showing Mike one of the biggest hearts he’d ever seen.
“I remember the first time she asked me for money to help someone,” Mike said. “I was suspicious at first, because over the years a lot of people have made up stories to try to get money out of me.”
Ainur told him about a family of six she knew whose youngest son, a year-old baby, needed a heart operation.
“They don’t have the money for the operation,” she said. “I hate to ask you, but I’m wondering if you could loan me the money. I’ll pay you back after I finish my degree. I promise.”
Although Mike had known her for several months, and couldn’t imagine her lying or cheating, he asked to meet the parents and the baby.
Ainur brought them to his home, where they had tea and cakes together. Mike liked the parents. The father worked in a factory. His wife stayed at home, taking care of the simple. They were simple, honest folks, Mike felt.
Mike could tell they were anxious about whether they would get the $2,000 for the operation. Wanting to ease their minds, he told them early in the conversation that he’d pay for it. Their frowns turned to smiles, and they visibly relaxed.
“Thank you so much!” Ainur told him after her friends left. Then she wrapped her arms around him in a hug.
Mike didn’t say a word, but the embrace stirred something in his heart.
The next time she cleaned his house, she gave him back half the money he paid her for the work, and said, “Here’s the first part of the money I owe you for the operation. I’m sorry but it’s going to be a long time before I can pay back all of it.”
Mike was touched again. This young woman who had so little was determined to fulfill her promise to repay him.
He put the money back in her hand. “You don’t owe me anything,” he said. “I was glad to help.”
Tears welled up in her eyes. She didn’t say a word – just hugged him tight again, and left.
Every few months, Ainur would ask Mike for money to help someone else. She never asked for herself – always for a person or family needier than she. And all of her requests were legitimate.
Her never-ending desire to help others made Mike realize she was no ordinary person, but someone special.
In the months that followed, Mike decided to make his comfortable apartment even more cozy by having some work done on it. He asked Ainur to find the tradespeople he needed.
The biggest problem was that the apartment’s windows had never been sealed correctly. That meant that in Astana’s grueling winters it was cold even two meters away from a window.
Ainur found some terrific “window masters” to fix the problem at a very reasonable price.
She also found electricians to fix fuse-box and lighting problems and a handyman to build closet shelves.
Mike was so pleased that he asked her to find him a reasonably priced mattress for his bed – the one that came with the apartment was too squishy – and a cheap pair of reading glasses.
Ainur came through on every request with good quality and a good price. She had suddenly become his Girl Friday.
Meanwhile, Mike’s girlfriend Zhanara had dumped him for a wealthy business owner. Mike made good money but the other guy made more.
In addition to cleaning Mike’s house and lining up tradespeople to make it more comfortable, Ainur ironed his clothes twice a month – a job he paid her extra for.
Mike always left the apartment when Ainur was cleaning, because he had learned that most housekeepers didn’t like a man underfoot when they were working.
But when Ainur was ironing, he stayed in the house, and the two talked.
“We chatted about how our lives were going, what was happening that was pleasant or unpleasant, what was happening in the world,” he said. “Ainur kept up with world events, so we had some great conversations.”
He began really looking forward to her ironing days.
Then, almost two years after they’d met, he walked up to her at the ironing table, took the iron out of her hand and kissed her.
“I was a little nervous about how she’d react,” he told me. “We had never discussed our feelings about each other, and I was afraid she’d tell me no, that we were just friends.”
But she kissed him back, and at that moment the two knew they would be together.
Recently Mike asked me to attend their wedding.
He’s still in Astana, and I’m out of Kazakhstan for now, and busy. So I don’t know if I can make it.
The wedding will be nice, but the best part of their love story is how it evolved from acquaintanceship to friendship to deep feeling.
If only the rest of us could be so lucky.