Gladys has arrived in my household. She is replacing Christina who went away for five days for a funeral and later the same day she returned, was picked up by her uncle for a ‘purifying prayer session’. I gave her a day off for the prayer session. She called me the next day to say that, according to her uncle, it would take two weeks. My original decision was to fire her. But then I thought of her. She is a good girl: a young, simple soul with a good heart and few options. She does not give me much trouble. My children like her, I like her and she has little ambition or foresight of her own. I worried that if I sacked her, she would go to some other person who is not as nice to her help and who has no thought to her future and may live all her life hand to mouth or in want. So I waited the two weeks she asked and then another week. It has been a month and half now and there’s been no news from her. Having no other choice, I have sadly replaced her.
Her people won’t let her come back. For what reasons I do not know. I was told earlier by my aunt that some of these girls’ have relatives who do not wish them well and so shouldn’t encourage too much contact between her and her uncles. Maybe, another woman told me, the person who has executive authority over her has a child who has become a wastrel and will be damned if this fatherless child will do any better. I didn’t think that anybody would be so pettily motivated and so contrary to all the advice I’d received, I gave her a week off to visit her hometown at Christmas and made sure she had presents for everyone. I thought she would be homesick; this was her first job.
Once more I’m bending to the wisdom of the ages. Christina’s departure, it seems is a case of something close to this. She has been sent back to the village and left incommunicado. She took only two sets of clothes with her I’m told because she expected to be back overnight-or perhaps to throw sand in our eyes. And still has money with me. Neither her aunts nor uncles will pick up when Veronica or I call them. I feel a little responsible for what has happened to her. I should have let her be homesick. According to the theories I’m hearing it was her apparent prosperity that caused the ‘sikin pain’ that led to this pass.
I don’t need her help desperately. This is not why I’ve been trying to find her. They are not that difficult to find househelps. And as she didn’t even know what a mop was when she came to me she takes nothing irreplaceable away from my house. But she is endearing for both the goodness and simplicity of her mind and soul. So I wish she had stayed so I could have helped her make the most of her life.
Now instead she will spend her days in one village or another waiting for her uncle to find the money to put her into a trade or some form of training. She will wait vainly and then in disappointment turn first to one man then the other. By her third child, she will be old and tired from never being quite able to make ends meet. But she will also be unable to leave to find work, for who will mind her children and that will be the end of whatever good track she could have been on.
I wish for her sake she would shake off her uncle’s hand and do what’s right for her. She is, after all, the one who pays all her bills. The uncle does nothing for her and should not have any say so in her life. But she is village bred and the traditional moral authority of his position as her father’s inheritor holds more psychological power than her financial independence has.
Gladys is very happy to have got the job. She is 22, recently orphaned, with a 6 year old son, an irresponsible ex-husband and no skill. She came from Obouase, where her family settled to Somanya, from where they hail, from there she intended to come to Accra to seek her fortune. Her aunt whom I had tasked with finding me a replacement found out about her ambitions on a funeral trip there. Now here she is.
I feel terrible about Christina. She acquired quite a number of clothes in her eight months with us. She deserves to be able to take them with her. I was working on a Birth Certificate for her. It is now ready and lies in her bag. I do hope they will at least let her come back to get them. And she has money with me; money we were saving to open an account for her. I have told her people that I won’t give the money to anyone else. I want to put it in Christina’s palm myself and know that she got her due. I’m sure they would have come for her stuff already if they thought they could get at the money but knowing they can’t squander it, makes the prospect of facing me less worthwhile.
I do not understand why help and their families behave in this odd manner. She’ll be back tomorrow, then silence, then no one picks up your calls till you lose interest and find some other eager broke person desperately seeking employment to fill the position. Is it not simpler by far to say to me: I don’t want to work here one second longer. Give me what you owe me and let me be on my way’? It would certainly be more beneficial. I would have given her a farewell bonus. Instead they spent time meeting and thinking up stories they could use to come for her. How utterly pointless. I don’t run a prison. My gate opens to admit but it also opens to release.
I miss the oiled smoothness of my house run with two well trained staff. I also miss her. Otherwise, I am no worse for her exit. But she, is dramatically so for leaving. I hope her life works out for her. I hope her happy eagerness is not corrupted by an unnecessarily hard life into cynicism and despair.
Gladys is fresh from the village and completely untrained, as Christina was. It will be a long and often trying process to bring her up to par for my household. But she is determined to learn. The life her cousin has in our house has convinced her to win my approval and she is glad for the good luck she has had. O well. We have a saying in Akan, that it was the sudden death of the rich man’s goat that made the poor man’s soup full of with meat.