I am the full-time driver here. I am not going to kill my employers. I have read that drivers do that now. I will make just a few observations.
First, to state the obvious. My employer is a generous man. He buys many gifts, for many women, none of whom is Madam. I judge not, lest I be judged. This is between him and his God. My God would smite him right there in the garden. Madam would weep for her flowers.
Madam says her flowers are the toast of all of Ghana. I would note that all of us do not, alas, have bread. But the flowers are spectacular. They line the drive in pots. They burst into flames of yellow petals. They pretty the concrete walls. I had never seen such beautiful flowers until I came to work here – or I had, but only wild ones, free. Not fed, as at the zoo. Every morning Madam walks among these gorgeous flowers in an Angelina buba with a glazed look on her face. She runs her fingers lightly through the petals as one fingers strands of wispy hair of women for whom one buys gold-plate trinkets. I’d also note that once before I passed her bathroom window – which is oddly low, and stranger still, undressed – while she was bathing, and I had the thought that Madam might receive more gifts more often were she not to hide her body in that dark green swamp of cloth.
Madam has the contours of a girl I knew in Dansoman and sculptures sold at Arts Centre and Bitter Lemon bottles. Slender top and round the rest. A perfect holy roundness that is proof of God’s existence and His goodness furthermore. Her skin is ageless, creaseless, paint. Her lower back a hiding place. The colour brooks no simile. If you have been to Ghana, you know. If you have never been to Ghana then you might not understand the way the darkest skin can glow as with the purest of all lights.
I slipped across the alley to the quarters that we servants share, a single room with piled-up latex foam instead of beds. Mamadou, the watchman, says that we should ask for proper beds and Sundays off and cooking gas, but no one ever does. We huddle in our single room like very sunburned Boy Scouts with the faded shirts we’ve washed to death, dead, hanging from the ceiling, and we listen to the crickets or the new cook’s ancient iPod, with things that we should ask for piled up, soft, like folded clothes. There used to be some women here, apparently, a laundress and a multi-purpose housegirl; where they slept I do not know. When my employer married Madam and she moved here with her half-caste teenage daughter, called Bianca, all the women were let go.
I slipped into this Boy Scout room and stood against the concrete wall, my heart attempting break-out from its skin-and-muscle jail. I was frightened that she’d seen me and would think that I had meant to look, that I had not been idly walking by but lurking. Peeping. On the wall of our room is a sign with the rules written out on a torn piece of cardboard. There is a similar sign in the hallway that houses Accra Mall’s public toilet. It reads:
1. No washing of kitchen items.
2. No changing of clothes.
3. No buying & selling.
4. No standing on the toilet bowl.
5. No brushing of teeth.
6. No sex.
7. No smoking.
In smaller font, ‘all offenders will be prosecuted’, signed in cheerful colours, ‘Accra Mall’. Our sign is much shorter. ATTENTION is written in red. In black:
1. No stealing.
2. No peeping.
3. No urinating on flowers.
There is no handwritten consequence, but I could guess my fate. I am the only servant with a real education, which is to contextualize my reasoning skills and not to judge my colleagues. I’ve been offered a place at the University of Ghana – incidentally, our president’s alma mater – and would have enrolled this summer had my dad not fallen ill. It should have been my sister’s job to move back home to care for him, but Merriam has children and her husband Nii said no. I didn’t mind. My dad had worked a thankless job for all my life, the thanklessness of which he realized only when he left. For fifteen years he drove the head of Mensah Mines, ‘Boss’ Mensah, from his home in Trasacco Valley to his mine in Obuasi and back again. Boss adored my father – and who doesn’t adore a smiley man? a dimpled, deferential, diminutive man? – but more importantly trusted him. In all those years, no missing cash, no leaks of information, no convenient turns down darkened alleys lined by armed Liberians. Boss’s children Barbara (Babs) and Basil (Bossy Jr) call my father ‘Eja’ (father), having known him all their lives. Boss’s second wife still sends us music-playing Christmas cards with yellow packs of Berger Nut as if we’re kids, and starving.
Seven hours’ driving in a single day for fifteen years, the windows up, the A/C on, Boss chain-smoking in back, and still, when Boss’s smiley driver broke the news that he had lung cancer the only thing Boss had to say was, ‘Send your boy to me.’ My father smiled, and bowed, and coughed, and came back home elated that his good and kind employer would attend to my school fees. My mother ironed my only suit – the shirt of which now hangs here, dead – and told me to ‘speak proper’, although she knew she didn’t have to. For my thirteenth birthday my father gave a deeply touching gift to me: his most cherished possession, for which we are named, his Merriam-Webster dictionary. ‘Knowledge is power,’ he said to me, and kissed me on my forehead, perhaps the first time that my father ever kissed me, and the last. To indicate her knowledge of my consequent vocabulary, my mother tugged my tie-knot tight and winked. ‘My clever Web Star.’ She said my name the way I love, as if it were two separate names, as if I were a superhero, an attaché to Spider-Man. She also cooked her groundnut soup, which Babs and Bossy Jr loved and always asked my father for, although their cook could make it. My father’s nephew Kojo drives a taxi. When he came for me, my father made me sit in back, which Kojo understood.
We drove out to Trasacco Valley daydreaming of eating soup, then gazing at the houses with an equal aching appetite.
‘This one’s mine,’ said Kojo, slowing. He pointed to a pillared house.
‘Then you’ll be pleased to know that I have bought the house next door.’ We laughed. We rolled across a sleeping policeman. I steadied the pot of groundnut soup. I noticed that my hands were trembling, breathed, re-tightened my tie. When we reached the Mensahs’ massive palace we stopped and sat in silence, with the growling of the engine and our stomachs growing loud.
‘I will wait for you, Webster,’ Kojo said. His voice was soft and serious. I hadn’t imagined he’d leave me there, but nodded, and said, ‘Do.’
He didn’t wait long. Needless to say, my school fees weren’t on offer. Neither were my dad’s astounding medical expenses. ‘I’ve asked my sister to take you on,’ said Boss, lips glossed by orange oil. Though he’d told me to come at one o’clock, I’d found him eating lunch. ‘She has come to her senses, finally, and has left the heart of whiteness to get married to a proper man, a Ghanaian, friend from PreSec. So. We’ll see how it goes.’ He took a bite. ‘At least the bastard has some cash. That last one, the obroni, died a pauper. No excuse for it. Here I am a black man in a racist world and look at me.’ I looked at him. ‘While that one, born a white man, dies in debt.’ A bite. ‘I told my sister plainly. Look. Nice bastard. Wants to marry you. Say yes. Come home. Enough of all this mopey-dopey shit.’ A bite. ‘A woman of a certain age must be a bit strategic. With a daughter, too. A pretty girl.’ He drained his wine. ‘But stupid. You can guess who paid her school fees, eh?’ He pointed to his meaty chest. ‘For all those years. No longer. Now they’re on the bastard’s dime.’ He laughed. ‘The girl came, too. Same age as you.’ He wiped his mouth. ‘How old are you?’
‘I’m eighteen, sa.’
He looked at me as if I’d just walked in. ‘Why does Noor keep sending you those stupid bloody children’s cards?’
‘I couldn’t say, sa.’
‘How old is your sister?’
‘Bloody hell.’ Boss decried the flagrant waste of blinking singing Christmas cards, the trouble with a Muslim wife with no regard for money. Then he shared his thoughts about the helping out of household help, i.e. better not to get involved and set a bad example. Aid one, all ask. No end in sight. A hundred dying grandmas, beating husbands, pregnant mistresses. Of course I understood? I did. He rang a bell. He smiled at me. A kontomire leaf between his teeth. A houseboy came to fetch me. ‘Oh! I almost forgot to ask.’
I turned to him, prepared to field the question of my father’s health. ‘He’s brave,’ I breathed, a reverent murmur.
Boss didn’t hear. ‘Can you drive?’
I am the full-time driver here, and this is how we pay for it: my mother working round the clock, we children sending wages. I could have taken another job, a slightly more ennobled job, but nothing that would leave the time that this does for my studies. Driving means waiting and waiting means reading. The money is good and my colleagues are sweet. If I were caught peeping I’d lose my job driving. So I stood there and prayed, back to wall, please make sure she didn’t see me please make sure she didn’t see me in Jesus’s name I pray amen, then opened my eyes to the cook.
Bulu has been cooking here for seven years, an important fact, as Jean-Louis the junior cook arrived just after I did. I have no idea where Bulu comes from. Bulu is not a local name. But he looks to be ocean-fed, stocky and muscular: central casting Ga. Jean-Louis is younger, maybe twenty, tall, a Beninois. His shirts remain an undefeated white despite the heat. He also wears a jacket with his name in navy cursive that his last employers gave him when their Lagos gig was up. Jean-Louis insists that though these last employers were truly kind – a Norwegian with a childless wife and braying guilty conscience who, decrying the size of the servants’ quarters in relation to their mansion, had insisted that each servant have a bedroom in their house – the downside to their kindness was the constant chipper chit-chat. It wasn’t enough to feed them well. He had to know them well, too. Better a boss, says Jean-Louis, who couldn’t care less about your life than questions from a boss who couldn’t hope to understand it. When curious Jørg was recalled to Stavanger, he gave all his servants the option to come. Jean-Louis considered, but he doesn’t like the cold. A Beninois friend suggested he ‘Go west, young man!’ and so it is that Jean-Louis now sleeps on piles of latex foam, unquestioned.
Madam sought this second cook to make her meals less fatty; my employer likes his meat with lard and stew submerged in oil. Since moving back to Ghana, she has started drinking heavily and never walks for longer than it takes to reach the car. While my employer keeps himself in shape by riding at the Polo Club and getting up at dawn to golf and jogging through the neighbourhood, Madam seems to move as if through fog from house to garden to house with very little action taking place beyond these walls. I have mentioned how I feel about the consequential shape of things. But Madam is less grateful for the graciousness of God. She insisted on a second cook, a francophone and skinny cook, to make her figure less like an inverted question mark. Bulu takes offence at this, although he never says it; he has simply set his umbrage on our pile of folded clothes. He doesn’t speak to Jean-Louis, but took an instant shine to me, perhaps because I never draw attention to his thieving.
That first time, he strolled in with green-yellow pawpaws and tossed one to me where I lay on my foam. ‘We’re not meant to take any food from the house,’ I said. I pointed to the cardboard.
‘I took these from the tree,’ he said.
‘But isn’t that stealing?’
‘Stealing from what? The earth?’ Bulu laughed, slicing open his pawpaw. The juice dribbled down both his chins.
The second time, I’d driven him to grocery shop, our weekly task. I was reading Maths: the Basic Skills while Bulu did his shopping. Madam demands that Bulu shop, and only shop, at Bekaa-Mart, where expats spend my monthly pay on plastic bags of apples. Madam claims she can’t digest untreated local produce after decades out of Ghana; my employer isn’t sold. He points to the use of pesticides, the cost of goods at Bekaa-Mart, the fact that Boss’s wife and her two piggish brothers own it. But Madam is insistent. She wants Folgers coffee, Red Delicious, soya milk, spaghetti sauce, genetic engineering.
Bulu appeared with shopping bags. We loaded them into the boot of the car. He lumbered into the passenger seat. ‘Where to?’ I said. He pointed. Across the street from Bekaa-Mart a group of local women sell fresh produce out of makeshift stalls in the lot of the filling station. I frowned. ‘For what?’
‘Chalé. For vegetables.’
‘You’re meant to shop at Bekaa-Mart.’
‘It’s too expensive,’ Bulu said.
‘It’s not your money. It’s not your choice.’
‘Eh! Madam never notices. The stickman never notices. I have a list of things to buy. I buy what’s on the list. Job done.’ I glanced at Maths: the Basic Skills, now lying on the dashboard. ‘ What’s the difference?’ Bulu shrugged. ‘You understand?’ I understood. The difference between what he spent and what she thought he spent on groceries would be roughly thirty, forty Ghana cedis every week.
Now Bulu was standing there looking quite sweet with a frown of concern on his Buddha-fat face. ‘Why are you crying?’
‘I’m not,’ I objected, but found that I was when I swiped at my cheek. I dried off my face with my navy-blue shirtsleeve and hurried back out into nine o’clock sun. Her bathroom was empty, the window gone foggy. I went to go soap off the car.
Second, several weeks ago I dropped off my employer at the Oak Hotel on Spintex Road, on Sunday afternoon. I didn’t think too much of it. We’ve passed this place a thousand times while driving to and from the house in gated Airport Hills. It looks more like an office park or conference hall, this Oak Hotel, with tiny windows, perfect squares, a dull, generic lobby. My employer doesn’t go to church, though Madam does and had that day; I dropped her off at ten and would return for her at four. The daughter, Bianca, used to go when I first came but promptly stopped and now most often lounges at the beach with friends on Sundays. ‘Wait here, please,’ he said to me, got out, and strode across the lot, a rather dashing figure in his Zegna-replica suit.
My employer is a handsome man, in stellar form at fifty years; he wears his silver beard trimmed short, shoes pointy, collars starched. I would guess by the size of his five-bedroom house that he isn’t as rich as his brother-in-law, perhaps on account of his overstretched domestic empire (a classic problem). He runs a waste-recycling plant, the first of its kind in the country I’m told; was married two times when he lived in the States and left behind some children. On occasion he’ll raise his voice on his phone in the back of the car but it never lasts long, and ends with his chuckling, adjusting his cufflinks and cooing to me, ‘Please excuse that.’ A man of careful manners. Wears a mask, is what I’m getting at. But clement as employers go, no hauling over coals. He’s been in Accra now for seven years but still doesn’t know how to get around town, how to bob and weave through the narrowest streets of Osu or evade Spintex traffic. ‘Webster! You’re a wizard!’ he’ll say, as I bring him more swiftly to this or that meeting, or pick up a box from a jeweller to drop off for this or that East Legon housewife. But I suppose his years as a divorcee – which would seem to outnumber his years as a husband – have left him with habits that effort, affection and honest intention can’t break.
I think he cares for Madam, whom he met one night some years ago at Boss’s yearly Christmas bash before she lost her husband. I’ve heard him say on his mobile phone that Madam is the ‘best of both worlds’, a wife with Western etiquette and West African expectations. ‘A Ghanaian woman raised in Ghana wouldn’t speak French, for example,’ he said. ‘But these worldly women who don’t know Ghana just don’t work for me. You need a wife who can charm the guests and mind the staff, do you know what I mean?’? The person on the phone must have known what he meant. My employer chuckled. ‘Of course you do.’ These days I so rarely drive the two of them together that I barely hear them speaking Twi or English, much less French. But they must have had a good night once. The engagement ring could be a world, a sparkling globe of diamonds on a band of Mensah gold. There’s a photo on his key chain of the two of them in bathing suits at White Sands; he is holding her as one holds brides and babies. Her slender shins are dangling off his elbow, head of braids tossed back; his chest is taut with effort, to a flattering effect. Bianca sits behind them on a beach chair, either scowling at her mother’s handsome lover or else squinting at the sun.
A note here on Bianca.
Boss was wrong in both regards. Bia isn’t pretty. At least, she isn’t pretty to me. I know that here in Ghana we’re obsessed with skinny half-caste girls, ascribing as we do some magic power to their paleness – but I’m not that way inclined: as said, I take my berries plump and dark, and Bia looks to my eyes like a beggar from Mauritius. Monochromatic, with wispy legs, and wispy threads of squiggly hair, her magic-skin the colour beige of satin sheets and crème brûlée. Her eyes are pretty, I’ll give her that, the same as Madam’s, wide and sad, slow-blinking as a baby doll’s, two perfect Os of silence. The colour is different, light instead of Madam’s melt-and-pour dark brown, the glassy gold of tiger’s eye. The problem is the smile. When Bia smiles her pink gums show above her tiny pearls of teeth, which are half the size of normal teeth and still look cannibalistic – but the eyes don’t smile. The brows don’t move. The cheeks don’t lift. The jaw goes stiff. Only the lips move, parted and stretched, as if pulled by two strings to her ears. This is why I’d found her so unnerving when I first arrived and why I still can’t meet her eye when picking her from school.
‘My uncle says that you’re my age,’ she’d chirped the day I started work (that day I never went to sleep, still hopped up on caffeine). Bia goes to Lincoln School, where all the foreign students go, despite her plea to stay abroad for senior year of high school. My employer says that boarding schools in England and New England peddle hash, hegemony and homosexuality. Further, they cost a fortune. Madam imagines that ‘experiencing Ghana’ will encourage her ‘overly Americanized’ daughter to embrace her African identity. Further, it will make for a good college essay. Needless to say, I have yet to see anything particularly Ghanaian about Bia’s ‘experience’, which mostly involves swimming pools, blow-dryers, smartphones and chauffeured sport utility vehicles. Still, I suppose she was trying to be nice that day. She jumped in front, where Bulu sits, and smiled the small-toothed, flat-eyed smile. ‘Do you want to go grab some coffee?’
Not knowing how else to respond to this, I said, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ and started the car. I wanted to ask her to move to the back but lacked, perhaps, the courage.
‘You can call me Bia. Everyone does.’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ I said, hearing ‘can’, thinking choice.
‘Webster! Noooooo! Just Bia!’
‘Dude, I’m not like . . . them.’ She touched my hand. I shifted gears. Her four slender fingers fell, startled, away. She laughed a short and throaty laugh, and fiddled with her hair. ‘I don’t believe in all this twisted slave-becomes-king hierarchical shit.’ She flicked her abandoned fingers at me, as if I had conceived of said shit. ‘It’s a hold-over from colonization, Webster. That’s all it is. Repressed self-hate. They had to call their masters “sir’’ so now they make you call them sir. The British treated them like shit, so now they treat their staff like shit. My mom, whatever, it’s what she knows, but, dude, no. I’m not like that. My dad was American. I guess he still is. I mean, I guess you don’t lose your nationality when you die. Or maybe you do. That would make war a joke. But that’s my point, you know? I am a liberal! I am a pacifist! I went to school in Massachusetts! I don’t believe in war. Or sir. I’m normal. I’m like you!’ She laughed. I tried, but coughed instead. She was waiting for me to say something.
I said, ‘Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up: a servant who becomes king, a godless fool who gets plenty to eat, a contemptible woman who gets married, and a servant who displaces her mistress.’
Bia laughed her throaty laugh, a sound of light, bemused contempt. ‘Shit! Webster knows Shakespeare?’
‘Yes, Bia,’ I said. ‘But that was from the Bible.’ I pulled into the parking lot of Bekaa-Mart and stopped the car. I looked at her. She looked confused. ‘Shall I go buy the coffee?’
‘The –? Webster, noooooo,’ she cried again, then hugged, or somehow tried to hug me. With our seat belts on, the best she could do was a cheek pressed against my right shoulder. ‘It’s, like, a thing you say, “get coffee”.’ She lifted her cheek. ‘Is there Starbucks in Ghana?’ I drove her to Deli France Cafe in Airport Residential. ‘You have to come inside,’ she said. I went inside. She ordered in French. The Lebanese man who took her money looked at me in judgement. We sat at the counter with our double espressos. ‘I know how you feel,’ she said. I swallowed. I don’t drink coffee. My heart was racing. I wanted to leave. I nodded. She smiled. ‘About your father. My uncle told me. My dad and I weren’t super close. He left us, like, ten years ago, but still, it sucks, you know? You know how he met my mother? At Harvard. He’s Jewish, so his mother freaked. They had to run away together. How romantic, right? Then I was born and things were cool except for he’s an alky so my mom has to ask Uncle Boss to pay, like, mortgage and tuition. Then my dad decides to leave her for this Tex-Mex yoga artist chick he met in fucking rehab. Like, cliché much? No, I know. I used to go and stay with them in Santa Fe for Hanukkah, and things were cool except for she’s a bat-shit fucking hippie. The man gets liver cancer but is all “no pharmaceuticals”, so then of course he wastes away and – God, I don’t stop talking, right?’ She continued talking. ‘It’s just, the chicks at school are lame, like nice, but fucking sheltered, and my mom – well, shit. You see her. DNR-depressed. Like, dude. You chose this guy, not me.’ Her mobile rang. ‘Shit, this is her.’ She answered. ‘I’m at coffee, Mom.’ The smile. ‘A friend.’ She winked at me. ‘He’s no one. You don’t know him.’ She smiled again and touched my hand. Again, I pulled my hand away. But I thought to myself, and still think now, that Bia isn’t stupid.
On the Sunday in question, some weeks ago, while Madam sang and fanned herself and emptied her purse in support of her prayers for lost souls and lost kilos, my employer entered the Oak Hotel. The sliding doors slid smoothly shut. I found a spot with decent shade and opened Open City. I didn’t even notice when my cousin parked beside me in his newly tricked-out taxi; Kojo had to honk three times. His car was now a neon green, with Rasta-themed interior decoration, seat covers of wooden beads, JAH RASTAFARI decal. ‘Webster!’ he mouthed. We rolled down our windows. The cold air from mine kissed the warm air from his. ‘No Woman No Cry’ drowned the sound of his question. He turned down the music. ‘You like it?’ he called.
‘Too much! But how?’
‘Jah bless me good!’ He held up a small battered baggie of weed. ‘Webster, we’ll eat like kings one day!’
‘The food in prison, you grinning fool. Put that away!’
‘Who’s grinning? Me? You driving Mister Daisy!’
‘I missed you, oh! Too long, chalé.’
‘Too long, indeed, mein cousin.’
He laughed his bright, infectious laugh, as if I’d told a funny joke, and I laughed even harder, making Kojo laugh the more. It seemed years since I had seen him, since I’d sat in back pretending that my cousin was my driver and my father would recover. I’d heard from my mom (who had heard from his dad) that Kojo had found a second job: selling drugs to white tourists at Labadi Beach, on Wednesdays at Kokrobite. I hadn’t believed it. His taxi confirmed it. On the clock, both, we did not leave our cars. We leaned towards each other through our windows, as through cages, and we laughed until our jawbones hurt then sat there, smiling, hurting.
‘How is Uncle?’ Kojo asked.
‘Alive, thanks be to God. In pain.’
‘Chalé, why? You should have called your cousin Doctor Kojo! My boy there at Labadi, Yaw, his auntie, too, was suffering. Bad. He gave her ganja. Poof! No pain. I have some for Uncle. Free gift. Respeck.’
I thanked him. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘You sleep? Bianca dropped just now. Aren’t you here to pick her? Eh! Fine girl, oh. Sweet, sweet, sweet. I brought her from Labadi Beach. I don’t think she knew that I knew who she was. Girls, they love my taxi, oh!’
I forced a smile. ‘I sleep for true.’
‘You working hard. Bless up! Mi ko.’ He started his taxi.
‘Ye beshia bio.’
With three cheerful honks, he reversed and drove off, ‘No Woman, No Cry’ blasting, crackly.
In the hour that followed I stared at the faded blue-greys of the Oak Hotel lobby. In retrospect, I see that this was not a part of their plan. Typically, my employer will ring on the mobile he gave me whenever he’s ready. I’ll drive to the door of wherever he is, to minimize his time in the heat. I never sit and watch for him. I read until the mobile rings. It was purely by chance, as I stared through the glass, that I saw them appear in the lobby. Peculiarly, the first thing I felt was faint pride that he knew – that they both knew – my habits. They’d been watching me, passively, as I had watched them, without attention, observing my patterns. They took it for granted that I would be reading. They didn’t glance out at the lot just to check. They walked into view just as calm as could be, my employer a half-step behind her. She was doing the thing that she does with her hair, pulling it all to one side, twisting it up, letting go. This time, however, she stopped with the twist. My employer kissed Bia on the back of the neck. She smiled that strange smile then she let her hair go. She stepped to one side, out of sight.
My employer found his mobile in a pocket and dialled. The sound of the ring in my lap made me start. The clamshell dropped to the floor by my feet. I fumbled to find it. ‘I’m here, sa,’ I said.
‘When I call please answer on the first ring, Webster.’
‘Yes, sa. I’m sor–’ But he’d already hung up.
My heartbeat was a talking drum. I started the car. I pulled to the front. I glanced at the lobby as I held his door open, but didn’t see Bia, and got in the car. I turned on the radio, to BBC World, which he usually likes, but he said, ‘Turn that off. I can’t hear my thoughts.’ I turned off the radio. ‘What are you waiting for?’
A third and final observation re: what happened here this morning. I do not mean to say that I did the right thing. But every now and then I’ll think of Boss there at his table and his ‘woman of a certain age’ and then of my dad, and the way he still smiles when he first sees my mom in the morning and laughs (though it hurts) at her jokes, and the way she will kiss him, asleep, breathing laboured, a ghost of a man with the weight he has lost, before kneeling to pray for him, clutching her cross through her dress, and I’ll think that we’re lucky. Though the roof in our house has a hole, the couch too, though our toilet is a glorified latrine out of doors, though with all of us working we still come up short, I will think that we’re loved, that we’re lucky. I was thinking of love when I woke up this morning. I dressed and was going to go soap off the car when again, as had happened, I passed Madam’s window and found her just stepping, pure light, from
A note here on the matter of what happened to the driver who was working here before me, i.e. when Madam moved in. I once found his groundnuts while cleaning the Rover, which only my employer and the driver may use. These are the groundnuts you get wrapped in plastic with grilled sweet plantain on the side of the road. It is an exquisite combination, the sweet-soft plantain and the groundnuts with skins on, so salty and dry. As my employer is allergic to nuts, I grew curious: who had been driving when Madam arrived? Boss had referred me a month or so after. I enquired with Bulu, who snorted and laughed. ‘Poor fellow,’ he said. ‘Had a weakness for women.’ I didn’t see how my employer could judge him for that. ‘Read that your Bible, eh? Thou shall not covet.’ Jean-Louis entered and Bulu stopped laughing.
It was only today that I thought of Poor Fellow, the skins of his groundnuts there under the brakes. I passed by the window and looked up and saw her, but this time she saw me and looked at me, too. Our gazes, like magnets, got stuck to each other; we stared through the glass and we didn’t look down. Her eyes, wide and sad, seemed to ask me a question. My eyes, wide and sad, gave an answer. She smiled. She turned from the window, her bottom uncovered, and entered the bedroom and kicked shut the door.
Fifteen minutes later she came floating through the garden with her fingers trailing, lazy, through her flowers’ bowing heads. The massive green buba swished-swayed all around her. I froze in a crouch by the Rover’s back tyres. My hands were still wet when she drifted towards me. I stood up to greet her but couldn’t quite speak. I stood with the suds dripping down to the concrete. She walked through the puddle and stopped, at my face. ‘I know what you saw there,’ she whispered, not angry. I nodded, not breathing. She held both my cheeks. ‘You’re good at keeping secrets. I know that.’ I nodded. ‘You think I am beautiful. I know that, as well.’ There were tears in her eyes, little fragments of diamond. Her skin smelled like lotion and soap and reprieve. ‘Will you keep it a secret? If I help with your father?’ There were tears in my eyes as her hands took my waist. Bianca was starting her school day at Lincoln. Bulu was scowling at Jean-Louis, mute. Mamadou was sleeping. My employer was teeing. My God would have held her back, too.
Photograph © Nadav Kander