Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Monday, 7 May 2012

Amazing Grace

I am not anxious to write about Grace, because it is a sorry tale. She was my maid in Kampala in the years '88 - '94. When I left she interviewed the people who wanted to employ her, such was the demand to win Grace. Diplomats, aid-workers and many others queued up and I didn't have the heart to tell them that what she was with me might not be quite what she was with anyone else. We had a special kinship, myself, Grace and my daughter.

   She didn't know a word of English when she came to me within a week of my moving into my new home on the Kyambogo campus. So we communicated by sign language and a few Luganda phrases I painstakingly learnt. When the bed had to be made, I took one end and she the other. Soon she managed to get the duvet cover the right way in, though she disappeared inside it sometimes.

   I carry a mental picture of that first day: A small person in a deep pink skirt and a green blouse, which I soon found were the only clothes she had besides her work clothes. But she had style. The scarf wound round  her head on days when she had not plaited it had a certain Je ne c'est quoi about it. I gave her a few oddments from the wardrobe my daughter had left behind on one of her visits. She blossomed. Soon the neighbourhood got envious.  Quite something, isn't she? they murmured. 'You spoil her.'

   Within six months she had learned to make samosas, dosha, sambar and chutney. She watched me and got the hang of arranging flowers in the vases. Like me she loved the garden, so when I went into my lawn she'd follow with hints and comments.

   Sometimes, after a long Sunday at tennis I would invite the whole crowd to dinner at my place and I would phone Grace with the menu. The men would get restive when they saw me hanging about at the club, not rushing home to cook their dinner. 'All in hand,' I'd say and it was so. When the procession of cars arrived home the food would be ready, table laid, fresh flowers in the vases and towels in the bathroom changed. What a girl!

   Seemed a pity such a clever minx was illiterate, so I sent her off to read and write. The day she signed her name and wrote her first few words, we thought there was nothing she couldn't do.

   One day she brought me a red begonia in flower. It was beautiful. 'Where did you get that?' I asked. She tossed her head in the direction of my neighbour.
   'They come to us - they take all our plants and you give them everything. He don't give us something. So I take it.'
   'That's stealing, Grace,' I said weakly. Indeed she had trouble with the whole idea of ownership and theft.

   In the first few months she stole my sugar and my cooking oil. When I found out I gave her some more sugar and a jar of oil. 'You can ask me if you need more,' I said not looking at her.

   A few plastic containers disappeared from my house.  ' Look for the boxes, Grace,' I said. 'I'll need them when I get back from College.' They reappeared.

   After a few months she got the idea. She stopped taking anything of mine. Or so I thought. I could leave money on the surfaces and she wouldn't touch it. But my daughter's pinafore went missing.

   I was under the impression that we were a team; I sat down and cried. The driver, John, came upon me crying and gave her a thorough scolding. 'The woman treat you well. Is wrong you take things from her. You ask and she give you.'

    After that Grace never took anything from me.

   One day I noticed she was getting fat round the middle. 'What are you eating?' I asked. You are getting big.'
   'No Madam. I pregnant,' she answered beaming. It turned out the father was a married wood work lecturer on the campus.
   He made her a bed; what could be more appropriate! But his wife went into her home and burnt it down. 'So he make another one,' she said, unfazed.
   One day I found her half way up the chain link fence at the back of my house. She was then nine months gone. 'Grace, your stomach.' I called out. She ignored me and jumped over. She had some scores to settle with the next door maid, who'd called her names.

   Grace was on maternity leave when I sprained my ankle. How did she come to know about it? She turned up to do the housework and stayed till I was better. When she left to resume her leave, I called out my thanks. 'For nothing,' she said.

   Recently I met up with some friends from Uganda.
   'She's dying,' they said. 'The usual disease.' They avoided mentioning the name of that scourge. One of the many women who die in Uganda because the men cannot keep it in their trousers.