Last Sunday, the third annual ‘Dis Poem Word Festival’ was staged in Hope Bay, Portland. It was a beautiful setting by the sea. Conceived by Ras Takura, an enterprising poet, the festival was held in honour of the ‘Iancient’, Mutabaruku – poet, political philosopher and talk-show host on both radio and television. In the mystic ‘I and I’ language of Rastafari, ‘Iancient’ means ‘elder’.
Now Muta is two years younger than me. I don’t know about him, but I am certainly not ancient. Although I have to admit that I was once asked by a very imperceptive woman if Muta was my son. She clearly needed glasses. It sweet Muta when mi tell im. Im laugh so till! An im seh im know it must burn mi. All mi could do was laugh.
Anyhow, I was quite happy to accept Ras Takura’s invitation to read at the festival in honour of the ancient. I’m not a poet. But since it was a ‘word’ festival, I figured I was free to interpret ‘poem’ rather loosely. I decided to tell a story I’d written two decades ago, which I’d dusted off for the ‘Kingston Pon Di River’ festival last year. Incidentally, the river winds its way to Hope Gardens on June 30.
Muta likes to throw words at brand-name poets who keep performing the same works over and over. I figured I could get away with it as an amateur. In any case, this was a new audience. My story, “Live-een Helper”, is told from the point of view of both the helper and her employer. It raises the twin problem of theft and trust. It’s a big chance of trust you take bringing strangers into your home, even when they come with superlative recommendations. These are often quite fictitious.
I once had a helper, Gloria, who helped herself to a US$100 bill and replaced it with a one-dollar bill which looked like it had suffered a very long minibus ride through Kingston at rush hour. It was all crushed up, bearing no resemblance to the rest of the notes in the envelope. When I confronted Gloria, she insisted that she had not made the switch.
She then asked me, “How much money yu did have?” Now this question is a classic piece of jinnalship designed to shift attention from the real matter at hand and to create doubt in the mind of the victim. Pure strategy! If you’re not sure how much money you had, how could you be so sure you’d been robbed? Fortunately for me, I had my bank receipt, which I promptly flourished. Gloria was not impressed. She insisted on her innocence.
But nobody else had come in the house since I’d brought the money home the day before. I decided to call Gloria’s bluff. I called the police. In a most amusing turn of events, one of the officers who interviewed her offered to give me a US$100 bill that he just happened to have on him if I would agree not to press charges. He must have thought I was born yesterday! But I really couldn’t let them arrest Gloria for a hundred US dollars even though 20 years ago that was a fair bit of money.
I commended the officer on his generosity, telling him I hadn’t realised there were men of such compassion in the force who would sacrifice their own money to help out a poor young woman who found herself in a difficult situation. All he was asking in return was that Gloria come to the station for counselling. Miss Gloria had a very ‘healthy’ body, even though her fingers were rather light. I had no idea how the counselling would go, but it was none of my business. I had got back my money.
A RATHER DISTURBING STORY
When one of my friends heard my story, she asked me how come I don’t know that all helpers steal, no matter how well you treat them. I protested. I may be naïve, but I refuse to believe that there are no honest helpers left in Jamaica. To prove her point, my cynical friend told me a rather disturbing story. She knew of a helper who had been working for two days a week at the handsome rate of $4,000 a day.
Things were going along quite well until her employer started to get the uneasy feeling that money was disappearing from her purse. But she really couldn’t believe that the helper was stealing from her. She figured she must be just forgetting exactly how much money she had. One morning, she decided to count the money in her purse, which she then placed in her handbag. Sure enough, at the end of the day, a thousand-dollar bill was missing.
Her helper vigorously denied that she had stolen the money. The brazen question she asked in her defence was, “Why I would take only $1,000?” Pretending not to understand either multiplication or addition, not to mention subtraction, the helper seemed to claiming that such a small sum was beneath her dignity. If she was going to steal, she would steal big. But if, over the course of a year, she stole only $1,000 each time she came to work, that would amount to more than $100,000! One-one coco full basket; one-one thousand dollar empty purse.
And, I suppose, the helper’s justification of her systematic stealing would probably be that if her employer didn’t miss the money, she really didn’t need it. It could be put to much better use. My friend told me that when the helper realised she was going to be fired, she had the nerve to announce that she needed the job. But, of course! If you are well paid and can also get away with theft, you have a very good job indeed! Sounds a lot like politics.