by Rod Smith

Until I was about seven and became too large for her to carry, I would ride tied with a blanket on our maid’s back. The movement, her melodies, and the safety of her broad back rocked me to sleep.

Pauline protected me. She was my mountain. She was “the girl”.

The little Zulu I know I learned from her and we’d bellow with laughter when I mastered a difficult word. She taught me her songs and our singing would end with her shrieks as she danced and clapped her hands and circled me with her joy.

Every afternoon Pauline shelled peas or peeled potatoes, preparing our family dinner, and enjoyed loud conversation with other maids gathered from nearby homes. Sewing, knitting, cleaning silver, and tending white babies, the community of women rocked their bodies in loud agreement.

In the middle of one night Pauline had to leave.

I remember the police vans and the men in blue uniforms and her things strewn out on the lawn for everyone to see.

“She has to go,” Mother said, “I cannot have a thief living on my property.”

Among the items on the grass Mother had identified a blanket, a cup, and a handful of beads.

“Yes, we cannot have a thief living on our property,” I agreed.

And because my parents decided to bring no official charge against her she left walking off into the night carrying her things.

We never looked at each other.

Then again, you cannot have a thief living on your property.

2 Comments to “Thief”

  1. My Mom also had this anxiety about checking the cupboard and making sure not a drop of oil or grain of sugar disappeared. I don’t have abundance, but I have a lot more than the lady working for us. I came in the habit of giving all my old mobile phones, clothes, shoes to her and the garden boy. The sooner you give an old mobile phone away the more useful it will be to them. Maybe they still take stuff from me, but I don’t have time to check and if I don’t notice it, it probably does not matter. She has asked me for stuff which she noticed I don’t use, and I have given it to her on many occasions. I don’t think most middle class or rich families really understand the poverty that their maid lives with. They support many other jobless family members and they have no financial savvy.

  2. PS maybe a good baby sitter is worth more than a blanket, a cup, and a handful of beads. She did not steal jewelry. It sound more like a few useless items which she felt your mom did not even use.

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