conversations with mary


Mary appears to look like nothing more than five feet tall. The muscles on her arms and thighs form little gallops on her petite frame. Mary reminds me a bit of the Barka pygmies I have seen on television.  Her face appears a little old. Like a person whose life has been dotted by hardship. It’s hard to tell if she is a girl or a woman or perhaps in-between. Mary hasn’t spoken very much since she arrived. She does as she is told and she hasn’t shown any signs of having an attitude like the other Mary. My mother hasn’t complained yet and wants to enroll Mary in a hairdressing apprenticeship. My mother says she can read and write and it would be a terrible waste if she doesn’t get some kind of an education. My mother asked me if I will pay for Mary’s training. The question of payment is rather rhetorical so I know better than to say anything at all.

Mary came over to help me clean my apartment today. She held the broom in a firm grip and with interesting precision, her veins popped and her fore arm bulged even more. The sticks didn’t scatter as she swept the carpet of my living room because the broom resembled a thick brush.

She swooshed in rapid strokes.  It was as though she had a certain logic and methodology to the sweeping. Mary was rather quick and didn’t need much instructing or supervising.

When she started cleaning the cooker, I asked her how old she was and if she attended secondary school and she tells me she is nineteen she did go to school. I asked if she wrote the final school certification exams and I  about her results. ‘I got five credits with Maths and English’

I further my inquisition by asking what she would have wanted to be if she got a chance to go to university.

It is the first time she cracked a smile. In fact she giggled and it made me giggle too.

Mary said she wanted to be an actress. I probe deeper and enquire about her favourite star on the screen. She takes time to think it through and her eyes are lit as she says ‘ Mercy Johnson’. In her Ibibio pronunciation, the J in Johnson is substituted for a Y. Mary likes Mercy because of her feisty performances. She says ‘She has plenty action’

Mary didn’t arrive at my mother’s house alone. I didn’t know the other girls name because she only stayed at my mother’s for a few days. She was diagnosed with HIV when she went to hospital and my mother told her older sister in the village over the phone. Her sister asked that she be returned. My mother says they seem in denial. We hope she starts getting some treatment though.

It’s often interesting how you forget that people have dreams. They fantasize about things and there is a yearning to do something other that what has become their everyday reality.

Since that conversation, I wondered if Mary day dreamed of her self in costumes and characters to the monotonous whistle of a boiling kettle or choreographed dance routines to the patterns of dusting tables.

I remember day dreaming to the constant beep of the cash till and the symphony that occurred from the revolving conveyor belt during my few years as a supermarket checkout girl. I created fictional lives for each customer based on their grocery purchase. But I was lucky; I was a university student and needed the job for tuition, rent and upkeep. I wonder if Mary has any such luck. I wonder about the other girl too.


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