Unknowingly, a fresh management trainee helps a poor family in rural Africa.
The bananas on my breakfast table didn't strike me as unusual. Not one of my favorite fruits, it didn't occur to me that my caretaker Rosa wouldn't have bought them. She knew my tastes well. Ignoring the slight transgression, I peeled one and took a bite. Surprisingly, it tasted good.
"Good decision, Rosa. These are good," I praised, reaching out for a second one.
She beamed with pride. "Ghana bananas are famous, but I didn't buy them. They are a gift from Abena. She said you would like them."
I gave her a puzzled look. "Abena?"
"You don't know her?" she questioned with bewilderment.
I shook my head. The honking of the car prevented any further conversation on the topic.
"Good morning, Joseph," I greeted my driver, sliding into the seat next to him. As he inched past the main gate, I noticed a striking woman standing outside my house, a basket of bananas on her head. Though intrigued, I quickly forgot her and the bananas at breakfast when I saw the mountain of paperwork on my office table. A fresh management graduate, I was a new recruit for my company trading in agricultural commodities. As a part of the induction, I was responsible for primary cocoa procurement in the village of Kwakokrum in Ghana’s Asante region.
Next day, Rosa placed a jar of honey before me during breakfast. "Abena left this for you. She said you would enjoy it with your toast."
"It's from the forest," she encouraged when I gave her a quizzical stare. The honey tasted divine on the lightly toasted bread.
"Rosa, did you ask how she knows me?"
"She says you helped her family."
"Next time, ask her to meet me. Otherwise, don't accept any more gifts," I said indignantly.
"She is waiting outside the gate to meet you."
"Please fetch her," I said, curious to meet my benefactor.
"There is something I should tell you," Rosa said softly.
I raised my eyebrows.
"Please do not refuse the gifts, and do not offer money. We, villagers consider that an insult."
If she hadn't cautioned me, I would have done exactly that.
"Ok, I won't. Now call her."
Rosa went out and returned with a statuesque African woman in tow, wearing a colorful, full-length dress and a scarf on her head, a child fastened to her back. Her face appeared familiar. I recollected seeing her everyday, selling fish, fruits and vegetables outside my house and office.
"This is Abena," said Rosa.
"Hello, Abena," I said.
She bowed in response.
"Thank you for the bananas and the honey. Rosa tells me that I helped your family. I don't understand."
"You gave my husband an advance for his cocoa crop. Our baby was ill. We could treat him only because of your money. He would have died," she said softly, putting a hand behind on the child's head.
I remembered her husband now. Moved by his earnest pleas, I had extended him an advance in a flagrant violation of company policy. I had barely wriggled out of the situation with a severe warning and vowed to never listen to my heart again. However, Abena's story turned all commercial logic on its head. I turned my face away not sure what the women would think about my wet eyes.
Abena's gifts became a regular feature. She brought pineapples, milk from her cows, flowers collected from the forest, meat of wild fowls, eggs. I really wanted her to stop, but Rosa's warning held me back. After the chastising I had received over the advance, I was wary of getting into any further trouble.
Once, when Rosa fell ill, Abena stood in for her, doing an excellent job. I met her other three children, fell in love with her cooking and grew fond of her company. Though not educated, her inherent common sense and natural intelligence became a great source of information about local people and customs. I marveled her multiple-tasking. She did all the chores in her own house, took care of her family, supported her husband's farming and also worked for me. Not once did she grumble nor did she ever give me any cause for complain. Being naive and inexperienced in worldly matters, I didn't read much into her affections nor did I find it strange that she seemed to be around me most of the time.
Toward the end of my training, Abena abruptly stopped visiting. Caught up in closing the season, I also didn't give it much thought. She came to see me on my last evening in her village. Her swollen face and red eyes shocked me.
"What happened, Abena?" I inquired.
She kept looking at the floor.
"Is everything okay?" I insisted, going near to her. She raised her face, and to my utter amazement, I saw tears cascading down her face.
"You are leaving," she said between her sobs.
Suddenly, the truth hit me. Her gifts, her care, her affections and her presence wherever I was became clear. She loved me, passionately. I framed her face in my hands, our first physical contact. My heart raced feeling her warm skin and pounded noticing her physical beauty for the first time. With her braided hair and ebony complexion, she was the quintessential Black Goddess.
She was older than I was, married and with children. We were separated by race, nationality, religion, culture, education and status. Alas, the human heart has scant respect for such differences. Overwhelmed by sweet emotions, I kissed her deeply, feeling my physical hunger for her. I knew she would have easily yielded, but I tore myself from her using all my will power. Before parting, I unclasped her shell necklace.
I never met Abena again. I had nothing to offer her. I had already caused enough upheaval in her life and wished to give her no further pain. I only hope she knows that her love and the shell necklace would, forever, be my most cherished possessions.
Word Count: 1000