You´re reading the fourth episode of “About A Little Black Country Girl”, a minisseries in five acts
It could be worse – So that it does not seem that my family or Cielza´s family are horrible monsters, I would like to emphasise that these people live relatively well (relative to the other peasant folks in this area). They are all honest, hard-working people, who participate in the community, and unlike the others who take their children from school to work, they see to it that their kids go to school and do well. Cielza is only working now because she is on vacation.
Cielza´s family prays together every night. Mine too. When we’re there, we’re two families praying together every night, and all of us, adults and children, take turns leading the prayer.
Drama – Still, she was the one doing the dishes, while I was reading. She was working and I was working, only I’m paid for what I do, and she is only 13. I couldn’t stop thinking that my studying was possible because of the 13-year-old doing the dishes for me. I beheld that privilege with terror, with trembling, feeling the full weight of the injustice, of my powerlessness to even refuse a privilege that was bestowed on me that I did not desire or deserve. All this anguish, when I don’t even mind doing dishes.
One hand washes the other – I looked at the black girl in the eye and wanted to take the dishes from her hand. I wanted to tell her, invite her, command her, to go play. I couldn’t. All I could do was look at her with profound gratitude and reverence for the work of her poor black girlish hands. And smile. It was her work that allowed mine to advance, my learning to take place, my life to improve, doors to be open to me.
I couldn’t do the dishes for her, and even if I could, it wouldn´t really make a difference in her life. But I could use the work of my hands to serve her, as hers served me: to improve her life, to open doors to her, to advance her learning.
Hiding – I was there for a week, and on the first day I hid inside, ashamed lest they should see that I did nothing but study all day, while they worked.
But hiding inside was excluding myself from the situation, the old trick of running away from the forest so that the falling trees would be silent. So in the afternoon I picked up my books and my courage and went to our big veranda.
The Stranger – At first they just stared at me, this stranger that comes every year or so, talks funny, does even funnier things. Then they remembered that they too had books and things to write. So they brought their homework, and sat on the ground, with their books on their laps, shyly refusing all my invitations to come to the table.
The Fox – It was like the Little Prince and the wild fox: every day we got closer, and closer. The next day, they moved to the ping-pong table, while I worked on the dining table. I moved to the ping-pong table too, which was very large, so that we could all spread our things sitting at different corners without feeling threatened. The next day they actually joined me at the small table when invited them. And for the rest of my stay, they would come and sit beside me with no invitation. After all, it was their home too.
Exchange – Worth pointing out that all this time these three children were on vacation from school. That is, they had no assignment for those days.
They were just doing what they saw me doing. And they smiled, and read their stories aloud with relish, without my even asking.
But if I had preached to them on the importance of studying, insisted that they do their homework so that they could do well in life, then hid inside the house so I could focus on my own studying, they would never have sat down and done their lessons so easily, let alone so cheerfully. Nor would I.
But now they were my study, and I was theirs. And I find it hard to determine who learned more from whom.
Come back tomorrow for the final chapter of this true story!