Two Sisters (1)
Life is not much fun if you work as a typist in an office, and you earn so little that you can't even buy yourself a nice pair of shoes. A girl needs shoes. A girl needs a boyfriend with a nice fast car, and a nice fat wallet.
So Mercy finds a boyfriend who suits her needs. The trouble is, her big sister - sensible, married Connie - won't like it at all...
As Mercy puts the cover on her typewriter, the thought of the bus ride home goes through her like a pain. It is her luck, she thinks. Everything is just her luck. If she had one of those university boys for a boyfriend, wouldn't he come and take her home every evening? Certainly, Joe would love to do exactly that - with his taxi. And he is as handsome as anything, and a good man, but you know... A taxi is a taxi. The possibility of the other man actually coming to fetch her - oh well. She knows it will take some time before she'll be brave enough to ask for things like that from him. But it's hard not to think about it. Would it really be so dangerous? Doesn't one government car look like another - the hugeness of it, the dark glass, the driver in uniform? She can already see herself stepping out of the car to greet the other girls, who look at her with eyes like knives. To begin with, she will be a little more careful. The driver can drop her under the neem trees in the morning and pick her up from there in the evening... anyway, she will have to wait a little while for that and it is just her bad luck.
So for the meantime it is going to be the local bus with its dirty seats, unpleasant passengers, and rude conductors... Jesus! She doesn't wish herself dead or anything as stupidly final as that. Oh no. She just wishes she could sleep deep and only wake up on the day of her first car ride to work.
The new pair of black shoes are more sensible than their owner, though. As she walks out of the office, they sing: Count, count, count your blessings.
Count, Mercy, count your blessings Count, Mercy, count your blessings Count, count, count your blessings.
They sing out of the office, along the road, and into the bus. And they start singing again along the path as she opens the front gate and walks to the door.
'Sissie!' Mercy called.
'Hei Mercy.' And the door opened to show the face of Connie, her big sister, six years older, and now heavy with her second child. Mercy dropped into the nearest chair. 'Welcome home. How was the office today?'
'Sister, don't ask. Look at my hands. My fingers are dead with typing. Oh God, I don't know what to do.'
'Why, what is wrong?' asked Connie.
'You tell me what is right. Why should I be a typist?' 'What else would you be?'
'What a strange question. Is typing the only job there is in this world? You are a teacher, are you not?' said Mercy.
'But what? It's my fault - is that what you're saying? I didn't do well enough in the exams, so I can't be a teacher. Or even a secretary.'
'Mercy, what is the matter?' said Connie. 'What have I done? Why have you come home so angry?'
Mercy broke into tears.
'Oh, I'm sorry, Sissie. It's just that I am sick of everything. The office, living with you and your husband. I want a husband of my own, children. I want... I want...'
'But you are young and beautiful. And marriage - well, it's you who are delaying it. Look at all these people who are running after you,' said Connie.
'Sissie, I don't like what you are doing. So stop it.'
'Okay, okay, okay.'
And there was a silence.
'Which of them could I marry?' said Mercy. 'Joe is - mm, fine - but, but I just don't like him.'
'Little sister, you and I can be truthful with one another. I am not that old or wise, but I can advise you a little. Joe drives someone else's car now. Well, you never know. Lots of taxi drivers own their taxis in the end, sometimes more than one.'
'Of course. But what a pity that you are married already. Or I could make a date for you - with Joe!'
And they both burst out laughing. It was when Mercy got up to go to the bedroom that Connie noticed the new shoes.
'Ei, those are beautiful shoes. Are they new?'
From the other room, Mercy's voice came and went as she undressed and then dressed again. But that was not the reason for the uncertainty in her voice.
'Oh, I forgot to tell you about them. In fact, I was going to show them to you. I think it was on Tuesday I bought them. Or was it Wednesday? When I came home from the office, you and James had taken Akosua out. And later I forgot all about them.'
'I see. But they are very pretty. Were they expensive?'
'No, not really.' Mercy's answer came too quickly.
And she said only last week that she didn't have a penny on her, thought Connie. And I believed her because I know what they pay her is just not enough to live on. I've been thinking she manages very well. But these shoes... And she is not the type who would borrow money just to buy a pair of shoes; she would just wear her old pairs till things got better. Oh, I wish I knew what to do. I mean, I'm not her mother. And I wonder how James will see these problems.
'Sissie, you look worried,' said Mercy.
'Hmm, when don't I? With the baby coming in a couple of months and the government's new controls on pay. On top of everything, I have dependable information that James is running after a new girl.'
Mercy laughed. 'Oh, Sissie. You always get dependable information on these things. But men are like that.'
'They are selfish.'
'No, it's just that women allow them to behave the way they do instead of taking some freedom themselves.'
'Well, if I had the chance to behave the same way,' said Connie, 'I wouldn't make use of it.'
'But why not?'
'Because I love James. I love James and I am not interested in any other man.' Her voice was full of tears.
But Mercy was amused. 'Oh God. Now listen to that. It's women like you who keep all of us down.'
'Well, I'm sorry but it's how the good God made me.' 'Mm. I'm sure I can love several men at the same time.' 'Mercy!'
They burst out laughing again. And yet they are sad. But laughter is always best.
Mercy complained that she was hungry and so they went to the kitchen to heat up some food and eat. The two sisters alone. It is no use waiting for James.
'Sissie, I am going to see a film.' This from Mercy. 'Where?'
'Are you going with Joe?'
'Are you going alone?'
'Who are you going with?'
Careful, Connie, please. Your little sister's eyes are looking angry. Look at the sudden lines around her mouth. Connie, a sister is a good thing. Even a younger sister. Particularly when you have no mother or father.
'Mercy, who are you going out with?'
'Well, I had food in my mouth. And I had to finish it before I could answer you, no?'
'I am sorry.' Connie's voice is soft.
'And anyway, do I have to tell you everything?'
'Oh no. It's just that I didn't think it was a question I was not allowed to ask.'
There was more silence. Connie cleared her throat and waited, afraid.
'I am going out with Mensar-Arthur,' Mercy said.
As Connie asked the next question, she wondered if the words were leaving her lips. 'Mensar-Arthur?'
'How many do you know?'
Something jumped in Connie's chest and she wondered what it was. Perhaps it was the baby.
'Do you mean that politician?' she said.
Little sister only sits and chews her food.
Chew, chew, chew.
'What?' said Mercy.
'He is so old.'
Chew, chew, chew.
'Perhaps, I mean, perhaps that really doesn't matter, does it? But they say he has so many wives and girlfriends.'
Please, little sister. Your private life is not my business, but you just said yourself that you wanted a man of your own. That man belongs to so many women already...
That silence again. Then there was only Mercy's footsteps as she went to wash her plate, and then left the kitchen. Tears ran down Connie's face. She heard Mercy having a bath, then getting ready to leave the house. The shoes. Then she was gone. Connie hadn't meant to start an argument. What use is a sister, if you can't have a talk with her? And what would their parents say if they were alive? They were good church-goers. They feared God. Running around with an old and evil politician would horrify them.
A big car arrived outside the house, a huge machine from the white man's land. The sound of its super-smooth engine was soft and gentle, unlike the hard banging of the girl's high-heeled shoes. When Mensar-Arthur saw Mercy, he reached across and opened the door to the passenger seat. She sat down and the door closed with a smooth little sound as the car slid away.
After they had gone a mile or so from the house, the man started a conversation.
'And how is my darling today?'
'I am well.' But everything about her said bad news.
'You look serious today, why?'
She remained silent and still.
'My dear, what is the matter?'
'Oh.' He cleared his throat. 'Eh, and how were the shoes?'
'Very nice. In fact, I am wearing them now. They feel a little small, but then all new shoes are like that.'
'And the handbag?' he asked.
'I like it very much, too... My sister noticed them. I mean the shoes.' Now the bad news was out.
'Did she ask you where you got them from?'
He cleared his throat again. 'Where did we agree to go tonight?'
'The Globe, but I don't want to see a film.'
'Is that so? Mm, I am glad because people always notice things.'
'But they won't be too surprised.'
'What are you saying, my dear?'
'Okay, so what shall we do? Shall I drive to the Seaway?'
He drove to the Seaway, to a part of the beach they knew very well. She loves it here, with the wide sandy beach and the old sea. She has often wished to drive very near to the end of the sands until the tyres of the car touched the water. A very foolish idea, as he said sharply to her the first time she mentioned it. It was in his 'I-am-old-enough-to-be-your-father' voice. There are always disadvantages. Things could be different. If she had a younger lover... Handsome, maybe not rich like this man here, but with enough money to afford a fast car. A car like the ones she has seen in films, with tyres that can do everything... and they would drive to exactly where the sea and the sand meet.
'We are here,' he said.
'Don't let's get out. Let's just sit inside and talk.'
'Okay. But what is it, my darling?'
'I have told my sister about you,' said Mercy.
'Good God. Why?'
'I couldn't keep it to myself any longer.'
'Childish. It was not necessary at all. She is not your mother,' he said.