I was getting ready for a fancy dinner out with visiting colleagues from Europe last weekend, when I decided I would wear my very special silver bracelet – which had been hand crafted as a gift to me from a friend who is an extremely talented jeweler, after my son passed away. It says “those we hold in our arms a little while, we hold in our hearts forever” and is engraved on the inside with his name. I lifted the black velvet box where I keep it and my heart sank. I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach – the box felt so light I knew instantly the bracelet was missing. I opened it anyway and peeked in at the empty cavity within. I talked myself through what I already knew – there was no chance of me having left it anywhere else. I am not a materialistic person by any description, nor very sentimental about most things, but this bracelet holds an indescribable meaning for me. I wasn’t prepared to face it being missing. I searched numbly around the bedroom, looking in places I knew it would not be and eventually allowing myself to face the facts. One of the staff had stolen it.
I immediately thought of all the recent happenings in the house. Eric the gardener’s diesel theft and his subsequent dismissal. Eric’s ominous letter warning me about Beatrice the maid, and Gilbert the cook’s worried comments about how he feared things could go missing with the house so volatile.
I came slowly out of the room and walked downstairs feeling dazed and highly upset. John saw me coming and knew something was up. I guess I had the look on my face. “What?! What is it??”, I explained. John’s first questions were the ones I expected, about whether I might have left it somewhere or in another box etc. Once we both realised it was gone from the room, there was that feeling of being violated and betrayed, but at the same time, not a huge surprise. Just disappointment.
John said the next morning he would fire everyone. I knew we were in for an interesting week. I didn’t know how very interesting…
We came downstairs the next morning, met Gilbert mopping the floor. “Gilbert, you can go home. Something very important is missing and no one can be in the house. Thanks and have a nice life.” Gilbert was bewildered to say the least. I almost felt bad. He asked and I tried to briefly explain what was missing. He said he didn’t have a clue what the thing was but John cut him short, retrieved his key and he stepped out alongside us on the way out. The door was locked. We met the gardener out front with his machete, slicing through the ever growing weeds. John gave him the same speech. He put down the huge knife, wiped his brow and shrugged. “Yes sir. Okay.” He walked out the gate. The only one left was Beatrice who actually lives out back in the staff quarters with her two twin grown daughters. She was already gone for the day to her other job for an Italian Diplomat as his maid. John said, no worry, we’ll see her in the evening.
We saw Bea briefly that night as she was bringing in the laundry. John told her what had happened and that everyone was to leave. She didn't need to work. She asked what was missing and where it had been and I showed her the space on the dresser where it had been. The next morning we met Gilbert at the gate. The security guard had barred him from entering so he had waited for us to drive out. He looked disheveled and his eyes were wild. I rolled down the window – he smelled. A stench barely achievable by human beings at the worst of times. Gilbert has always had a problem with body odour, and his last boss actually bought him deodorant and soap and made him shower regularly throughout the day! She also bought him a full body white servant’s outfit which she insisted he wear. We inherited the product – i.e. Gilbert made sure he was always smelling ok and looking clean when he came to work. That day he obviously had let all the composure out the window, with the prospect of losing his job.
“Madam, sir, please. I have not slept. I cannot steal. I do not know the thing you are speaking of. There is only one way to find the thief. We need to bring a traditional priest. A juju. That way we will know who has done it”.
I couldn’t help but pause at that moment to reflect on how bizarre it was. The fact that someone had just said that to me and was 100% serious. And how even more bizarre it is that I live in a country where the majority of people believe deep down that this IS the true way to catch a thief. I've even read a BBC article on how Witchcraft is alive and well in Africa
I’ve heard many stories from Ghanaians and Expats alike about how things were stolen and that these juju men, dressed in all white with frayed white cloth hats resembling doilies and always bare feet, were called in to set up a test to expose the guilty party. Sometimes there was a pot of boiling oil, sometimes there was a chicken to be killed and there are many other tests – all of these claim to reveal which person is guilty by the results. In all cases I’ve heard of, the guilty person is so fearful that at the last minute they confess. So powerful the human mind is!!! We agreed that Gilbert could find a neutral juju man. I was curious where all this would go.
That evening we were sitting in the lounge with a visitor and Beatrice poked her head in the door. I immediately wondered how she had gotten into the house. We just assumed we had forgotten to lock the door behind us on our way in. She asked if I had seen the bracelet. I said no. John told her that we had decided to call in a juju doctor to find out who took it. She jumped up off the chair. “What?! Why?? Noooooo, not me, I don’t want to be involved in those things. I am a church going woman! You don’t need those things, o!”. Very nervous reaction. Hmmmmm. She told me to take heart, and that she would come by on the weekend and help me look for it. She told me that she had no doubt we’d find it. I thought it was quite strange that she should be sure we’d find it.
When she left John smirked. She or her daughters took it. She’s snuck upstairs and brought it back. Go look, I bet it’s back. Quinci and I ran up the stairs to look. Nothing. I had thought it ridiculous and far too obvious and couldn’t believe it would be, but still I hoped. The bottom line was that I wanted the bracelet back.
We went off for yet another dinner out. This time all of us were out. We got back and I headed to the shower when John called me back. Holli, come and look. The bracelet is back.
I ran around the corner incredulous. There, in a second velvet box that held some of my earrings (that I hadn’t even noticed were missing), was my bracelet shoved in, with the earrings. It didn’t fit so it peeked out. The box where it belonged had been shoved to the back. It was just so obvious. But it meant she had a key! Or she was the witch Eric claimed…
Now it’s the weekend. Bea hasn’t come to help me look, because she knows the bracelet is back and that I’ve found it.
Only now it’s our turn to play mind tricks. Tomorrow she will be told that we have not found the bracelet and that she must leave the house.
Meanwhile the dishes are stacking up, the clothes have become a mountain in the laundry room and the floor has a full layer of dust. There’s been no servants for almost a week!
I called Gilbert today and he’ll be back tomorrow. Ah, I look forward to my glass of fresh squeezed orange juice and a clean house at the end of the day. I’m not spoiled am I?? This is a hardship post (according to most Western and European Embassies). Afterall, we are living among powerful spirits, witches and juju curses surround us.