"The Job Interview" by Mike & Audrey Brantley

My houseboy (circa 1970) was a super young man named Melaki. Although I did not need his services, he desperately needed a job - any job - as he was near starving. So the Brantley family got a houseboy.

One of the first tasks I assigned Melaki was to shine my shoes. I provided him with black shoe polish and the necessary rags and brushes. When I got home that evening he led me to our little patio of our Tract A housing and showed me that all my shoes had been polished black.. including the white tennis shoes and brown civilian shoes.

Melaki took everything quite literally. We had the most beautiful flowers growing in front of our house. Geraniums, I believe. These were 6 or 8 feet tall. I've never seen anything like them since. There were a few weeds in the flower bed so I told Melaki that his job for today was to "clean out the flower beds". When I got home that evening there was not one living thing in the flower beds. In fact, he had taken a hair comb and combed the finely broken earth. The geraniums were piled high by the rubbish cans.

Next came the waxing of the car. I had a little blue Rambler American. Provided with polish and cloths, Melaki set about waxing the car. He waxed it inside and out - healiner, windows, seats, tires and was working inside the trunk when I got home.

As we were about to depart Asmara, Melaki was greatly worried about finding another job. He was fairly well educated and wanted to apply for an advertised job opening downtown as an accountant or auditor of some sort. Well, about all he had to wear was the traditional cloth they wrapped about themselves and some shorts I had given him. So, I set about getting Melaki ready for his interview. I had a cheap Sears Roebuck suit that was his size and a pair of handmade Hong Kong dress shoes that were too tight for me. I provided him with a belt, socks, undershorts and undershirt. We put him in a white shirt with tie, even a hat. He was decked out quite literally from "head to toe" and, I must say, presented quite a handsome presence. Off he went to the big interview.

The next day he showed up barefoot wrapped in his "cloth" again. I asked him how the interview went and he explained that he was not found acceptable by the interviewer. I then inquired where his clothes were and he said, "Oh, I sold them. They brought enough money to last me for many months, Sergeant!"

The saddest part of leaving Asmara was leaving those few people who depended upon the small wages we paid and the little gifts we gave for their very existence. I think of Melaki, and of Dehab, our housegirl with the beautiful smile, and I wish them Godspeed.


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©Copyright Rick Fortney 1998 All Rights Reserved