Wednesday 16 May 2012

'Geraldine' by Angela King

 She arrived in late spring, just as the desert heat begins to drive sand into every fibre of the city and mother announced she couldn’t cope. Hardly more than an adolescent bag of bones Geraldine was meant to provide an inclusive remedy for mother’s woes. My sister and I loved her from that first day.

    Father had chosen Geraldine because she was the only applicant with any English. He arranged her flights and collected her at immigration. He’d never been so embarrassed. She arrived in a cherry-red cardigan which drooped to her ankles and obviously started life on someone ten times bigger, no shoes on her feet, nor any form of luggage. Father was convinced immigration suspected him of trafficking but all her papers were in perfect order. Despite appearances Geraldine was extremely proficient.

    Although English was hardly her first language she’d received an elementary education from one of the last outposts of the Missionary Society. She took the view that God’s word should be uttered in hushed reverence and being that God’s word was plainly English all conversations with our new nanny assumed a sombre gravity, as if some revelation was about to be disclosed. Prayers were said before every meal, and at bedtime, and she wouldn’t tolerate swearing, even from father. Although the family found her behaviour antiquated we soon learned Geraldine was abundant with affection and possessed a delightful giggle which could override any fit of sobriety.

    Even mother couldn’t wear her out. The house shone, visitors smiled and all our childhood anxieties seemed easily rectified. She became more like an older sister than a nanny and when mother announced she was expecting it was Geraldine who went into raptures and counted the days.

    By her own request Geraldine’s wages were paid directly to her parents. They were farmers and because she had no brothers she must support them until she found a ‘good husband’. Mother showered her with gifts in the hope she would stay, expensive gifts, relevant to a lifestyle completely alien to Geraldine. Father, appalled by this generosity, enquired what use Geraldine had for Chanel No. 5 only to find she had sent the bottle to her parents.

    “Whatever uses have your parents for perfume?” Mother snapped.

    “Oh Miss, they put everything to good use.” Geraldine apologised. “And after some trials they found a few drops deterred the wild pigs from raiding their vegetable bed. They wondered how soon I could send more.”

    When baby was due mother decided Geraldine should accompany her home. Worried about being cold she wore virtually every item of clothing she possessed layer-on-layer. Not only did it negate any need for a suitcase it alerted Heathrow to the impression she was involved in an entirely different felony, that of smuggling. The strip search took hours. Geraldine was neither bemused nor angry, only confused that the officers didn’t believe her explanation - she needed both hands free to help mother. Why else come to London?

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