When Gertrude arrived at work the next morning, there was an email from Afosua informing her that she needed her to finish up a translation for the DeutschTech project. She didn’t mind the work, it was just the tone of the email she didn’t care for. It seemed hurried and dismissive. She ignored the tone and set out to finish the translation.
Gertrude was of mixed race, but you wouldn’t know it to look at her at her first glance. Her father was white, but she had never known him. Her mother was the maid for a German family that lived in Ghana years ago. Gertrude’s birth was the result of a brief dalliance between her and the man. All she knew was that he worked for an engineering group that was overseeing a water project in some village and that soon after her mother discovered she was pregnant the family left for Germany. Gertrude imagined that her mother would have been repulsed by anything Germany had to offer given her circumstances, but the woman scrimped, saved and did without for years to make sure that Gertrude got a decent education and became fluent German by sending her to the Goethe Institute. As a teenager, Gertrude hated the extra hours she had to spend studying a new language, but when Phillips & Boakye announced that they were hiring only bi-lingual candidates for their organization, she was grateful for those grueling hours and missed time at play.
No one at Phillips & Boakye knew about her origins, however, and she planned to keep it that way.
“Gertrude,” said Mark Phillips, “when Ms. Gyemfi comes in, will you have her join us in the meeting room?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“And please stay when she comes. I’d like you to sit in on this meeting.”
Gertrude’s heart skipped a beat. She had never been asked to sit in on a meeting with either of the owners. She usually had to man the front desk if a client called. She wondered what it meant. Suddenly her heart froze in terror. She was going to be fired. She had violated the company’s IT rule by going on social media sites during work hours and she was going to be fired. She didn’t have time to come up with an explanation because Afosua walked in at that moment. She looked happier than Gertrude had seen her in weeks.
“Mr. Boakye and Mr. Phillips would like to see you in the meeting room, Ms. Gyemfi.”
Afosua’s smile immediately faded. Had someone found out she had just violated the office rules by having sex on the floor? She resisted the urge to panic.
“Tell them I’ll be right in. Let me go and grab a note pad.”
Afosua put down her belongings in her swivel chair and cursed under her breath. She walked bravely into the meeting room with Gertrude.
“Ladies! Please have a seat,” said Mark Phillips. “We have a few things to discuss.”
Gertrude looked over at Harold Boakye, who was frowning and staring at the pair of them with cold eyes.
“DeutschTech has asked us to come to Germany to consult on the asaa project,” Mark smiled. “They are so impressed with what we’ve done so far that they’ve accepted our bid to be their primary actuary. However, they do recognize the risks involved when translating from one language to another, and they want to eliminate those risks by having us come and meet their team.”
Afosua and Gertrude both let out a collective sigh of relief. Gertrude began furiously scribbling notes. She was sure that Robert would be needing them for the trip. He always went on trips abroad.
“This has huge benefits and implications for everyone in this room,” Mark continued. “This is a real chance for Phillips & Boakye to shine. Synsepalum dulcificum has so much potential as a dietary supplement, possibly as a treatment for diabetic ailments. There are billions of dollars at stake for Deutsch and for us in commission if they are successful.”
“That is why I would rather have a man on this project,” Harold Boakye interjected. “As Mark said, there is much at risk.”
Afosua and Gertrude remained silent and did not address the sexist remark. Neither wanted to get into it with Mr. Boakye. Mr. Phillips came to their defense.
“Ms. Gyemfi, this is your opportunity to show real leadership in the company,” he said smiling at her. “And I want you to work on this with someone you can get along with, whom you can bounce ideas off of, and more importantly who possesses a skill that no one else in this office has – the ability to speak German.”
Gertrude stopped writing and stared at Mr. Phillips. He was smiling at her.
“Wait. What? Me? I’m going?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” sneered Mr. Boakye. “I would rather have Robert or one of the other senior analysts accompany Ms. Gyemfi on this trip, but Mark makes a compelling point: You are fluent in German, and you will be able to read between the lines of what is said in any discussion. It will strengthen our advantage.”
“And having too many people on one trip will be a distraction,” added Mr. Phillips. “Being distracted is NOT to our advantage.”
Gertrude didn’t bother to stop herself from beaming. She was finally going to get a chance to make something of herself. She was one step closer to erasing the memory of her past.
“When do we leave?” asked Afosua.
“Next week,” said Mr. Phillips. “Gertrude, if you don’t have a passport, go ahead and make an appointment to have one expedited. Thank you ladies, that is all.”
Afosua strode into her office to prepare presentations and gather data. Gertrude sat forlornly at her desk and looked for the number to the Ghana Immigration Service. Her reverie was suddenly dulled by the recollection that she had never been outside of Ghana…never at all. She fought the old urge to feel sorry for herself because she was the underprivileged child of a maid and dialed the number.
Annette had walked for most of the night after she fled Mr. Prah’s house. There were few taxis in the area passed sunset, since most people that lived in Trasacco Valley had cars of their own. She didn’t dare go by the Tema Motorway, because it was too well lit and someone might recognize her. She didn’t dare fall asleep in one of the many abandoned kiosks because she might be robbed or worse. After ducking every time she saw a car pass by, she finally approached a taxi rank at dawn and chartered a ride to Asylum Down.
Asylum Down wasn’t a slum, but it wasn’t a place where people of wealth frequented either. She knew that she would be safe there. After asking around, she finally got a room to rent. When the land lady handed her the key to an eight by ten foot apartment, she tried not to cry. She couldn’t risk bringing any more attention to herself. When she was finally alone, she dropped her purse on the ground, bent to her knees and began to sob uncontrollably. She was free. She was really finally free.