Christian Short Stories
By Celeste Charlene
"I was a missionary nurse for twenty-nine years in Africa, treating the sick, establishing mobile clinics and training village health workers. I hope some of my experiences in short story form will encourage others."
Tosso, the oldest of the three candidates, opened her shaking hands between each crack of a knuckle. She had scored the highest on the employee examination, and I selected her as my assistant.
Dressed in a long, flowered skirt and blue-checkered blouse Tosso raised a hand to straighten one of her short pick-a-ninny braids. Only girls who couldn't afford a hair dresser wore the homemade stubs.
I looked at her neat clothes and smiled. "Can you begin work this afternoon?"
"Yes, ma'am." Tosso lifted her round black face.
"Before we go home we will stop at the market." I picked up my bag. "What do you eat?"
"For breakfast I eat corn meal mush. For lunch corn meal mush with bean and dried fish gravy. If there are leftovers I eat them for supper."
We walked to the market and bought ground corn, dried fish, black-eyed peas, peanut oil, tea bags, bread, rice, onions and spaghetti. Then we hiked two hours through the bush on a trail to my mud house in the African village.
Reaching my home, I unlocked the door and turned to Tosso. "After work each evening you are free to return to the city if you like."
Tosso looked at the two, single bed frames with mattresses and mosquito nets which took up most of the space in the miniature room. An open square resembling a window frame faced us. It had neither glass nor screen.
"I will stay here each evening but go home on the weekends to check on my family."
I pointed. "That is your bed."
Tosso set her sack on the mattress and unknotted the lumpy bag. There were two folded blouses, soap, towel, comb and body lotion. She had wrapped her belongings in her long wrap-a-round skirt, so she pressed out the wrinkles in it.
She had worn her best clothes for the interview. Since we were the same size, I gave her three skirts and four blouses, glad for the opportunity to reduce my large wardrobe.
"That room is for storage." I pointed. "There's a clothesline in there if you want to hang your clothes."
We stepped into the third room of the house. "This is a salon, but I store cooking utensils and food in here. I use either this charcoal or the kerosene stove. Can you cook with them?"
"How did you cook at home?"
"I chopped firewood which we used for cooking on the campfire."
I handed her a flask. "Each morning boil water and fill this thermos."
We were both tired. It was too late to cook, so we ate dry bread and water before sliding into bed under the nets.
At sunrise the next morning Tosso hiked three hundred yards to the well. She returned again and again carrying heavy buckets to fill the large clay jar outside the house.
She carried a pail of water into the little stall built of flat stones. After bathing she dressed and lugged another bucket of water into the booth for me to wash.
Tosso arranged the pieces of charcoal, lit the stove, boiled water and prepared her mush. After breakfast, I opened the Bible and read. Then I handed her a large sketch pad, several pencils, two pens, a ruler and eraser.
For many years without computer support, every lesson was hand printed. A local person from the language group wrote out health lectures in the dialect. I dictated sentence by sentence while Tosso wrote each word. She erased many times, but in the end the lectures were perfect.
At noon I suggested, "Let's have black-eyed peas and rice."
While the beans cooked, Tosso looked inside a plastic sack. "I should add the dried fish. Do you have a mortar and pestle?"
I shook my head. A few minutes later the rhythmic beating of a bludgeon-like implement echoed under the hot sun. I glanced into the neighbor's yard where Tosso pounded the fish. She returned to the house with a bowl of powered protein and stirred it into the cooked beans and rice. She dished out two heaping plates.
I swallowed a bite. "This is delicious. You are an excellent cook. I would like to meet your family and see your home."
Tosso grunted and nodded. "This weekend."
After siesta the patients arrived for treatment. Tosso interpreted. It took hours to translate sentence after sentence, teach lectures, show posters and train women how to cook weaning foods for their babies.
Friday evening after work we hired a taxi to the main junction, and then walked down a long garbage-filled ally. Old, dilapidated buildings lined the end of the road. Tosso's mother, two unwed sisters and their children rested on hand-woven
mats on the packed earth floor. No furniture. Half of the thatch roof had collapsed inside the small chamber made of rusted pieces of aluminum siding.
As I left her with her family I took her hand. "You are welcome to spend the weekends in my home."
She puckered her brows as if to say, I came to visit my family. Instead, she said. "I want to eat my mother's slimy food. I've missed her stretchy okra gravy."
"I understand you miss your mother's cooking. I sometimes miss foods from my country."
Throughout the week each evening after the sun set, I struck the match for the bush lantern. Squinting my eyes from the kerosene fumes, I pulled out my notebook and pen to write in my journal. After I finished, I lit four candles to read a novel.
Tosso always sat in the wooden chair opposite me and stared at the wall.
I was quiet the first week assuming she wanted silence. For she often closed her eyes for several minutes and moved her lips as if in prayer. The rest of the time she looked intently at the black, mud wall for hours each evening.
One evening I stopped writing. "Tosso, would you like one of my books to read?"
"No thank you, ma'am."
"You are free to do whatever you like."
"I know." Tosso kept staring at the wall.
"Would you like something to do? I have word games."
"I am doing something."
"What are you doing?"
"Resting," She sighed.
"Did I give you too much work to do?"
Tosso laughed. "No. Serving you is easier than my business was. And you pay me more each week than I ever earned."
"Where is your business?"
"I abandoned it to work for you." She smiled.
"I woke at three each morning and started the fire. I mixed flour, leaven, egg, oil and milk. Then I shaped the mixture into fifty doughnuts, which I deep-fried." Tosso moved her weight on the wooden chair. "After bathing and dressing, I put all the beignets in a glass box and set it on my head. Then I walked to the open market. From morning until dark I trekked all over the city hawking my fried cakes."
"Hiking in the hot sun all day is tiring."
"I forced myself to keep going." Tosso shook her head. "I had to sell ten doughnuts to pay for the ingredients. I had to sell another ten to buy food for my family."
"Now I understand why you rest each evening."
"I'm resting in God's presence, meditating, recouping my strength, thinking of God's promises and waiting on the Lord."
Tosso knew how to enter God's rest. Hebrews 4:9-11 "There remains a rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his."
When I'm tempted to constantly keep busy, I remember Tosso. Stopping, I close my eyes and count my blessings, take in a breath of relaxation and wait on the Lord.
(© 2011 Celeste Charlene – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)
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