It is with dignity, thanks, honor and pride that I sit here looking out of the high rise window of my corner office on the 11th floor of one of the tallest buildings in New York City. As I look down at the hustle and bustle going on in the city down below me, I am reminded of the sacrifices I’ve made to get to this moment and it feels so good to be sitting here. And to add pride to this euphoria, I did it all by keeping my clothes on. I love New York City. I love the United States of America. I love my new life, and here’s why.
It was a hot day in June and it had been a month since I graduated from college. The lucky ones had gone on to acquire their visas, and their plane tickets and were en route to the United States, Europe and Canada within a matter of days. Even those who were going to South Africa made us all feel like they were on their way to Heaven. After all, anywhere but here, right? Those of us whose mothers sold peanuts at the open market and whose fathers called themselves talented shoe-makers would have to get by – by simply trying to get by. On this particular day, one of my best friends had just left to join her family in Belgium while I was left to dream of that land far beyond the ocean that was rumored to be dripping with milk and honey and where life was so good, many had returned to build houses they once only dreamed of and were driving cars that once drove by and splashed mud water all over their best Sunday cloths. That had happened to me a time or two. Anyway, I wondered if my feet would ever get to feel the pavements of this blessed land too.
With five mouths to feed and being the oldest to graduate from the University, my parents and younger siblings were depending on me. It is no wonder that when Mr. Afoakwa’s son, who was two decades older than me, came from Germany to visit, my parents thought he was a suitable catch. My mother didn’t talk to me for weeks after Samuel Afoakwa left with his taxi-driver money and went back to Germany, (because I’m sure that’s what he did there even though he kept telling everyone he was a lawyer). I had refused his marriage proposal that would have sent me to live with him in Germany to do God-knows-what. My father called me a foolish and useless girl, but later changed his mind when he saw how determined I was to keep my dignity and work my way through the obstacles. My mother, let’s just say it took her a little longer because she thought I had refused Mr. Afoakwa out of spite for her. According to her, I was trying to punish her for being so poor because she had married my father who was ten times poorer than her.
My father would later follow me to the office of Mr. Benasko – the man who sat on the edge of his desk, right in front of the chair where I sat, interviewing me for a secretarial job, while he fondled my thighs with his foot. My father beat the living daylights out of him for trying to lay his hands on his brightest and oldest daughter. I was going to do great things, my father always said. Mr. Benasko was not one of them. It is unfortunate that just a few weeks later he would have to follow me, yet again, to the office of yet another man who had been even bolder. This man had touched my breasts and asked me to unzip my pants if I wanted the job. Again, I kept my pants on and walked home in tears to my father’s dismay and increasing anger at the audacity of these men.
After months of turning down offer after offer to undress for a job, I was growing very frustrated with my lot in life. Then I met Sammy. Oh Sammy! My heart bleeds every time I think of Sammy because he was my devil in disguise. I never knew a devil could come with so many blessings, but Sammy did. He successfully hid the wife and three children he was hiding in America, the fact that he worked as a “janitorial” (he left the janitor part out) associate at a big corporate firm in New York (he told me he worked on Wall Street – and that was the truth. The big corporate firm is right there in Wall Street), the fact that he had been three times divorced and was paying something called alimony and child support leaving him perpetually broke, and the fact that he lived in a 2-bedroom apartment in the worst part of Harlem (not Manhattan like he told me). The only good thing Sammy did was bring me to the United States. For that, I will always be thankful – even though he did it for very selfish reasons – because it opened doors I never imagined possible. It is true what they say of America. It really drips with milk and honey, its just that you have to be willing to go out and make the milk and honey yourself!
After Sammy abandoned me frequently in Maryland for reasons that never really made sense, I found my way to school, worked my way (with all my clothes on. No one ever asked me to remove them once I got here) through Burger King, Department Stores and finally to the corner office on the 11th floor of one of the tallest buildings in New York. Here, I am in charge. As I write this, I am looking out of my front door at my very own assistant. She is straight out of college and very bright-eyed. The way she narrates her life, she has not lived through a quarter of what I’ve lived through and yet she complains that her life is hard. I wonder if she knows the trials I hold inside, masked on the outside. If only she knew what and where this polished exterior has been. Just the other day she told me she aspires to be like me. I smiled. I just hope she means the me that sits in the office now, and not the me that had to go through the life I went through fighting to keep my clothes on while I struggled to make it in this life.
About the Writer
Celeste Adarkwa is a senior consultant at an investment firm on Wall Street. How ironic! She loves to read, write, cook and eat in her spare time.