James sat up as the cock crowed, his usual wake-up time. He checked the alarm, it was 7 am, and stood up from his bed. He stretched as he went to the window and pulled the curtains apart. With daylight streaming in, he looked out to the road, a habit he had developed. Nobody was coming, as usual, so he went to get dressed and ready for work.
It was 8 am when he opened the store and took the ledger from the holding post on the wall, to begin his count.
“Ah, James, I’m not surprised,” Tobias, a fellow servant, said from the floor and hit the buttocks of the naked woman lying by his side. “Wake up sleepy head, the master’s storekeeper is here. We have to leave before he reports us.”
James didn’t say a word. He was done explaining to people who had an agenda. Since the master had still not returned and may not be coming back, he was doing the work assigned to him, whether they liked it or not. It was in the seventh year that James started believing in the tales that spread through the household and on the streets, that their master may never return. He kept working because their salaries were paid on time, and maybe, one day, the managing company may decide to audit.
“Keep working, James, I know the master will reward your service, when he returns from the dead.” Tobias took the lady’s hand, and they walked out of the store, laughing.
James dug his thumb into his palm and made a fist. He didn’t know how long he could tolerate the other servants, but this had gone too far. Using his store like that was out of the question. He dropped the ledger and walked out of the room, locking it behind him. He would report Tobias’ behavior.
“James, he was only having a little fun. You would have enjoyed the party last night if you would only cut yourself some slack. We invited you to Anthony’s call to bar last night, and you wouldn’t attend, why? The master is not here, and we, the servants, should band together in case anything happens. We all feel that you are an outsider with all these reports you come up with, jeez, they are tiresome! Live a little, James, it won’t kill you,” Maurice, the Head servant, said.
“Is that your response to my complaint?”
“How else do you want me to respond? Do you know where I slept,” Maurice asked, “In the master’s bedroom, with my girl.” He paused to let that sink in. “Join us, James. Are you not tired of being mocked and slighted at every turn? Of being left out and side-lined? You have known these men for more than ten years, and you know they are good people. The problem is you, James. When you behave like this, we don’t trust you.”
James nodded. “I understand. I’m sorry, but I have my personal reasons for my behavior. Be assured, that I am not the one disclosing the conduct of the staff to the public.” He walked out of Maurice’s office.
Lunchtime, James was out of the house and in the market place. His wife had a store there where she sold pots and cutlery. She smiled when she saw him approach, James entered the shop and kissed her cheek.
“How are you today, busy man?” She asked as she returned to her pots.
He sat on a bench provided for customers. “I don’t know Eliza, I don’t know how much longer I can do the master’s will.”
She smiled and sat next to him. “The master left his house to you in trust. If the others don’t understand that, you do. We are faithful people in our household, we keep our word. Why do you think I allow my husband to be gone every weekday, to return during the weekends? To keep the faith. The stories of all the happenings in that household are all over the place, but it will not be heard that my husband is a part of it. Keep the faith, dear, and teach your sons to do the same. They are watching you.” She pecked him and stood up, walking to the back of the store.
James smiled and looked upward. “Thank you, again.”
Eliza walked back in and set the food flask she was carrying on a nearby stool. “Hungry?”
Back at the house, James continued his work. Out of habit, he kept his daily work on a ledger, he had amassed a lot of ledgers in ten years, and the system helped him track his work and supervise areas with problems in the store. James had been able to track thefts and keep the storehouse going, improving the system over time. Nobody else cared to know what he did or how he did it, he only did his job, and he did it well.
He looked at his watch at 6 pm and closed the store for the day. He had bought new padlocks, which the seller had sworn were state of the art and had called in a blacksmith to change the locking system. He did all this with his money. He knew Maurice would not give him a second glance. The house was run on the money the store provided as the other servants had slacked off work. They sold the stock from the store weekly, and Maurice, as the head servant, kept the money for ‘expense’, as he called it, James kept records.
He passed the main hall, which was empty and wondered where everybody had gone. A noise in the Leisure room upstairs alerted him to what could be their whereabouts. He debated what to do, the leisure room was where the master received VIP guests. James was not surprised that the servants were using it, it wasn’t the first time. His debate was about showing concern and being mocked, and in the end, interest won over fear. He took the stairs two at a time and turned into the hallway leading to the room. He stopped in front of the door and looked upward. “Here goes.” When he opened the door and walked in, the noise stopped.
“James, right on time, good man, come and try this whiskey. Come, come before one of these men beat you to it,” Maurice said, smiling.
All eyes were on him, waiting.
James cleared his throat. “I heard some noise and wanted to investigate. Since you are the one’s here, I’ll take my leave.” James turned and took a step.
“If you leave this room, you will be out of this house by tomorrow morning,” Maurice said.
James turned back. “You have no right to fire me. I can only be sacked by the master.”
“Or the managing company. We could send a letter stating how things have been missing from the storehouse and found in your wife’s shop. We could find many people to collaborate with this story, James. Remember, it ‘s your word against ours.”
James was speechless.
“Make up your mind now, man, we haven’t got all day. For god’s sake, this nonsense has to stop. Why do we have to tiptoe around one man, who the heck do you think you are?” Maurice said.
James made a decision. “Do your worst.”
“Oh, we will. You’ll see, we’ll make sure you never work in another farm for the rest of your life!” Maurice was shouting as James had left the room.
James stormed off to the garden, to the spot where the master could be found when he wanted to be alone and blew out a breath, maybe it was better this way. He noticed for the first time that darkness had taken over, the daylight was gone, and he wondered if that was the case in his master’s house as well, had darkness won?
James deliberated on staying in the house or going home. He would have to tell his family about what the other servants were planning before the news broke.
He turned round in shock, he knew that voice.
“James, it’s me.”
For the second time that evening, James was struck dumb, the master had returned.
Till next time, be transformed!!