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Thursday, February 22, 2024

A man ain’t worth it, dear Marie (Part 11)

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As human beings, we are prone to making mistakes, being falsely accused, and accusing others. What truly sets us apart is our ability to recognize when we are wrong and promptly apologize as soon as we realize our folly.

Dear Marie,

As I set pen to paper, the ink on this letter feels heavier than usual, burdened by the weight of decisions made today. If I had composed this letter just a few minutes ago, its tone would have danced to a different rhythm. Today, I parted ways with the man who stood guard over my haven, my watchman.

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He wasn’t just a watchman, you see. He was the quiet sentinel who willingly took refuge in my still-unfinished home when I first wired it with electric cables, a place yet to embrace the full bloom of completion. The man next door, upon whom I had leaned for the security of my unfinished house, demanded a monthly allowance when I asked for his vigilance—a sum I couldn’t afford at the time. But this watchman, when he stepped onto the scene -pro bono, was a figure of quiet strength and unassuming character.

While I was informed that he occasionally had rare outbursts, he never directed rudeness or harsh words my way. Despite whispers from other contractors painting a different picture, my personal experience with him remained respectful and professional. As the months unfolded, the layers of formality peeled away, and we found ourselves forging an unexpected friendship. We exchanged pleasantries, shared the warmth of a cup of ‘ataya’ on occasion, and in that exchange, I discovered an honest, down-to-earth man.

He loved one too many bottles of cheap beer, a detail that did bother me a little. But he was a distinctive trait of the quiet man, my kind of guy. I’ve always held a disdain for the loud and self-important type who seem to revel in their own small world. They’ve always put me off, loud and talkative guys, but my watchman was different… So, a relationship of mutual respect burgeoned, rooted in reciprocity—he offered security to my house, and in return, when the house was completed, I provided him with a haven, a completed dwelling that boasted a well-furnished boy’s quarters and a fitting toilet—a place he could truly call home.

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This gesture felt right, earned over the five years he had persevered by my side. Today, however, a somber tone pervades this letter as I share the news of his dismissal. I wish it had happened in different circumstances.

See, last Friday felt like the whole world was collapsing around me. When my Apple Watch posed the question, “How are you feeling at the moment?” my unhesitant response was “anxious.” You know those days when you wake up, and nothing feels right? That’s precisely what happened when the day unfolded into endless waiting for a cable guy, followed by the solar guy, both crucial for me to fulfill a particular duty.

In the afternoon, after completing his Jummah prayers, the cable guy, who had initially committed to a 10:00 a.m. visit, finally showed up. Shortly thereafter, the solar guy also arrived. At a certain juncture, we realized we needed a specific type of wire to connect a joint. I promptly went to purchase it at a designated point. However, as I tried to turn my car around and head up the road after obtaining the wire, an unexpected collision with a boulder occurred, instantly damaging my vehicle’s radiator. This caused the coolant fluid to leak, leading to the engine overheating.

Unaware of the full extent of the damage, I drove a few kilometers before the car abruptly jerked and came to a halt, refusing to restart. Drawing from my ample experience with overheated engines—given my tendency to drive without regularly checking the car’s vital signs—I knew enough to open the car hood and allow the engine to cool. After a painstaking two-hour wait for the vehicle to cool down, some kind Samaritans towed me to the nearest supermarket. It was there that I decided to leave my car overnight and embarked on a round trip back home, grateful for the assistance.

Upon my return home, a few hours later, with the money needed to pay the contractors, I discovered they had already left for the day. This led me to plan settling their dues the following morning. As I juggled placing my bag, responding to my worried kids—briefed about the broken vehicle—and settling into the evening, I became distracted. In that fleeting moment, some of the money allocated for the contractors mysteriously vanished. The realization didn’t dawn on me until much later the next morning.

The night had been restless, with thoughts swirling in my mind about how to navigate life in Gambia without my vehicle. I pondered various options, mapping out scenarios in my head. Imagine my grogginess after Fajr prayer when I discovered the missing funds. Connecting the dots, and considering two previous theft incidents under the watchman’s tenure, I could only conclude that he had to leave.

By the time I went downstairs to meet him, he had already left the house. Nevertheless, I called him, narrated the incident, and requested him to hand over the keys, urging him to vacate the premises immediately. Surprisingly, he complied without resistance. Despite having issued a second warning after a prior incident, it seemed he recognized the futility of bargaining with me. Or so I thought.

The initial person I confided in after his departure was my mother. Following that conversation, I contacted a former colleague who has evolved into more than just a friend. As the day progressed and I engaged in discussions with friends, I found validation and encouragement for my actions. As a leader, the most formidable decisions are often those where you recognize and reconcile that enough is enough.

Firing people has never sparked my interest; it is always the most painful decision for me. I’d rather delegate it to someone else. As the watchman walked away, I almost called out, “why didn’t you just ask me? I would have given you this money.” But my pride was pricked. I felt every action needed repercussion. I had allowed enough transgression over the course of the years.

Throughout the day, I felt justified, even sharing moral lessons with my kids about the importance of contentment and the vices of stealing. So, you can imagine how I felt that evening when, with a nagging feeling, I opened one more bag from my luggage and found the money that was supposedly stolen by the watchman.

As the truth unfolded, an initial wave of sadness swept over me. Following that, a profound sense of remorse enveloped me. It dawned on me that the intensity of his humiliation, stemming from my accusations, was such that he chose not to negotiate with me. I quickly realized that, despite his inclination for indulging in one too many bottles of cheap beer, he was remarkably honest. The thefts in the house were not his doing, and the doubts I harbored were influenced by my bias against his drinking habit.

Yes, he struggled with addiction—excessive drinking being a consequence, but he was not a thief.

Recalling instances of being wrongly accused in the past and being unable to defend myself brought back waves of humiliation, disappointment, and sadness. I felt his pain.

This serves as a cautionary tale of structural bias and deep-seated misjudgment. In hindsight, there were several potential indicators that I could have considered, given my years of acquaintance with him. However, bias is a powerful force, highlighting the danger of a single story. My prejudice against his occasional drinking led me to connect his weakness with a greater vice.

Upon realizing my mistake, I took the necessary steps. I called my mom to explain the error, contacted everyone I had informed about the supposed theft, and then attempted to call him to apologize. Unfortunately, his phone was off.

I didn’t call him to request his return to his position, as I had long intended to rent out the property. It was time for him to move on. I called him because in life, there’s a need to acknowledge when we are wrong, to look into the other person’s eyes, apologize, and say, “I was wrong about you. Please forgive me.”

As of sharing this article, his phone remains off. To anyone who knows him or someone like him, please convey my apology. My heart is still wounded by the way I let him go. My English teacher would say, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

But I am only human. There is no recall button to undo an error in our lives, my dear Marie. How I wish there was…

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