by Jenny Palmer
‘I’ll start with the dusting today if that’s okay,’ the girl said. ‘And then do the hoovering.’
‘That’s fine,’ Dorothy said. She was just thankful that someone else was doing the cleaning, other than herself. If there was one thing she hated, it was cleaning. It got harder as you got older, that was for sure. Lugging the vacuum cleaner up and downstairs was a strain on the back and shoulders. It took hours to dust all the objects she’d acquired over the years, not to mention the books.
So, she’d employed the services of a cleaning girl. Of course, she’d had to pay. The days of the local council providing such a service were long gone. There was a time back in the eighties when you could get a home help. Her aunt’s home-help service had been cut at a time when she’d needed her most. She hadn’t lasted long after that.
Dorothy was cooking in the kitchen when she heard this almighty crash. She rushed upstairs to find the girl sprawled on the floor, surrounded by shelves and pieces of broken plaster. She wasn’t hurt but the bookcase was demolished and along with it Ekeko.
Ekeko was the little plaster figurine she’d brought back from her travels in the Andes. He’d taken his place of honour on the shelving unit ever since. He was celebrated every year on 24th January in La Paz in a festival called Alasitas. In the Tiwanakan, pre-Columbian culture, Ekeko had been considered the god of good harvests. In his modern incarnation, he had come to represent luck and prosperity. He didn’t particularly look like a god. He looked more like a contemporary indigenous man with his jet-black hair and moustache. He wore traditional Andean clothing, complete with knitted woollen hat and poncho.
‘Why is his mouth always wide open?’ The girl had asked when she’d first come across him.
‘It’s a tradition,’ Dorothy had explained. ‘People place a cigarette in his mouth as an offering. If the cigarette burns right down, it’s good luck. If it only burns halfway down, it’s bad luck.’
The girl had taken it all in. And now Ekeko lay smashed to smithereens on the carpet.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she said. ‘I’ll come back tomorrow and fix it.’
She might be able to reassemble the Ikea shelving unit, but there would be nothing she could do about Ekeko. It wasn’t really her fault, Dorothy thought. Over the years she’d piled so many books on the unit. It was no wonder that it had finally given way. The girl seemed perturbed.
‘Don’t worry,’ Dorothy reassured her. ‘I’m not superstitious. He was just a memento of my time in Bolivia. That was all.’
She could recall the day as if it were yesterday, the day she’d gone to the Alasitas festival which had been packed with Aymaran people. They were all looking to buy miniatures of the things they lacked, hoping they would materialise in the year to come. The market stalls were decked out with tiny sacks of flour or sugar, small television sets fashioned out of plaster, along with cars, houses and wads of fake paper money. The Ekeko figurines were the star of the show. There were hundreds of them, all loaded up with miniature goods. Dorothy hadn’t been able to resist buying one, even if it had meant lugging him halfway across the globe in her suitcase. He had accompanied her every time she’d moved house and taken up his place on the shelf, gathering dust.
‘I’ll be off now,’ the girl was calling from the door. She’d hardly been there five minutes and she hadn’t even started on the hoovering.
I’d better have a chat with her next time she comes, Dorothy thought, reassure her that there really is no need to worry. Ekeko was a legend invented a long time ago. He came to the fore at the time in the agricultural calendar when people needed to believe their efforts would be rewarded by a good harvest. It was no more than that. But the girl never come back. She’d been spooked.
Christmas came and went. There was still no response from the girl. It had been impossible to get any kind of domestic help over the festive season. The dust piled up and there was this rotten, acrid smell coming from under the stairs. A mouse must have got in to escape the cold. It wouldn’t have been able to get out and must have died in there. No amount of air freshener could get rid of the smell. Before long Dorothy stopped inviting people round. She was in danger of becoming a recluse.
When January 24th came around, Dorothy found herself thinking about Alasitas again. She turned to Google for further information. It turned out Alasitas was a significant day for indigenous people for another reason. It was a day of remembrance for Aymaran people. It commemorated the time when they had held out against the Spanish colonial forces who had been holding their capital under siege. Ekeko had become a symbol of national pride and had risen in stature as a result.
But then a stone effigy of him had been seized by a Swiss colonialist, who had traded him in, for a bottle of cognac, to a Swiss history museum, where he had remained for the next hundred and fifty years. Recently after a lengthy campaign by the government, the stone effigy had been returned to Bolivia and along with other national treasures, was being considered for World Heritage recognition, as part of an intangible inheritance.
She’d try one more time. She’d ring the girl again. This time she would explain how the figurine of Ekeko might well have been broken but the legend was alive and kicking. Maybe that would coax the girl back.