My first job was selling sweets (candy) in Standard Trading Company on Regent Avenue in Kitwe/Nkana (Kitwe was the town side, Nkana the copper mining community which supported it; this was where my family lived). The sweets were displayed behind a four-sided curved glass island in the middle of the one-storey building. I was fifteen and could barely see over the top of the counter. It was the Christmas holidays.
There was a grocery section at the back where you brought your list (or sent your servant with a list–everyone had servants, African men from the surrounding villages), and the gruff man behind the counter collected the items from the shelves and stacked them in front of you, kinda like you see in old cowboy movies (did we bring a basket?)
I worked alongside Mrs. Brown, her with the tight lips, helmet hair-do and apron. I didn’t wear one. Not worthy, or did I manage to get out of it? The job didn’t last long, but what I remember was cleaning out what seemed like a hundred glass-fronted sweet sections filled with chocolates off all kinds: cream-filled, hard centres, toffee, nougat and nut, and then there were the Licorice All-Sorts, Mint Imperials, boilings (barley sugar hard candy), butterscotch and licorice. This also included cleaning the glass inside and out. I didn’t mind the task because then I didn’t have to serve customers.
One day I found a cockroach in a corner of the cherry-filled chocolates. Bugs, or as we call them, gogos (pronounced with a guttural intonation like you’re clearing your throat) have never bothered me, but I felt I should point it out to Mrs. Brown. She stiffened, glanced around like arrest was imminent, grabbed a piece of cardboard and with a look of abject horror bent down, scooped up the cockroach and motioned me to continue my task, while she dropped the beast to the floor and squashed it beyond recognition.
This one Friday she sent to me to Kingston’s, the local bookshop to pick up her weekly magazines. I was thrilled to get out of work and planned to pick up the latest Beano, a comic from England. With a glance over her shoulder, she urged me to hurry. I was delayed by a line that never seemed to end. Unable to decide whether to charge back without her magazines (and my Beano) or stay in line, I chose the latter. Tenacity is my worst and best quality. By the time I charged back in a cold sweat of panic, magazines in hand, she was apoplectic. A week later I left to return to school and thereafter never went back to the sweet counter at Standard Trading Company.