Cecilia was a peasant woman working in a factory. This factory produced fine clothing, worthy of dukes and duchesses at the most brilliant of parties.
But Cecilia rarely saw daylight.
The rules were clear and fair. You must work to earn your room and food that the factory provided. Anything you earned on top of that could be spent on what you would like.
Some people were very good at this. They had worked hard through their young years, being responsible and spending wisely. Most of them were now comfortable, confident managers in charge of those who had not risen so high.
Cecilia had not risen so high. In her youth she had “borrowed” one of the dresses so that she had something to wear to her sister’s wedding. It had gotten stained when wine spilled on it. Her manager caught her and made her pay for the dress. She didn’t realize that the dress cost over a years worth of her wages. So now she worked from before dawn until late into the night every day. She barely had enough energy to eat before she went to bed. It had been this way for years, and her debt somehow seemed to be almost the same as the day she earned it.
Her managers knew that she was in great debt and they used it against her on those days that she was sick or was so tired she could barely stand. They would say, “if you wanted nice things in this world- like time to rest you should have thought of that when you stole the dress.” And on those days that she absolutely could not work anymore, the only way she could convince them to let her go home was to give them some of her gift.
Her gift was her voice and people gathered to listen to her songs.
As her managers were getting ready to leave and she was begging them to let her go home instead of working through the night they would say, “Hmm, shall we let Cecilia go early tonight? I don’t know. She owes an abominable amount of money.”
And she would say quietly. “Master, please let me sing a song for you in exchange for postponing my duties of my loan for a day.”
And they would gather their other manager friends around and laugh at the humiliated state she had worked herself into. And then they would shout out names of songs. She would choose one and she would sing. When Cecilia sang, everybody stopped. Even on her most tired days her voice traveled like lightning bolts to people’s hearts; it was clear and clarion.
And then her managers would say, “Alright, I say we let her go an hour early. Say, 9 pm tonight.” And they would laugh and leave her almost alone in the factory to work while they went and ate and drank with their families.
One day Cecilia had coughed up blood. She feared she had tuberculosis for it had spread through some of the factory workers. She couldn’t let anyone know, or she would not be able to work and would be put into jail for her debts. The factory was dark and the air was damp and moldy. It was not a healthy place for someone with Tuberculosis. That evening as she saw her manager wrapping up his things to go, she went to him, her head hanging low.
“Sir, I am not feeling well. I know that I have much to catch up on tonight, after performing poorly this week. But I beg of you, might I leave before midnight tonight so that I might rest?”
The manager called another manager to come over and look at this sorry sight. They laughed at her and said, “You know, young woman, all these hardships stemmed from your trespasses and you deserve every bit of it.”
“Yes, sirs. I know this. I must pay for my debt to the owner. I am grateful to have a job that feeds me.”
“You should be. What shall we do with you? Today I will have you sing a comical song, to lighten our spirits for tonight is my son’s wedding party. Do you know ‘Tis Jolly the Day Before Wed?”
“Yes sir, I can sing it.” She cleared her throat and began. The words of the song were silly and sarcastic, speaking of marriage like a ball and chain, but when her voice began to rise and fill the factory, people stopped what they were doing as if they had never heard a note of real music sung before. She sang loudly, passionately, for every new note was the possibility that one of the managers might let her go at 11 or 10 pm perhaps. By the end of her song. Tears ran down her face. And the managers buried themselves in the nominal duties of packing up because they couldn’t let her see they were crying as well, because of the beauty of the song.
“Sirs may I leave before midnight, tonight, please?” she coughed quietly in her hand, and saw the blood again.
One of them swallowed hard, finished putting a gown that he felt he had earned for his son’s new wife into his bag and cleared his throat to answer.
But another voice spoke up- a man’s warm voice from behind them. “Your debt is cancelled my dear.”
Everyone turned around and saw a young man walking towards them.
He stood behind her managers. They turned to him. He spoke to her, “You are Cecilia, correct? The one who took the dress for her sister years ago? Yes, then. You have worked hard enough. Your debt is cancelled. You no longer have to work longer than the rest.”
The managers scoffed at him. “Who are you? And who gives you this power?”
He looked at them and held out his hand. “You know Senor Vishan. The owner of this factory?”
“We know of him but rarely do we hear from him or see him.”
“I am his son and he has given the factory to me.” He looked at the woman and smiled. “Gather your things my dear. Go outside and enjoy the daylight, and get healthy.”
Cecilia scurried to her station and gathered her jacket and her small bag of clothes (that she was going to use if she had to sleep in the factory).
The managers raised their voices in protest! “How can you prove it true who you claim you are? We have never heard of such a son.”
He said, “To prove it to you, the factory will begin half an hour later tomorrow. Have a good night, gentlemen. Perhaps I will see you in the morning.” That is what he said.
Cecilia ran into the warm, dry air of their town and it was like medicine to her body and medicine to her soul. For the rest of the afternoon, until nightfall she rested in the plaza near the beautiful fountain, midst the lush gardens and busy, happy vendors. And to everyone she talked to she told them of the wonderful factory owner’s son.
The next morning, the managers waited for the work bell to ring. And as sure as it rang, it rang 30 minutes later than normal.
Cecilia worked that day with a new heart within her. She was excited for this new boss, the owner’s son. He would run things differently. She actually WANTED to work if it was for this man. She loved him in a deep way already.
Cecilia’s manager had actually climbed the stairs to the bookkeeping room during the 30 minute delay that morning and asked to see the balance of Cecilia’s account. They brought out the large book and saw that the night before, the balance had been subtracted to zero.
On his way down, the manager walked past a room that was usually unoccupied. It had been cleaned and there was a man scribbling, huddled over a single desk in the middle of the room.
The manager knocked on the door and the man looked up. It was the man who claimed to be the owner’s son. The manager had suddenly regretted knocking. The young man stood up and invited the manager in. He poured a saucer of tea and brought it to the manager. He said his name and said, “Good morning.”
He refused the tea as he began to feel more and more foolish. He looked at the ground as he said, “Sir, I believe now that you are who you say you are. I apologize for how I talked to you last night.”
“Don’t worry, my friend. You didn’t know. But now you do. And now you know that this factory is under new ownership. My father has put me in charge and though he did what he needed to do to build a successful company, things are going to change.”
The manager looked up and saw the young man’s face. It was tired. He handed the manager the tea again, and said, “Take it. It’s good.”
The manager obeyed and reached for the tea. “Sir, you look very tired. Did you not sleep well, last night?” In his heart the manager hoped a little bit that the owner’s son had stayed up at night regretting his decision to cancel Cecilia’s debt.
“No, I didn’t sleep much last night. I stayed up most of the night looking at the books trying to figure out how I could eliminate wasted spending and pay for Cecilia’s debt with it. I believe I have almost done it. Perhaps ask me after tomorrow night and I will be able to tell you exactly how I was able to cancel her debt. Now, go. Work is about to start.”
The manager drank the rest of his tea and said thank you as he left. He was quiet the rest of the day.
That evening, a town meeting was held in the square to announce the change in ownership of one of the town’s most important industries. Many people gathered, stately business owners, dukes that wore the factory’s clothing stopped by to see, and many of the factory workers stood in the plaza to watch and hear the truth about this mysterious new owner.
They introduced the old factory owner, an old gray and soft spoken man. He introduced his son and said that he was very pleased to give his factory to him and that he had faith that where he had not been a good owner, his son would excel because he worked hard and he deeply loved the factory and his workers. As they were wrapping up the ceremony the crowd began to clap. Then a clear and clarion voice began to rise from the back of the crowd.
The audience suddenly hushed as Cecilia’s voice filled the plaza with life and color. Every heart was struck and silenced as her words humbly formed. She sang the same verse three times.
Never a man have I known That is so worthy in character Could redeem and heal a tired slave And treat her like a daughter
The crowd rang out in joyful praise, understanding that this new man had already begun his work of doing great, kind things for his workers.
The factory was a new place for the rest of the new owner’s life. People grew to know that the new owner worked harder and longer than the rest of his people so that they could be healthier and have more time with their families. He walked the factory floor with his workers and talked with them about their lives and their work. Together they figured out better, more efficient ways to work and rarely did any of the workers, of the ones that really knew him, ever skimp on their hours, or work less hard than they knew they could. For they knew that the owner they loved, would willingly do the work that they neglected to do because he loved them so much. And they knew that he would do what he needed to do to make his company and his people thrive, even if it meant working himself to death.
Raw Spoon, 3-7-2010