Pictures of the Past

Josephina Steele didn’t understand why Hope had sent this picture now. It had to be from nearly thirty years ago. When Josephina had just begun her career in government. She tried to ignore it, hiding the image in her top drawer, but the history associated with the photo kept beckoning Josephina and as much as she struggled she couldn’t stop herself from bringing it back out and wondering.

There she sat in the old office beside Hope. They were both so young then. Where did all the time go, Josephina asked herself? So much has happened. We were so close. She stared at the picture: the plain Hope with dark hair parted down the middle looked back at Josephina through the years, still self-assured in the most nonthreatening of ways; slightly to the front of Hope posed Josephina, erect and proud demonstrating the last vestiges of her failed career as a dancer. I was so skinny; Josephina lamented as she endeavoured to ignore the sadness, which had since become ever-present, in her droopy eyes.

Josephina turned the photo over, re-reading the inscription scrawled in Hope’s hand: Found this recently. Thought you might like it. It just didn’t make any sense. Why she should send this now, the question bothered Josephina. She must want something, but what? And then it hit her: It can’t be. I didn’t do anything wrong.

The circumstances of Hope’s abrupt departure from government had always been vague. She had shown a lot of promise in the Minister’s office, and had perhaps been the most effective of his staff. Most of the other team members were completely stunned the day Hope’s departure was announced: most, but not all, for Josephina Steele certainly knew something.

A couple of weeks before that, Josephina had approached Hope begging her not to apply for the Operations Coordinator position about to be opened in the office. Josephina was fully aware that of the two, Hope would undoubtedly win the job if both young ladies applied. Hope had other things going for her, Josephina argued, she was about to be married to a wonderful man and didn’t she, like most other women, want to start a family? Of course this was true: whereas Josephina had nothing else in her life but work.

Hope laughed at the idea. Wasn’t this, after all, the 1980s and not the nineteenth century? Surely, she was capable of being a coordinator, wife and mother. Hope, however, had underestimated just how important this new job was to Josephina, who quickly grew angry at her friend’s unwillingness to concede to her wishes. The conversation turned into more of a one-sided attack, as Josephina became more irate and unreasonable, ultimately stamping off.

At the first opportunity, Josephina sought a private audience with their boss, the Minister.  Josephina explained how she thought it in his best interests to know that one of his staff was about to undergo a major change in her life. Of course, Josephina was referring to Hope, her dear friend on whose behalf she had come secretly. Did the Minister know, Josephina asked, that Hope was soon to be married? It would only be natural that Hope would want a decrease in responsibilities to tend to her new household, which would certainly be growing in the months and years to come. Josephina was sure that the Minister, being of that more traditional generation, could appreciate these new demands, but in being a man of the modern world too, would understand why Hope didn’t feel she could approach him herself. The pressures of women today were truly unique.

Yes, of course the Minister understood and in due course invited Hope into his office for a frank discussion. He imparted to her in a grandfatherly way that politics was no place for a wife and mother. Hope was welcome to remain in her current role, he relayed, but she should understand that it would be very unlikely she should rise too high in the system having to divide her attentions as she would between a household and career.

Disgusted by the prospect of a glass ceiling raised above her, Hope chose to leave the Minister’s office, and all those working in it. With time and determination, Josephina rose through the ranks, beginning with the role of Operations Coordinator, ultimately into her present job with aspirations still of being Governor General.

I did her a favour, thought Josephina still staring at the picture. Last I heard she has a family and a husband that loves her. All I have is this job. Once again trying to leave this distant past behind, Josephina tossed the photo back into the drawer, slamming it shut. Those thank you letters. Yes, let’s get them done. And turning to work as she usually did to escape life, Josephina called to one of her underlings: “Lee-AHH, Lee-Ahh!”

An unwilling young lady entered Josephina’s office. “Lia, I need you to draft some thank you letters for the Minister to sign.” The petite brunette shrugged her shoulders without uttering a word.

This attitude won’t get her very far, thought Josephina to herself, maybe I should help her.

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