The great wooden doors of the famous St. Michael and St. George Cathedral creek open. Upon taking your first steps into the gothic atmosphere, the doors swing shut. This is it. You are forced to discover the hidden mysteries of the Cathedral.
In the midst of your moment of silence, a faint shuffling is heard on the opposite side of the building. Hesitant to embark on adventures with eerie celestial spirits, you start to retreat. The shuffling echoes against the marble pillars of the hollow room. The wooden pews crack uncomfortably.
“Welcome to the Cathedral! Have you found the mice?” From behind the Bishop’s throne the shuffling sound emerges into the image of an old lady. Her hair curls out underneath her purple knitted hat. “Do you know the story of the mice? Come, I’ll show you.”
Eunice Ncwadi shuffles over to the light switch. With one simple flick the Cathedral lights up into a grand temple. She smiles. Her lips retract into her mouth and a mischievous dimple appears on her cheeks. “Here is one mouse. Now, I’ll give you a hint. Do you want a hint?” She does not wait for an answer. “Do you see this corner? Right above this corner there is a corner just like it but with an ear of the hidden mouse sticking out.”
The mice are the signature of craftsman Robert Thompson. Thompson created the oak scrolls in memory of those who died in the two world wars. Being a craftsman in the 20th century, he was naturally “as poor as a church mouse”. Clever and crafty, he signed all his furniture by carving in mice.
Eunice eagerly continues her role as tour guide. She leads you through the Lady Chapel with the heavy flowers laid in memory of loved ones. She touches the Pelican lectern and exposes her swollen fingers while explaining the symbol of Jesus Christ. She even asks if you have cleaning tricks for the stained brass. She flashes her gummy smile a few times in announcing the new material for the curtains behind the High Altar. She tells the story of the broken organ which is working again.
Through side doors and sacred small rooms she leads you. She shows you the dresses of the Bishop and the fascinating Pulpit. She leads you right into the nave of the Cathedral. And this is where you discover who Eunice Ncwadi is.
When asked how she came about working at the Cathedral, she jumps into the unknown story of her life. “After I nursed Mrs. Dorothy Currie, I was the caretaker of Dr. Ronald Currie, 34 Hill Street.” She delves back into the past, recalling details as if she has revised them every day for the past twenty years. Her hands fly around her in explanation, often turning to a missed dirt spot on the wooden pews.
She found her employer on the floor of the hospice after nurses neglected to answer his calls. She helped him pack his bags and continued to nurse him at his home. She takes a minute before continuing. The square outside the Cathedral is noisy but there is a grave silence hanging around us. “He always said: Nobody has tender hands like Eunice… he died in 1983,” she finally says. Her bloated fingers wipe away the tears that have accumulated in the crinkles of her eye. “The Roman Catholic nuns now live there,” she says as a faint smile emerges on her face.
After Dr. Ronald Currie’s death, she worked as a caretaker for a little girl. “They sent Cathy to England to learn English better. At that stage Mr. Roy Barker asked me to come take care of the Cathedral,” she says.
Excluding the few years she worked at the police station in child welfare, she has worked for the Cathedral a total of twenty years. She struggles to hide the smile on her face as she says: “I like my job very much.”
She forgets all about her life sorrows and transportation issues in Fingo Village as she boasts about the treats she bought for the shelter children last Sunday. “I took R40 of my own money, along with the R60 the Cathedral gave me and I bought biscuits, cakes and cool drink for the children.” A joyful chuckle escapes her mouth as she says: “Someone even asked if we are having a party, it was so fun!” She claps her hands as she chuckles even louder at the memory.
Eventually, as you walk out of the vast wooden doors and into the bustling street, you know exactly who the shuffling old lady inside is. She is Eunice Ncwadi, the church verger, the caretaker, the lady with the tender hands.