During my second year at Ceará Importers, Cristina* joined the Personnel Department. She shared an office with me and the assistant accountant.
A single woman in her twenties, Cristina was a devout Roman Catholic and active member in her parish Church. Soft-spoken, she measured her words when speaking with others. Attentive and diligent in the execution of her work, she soon won the respect of all staff members.
Cristina and I became friends. My sons and I first went to her home for a nephew’s birthday party. Located in a working-class neighborhood on the periphery of Fortaleza, her family’s three-story house was long and narrow. During a tour of the house, she pointed out the sub-divisions for her, her parents, and four married siblings with their children. The communal kitchen and dining room were located on the ground floor.
The most-recently married brother had built his house in the extensive backyard. When she got married, she told me, her family planned to add another flat above the bungalow.
I marveled at the way this extended working-class Brazilian family had pooled their resources to support one another.
At Ceará Importers, on the assistant accountant’s resignation, Cristina referred a friend from her Church group. With the necessary qualifications, he got the position. When the Personnel Department needed another assistant to handle the demands of a growing workforce, Cristina found a neighbor, an older woman, with the required experience.
A few years later, Cristina’s best friend Lucinda* became a new addition to the Accounts Department.
Then our lives changed in 1999. After five years of expansion and success, Ceará Importers suffered a severe blow from Brazil’s Central Bank. The five-year-long fixed parity of the US dollar and Brazil real had come to an end. At that time, the company had six retail stores in Fortaleza and franchise stores in major cities in Northeast Brazil.
Cristina’s position placed her in the front line of the downsizing that followed. I recall the day the first batch of retail store workers gathered in the Head Office compound to receive their final paychecks and other monies due by law.
Months later when Lucinda’s name appeared among those on the cutting list, Cristina stepped in to save her best friend. Lucinda’s husband had recently lost his job, leaving her as the sole-provider for him and their eleven-month-old infant. Cristina asked her boss to instead reduce her own salary. The personnel manager spared Lucinda for a couple more months, by which time her husband had found another job.
Cristina left the company some time after my departure. Holding key positions, the other two friends she had brought to the company survived the downsizing.
A faithful friend is beyond price,
no sum can balance his worth.
A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy,
such as he who fears God finds;
For he who fears God behaves accordingly,
and his friend will be like himself.
* Fictitious Name