From the Editor: The housemaid, in Nigeria, encompasses all that is wrong with the way our country is presently structured. She is the avatar of what the patriarch wants a woman to be, cleaner, washer, primary caregiver for the children, often abused sexually and assaulted by family members, the housemaid is the poster child for suffering that the West has embraced as ‘the African Child’. Not that there are no male servants, but the majority of people serving in our homes are girls between the ages of 9 and 16, most people prefer it so because they are easier to ‘control’ and it is not likely that they’ll ‘sexually abuse’ our precious children.
The story you’re about to read is actually more anecdotal than imagined, it is something that was experienced as a child by the author, who was sad that he had not spoken up when as a child he had gone to ‘piss’ inside his aunt’s bath, but the woman had taken out her rage on the housemaid, who of course knew nothing about it. His point was ‘why do we keep quiet in the face of unfairness?’
We leave you to enjoy and maybe reflect on the story of ‘Patience’…
Two slaps landed in quick succession on the younger woman’s face before she could cover it with both arms to deflect a third.
Somewhere in a corner, a fan whirred noisily, periodically flicking the leaves of a stack of papers on a table and raising dusty minions that swam about the small living room around the arms of a madam who was beating her maid with reckless abandon. The others looked on without saying a word.
There were three cushion chairs, two side tables, a television and a fan –witnesses, mute consorts with the people in the room. The madam’s husband, who occupied a sagging chair by the desk that bore the table fan and two little children – the man’s nephews – who had their arms gathered in neats folds on their laps switching between watching the lone bulb hanging above their uncle’s head and the raining blows that threatened to tear the maid to shreds. The oldest of the children – about seven and the younger about four, wore matching pleated white shorts with lilac trimming at the edges that conversed in purples with the permanganate hued ankara skirt the maid wore.
“Why did you piss in the baff? I say why did you piss in the baff?”
The madam in her mid-forties, had a yellowing complexion that bore a sharp contrast to the fading black hue that was the colour around her ears, her knuckles and the back of her ankles. Her small haloed eyes sparkling with rage, lent her narrow bony face more depth. Her braids flew in the face of fury and wrapped around the beaded neckline of the green kaftan she wore. She wasn’t asking the questions expecting answers but the maid persevered all the same.
“Madam I say it is not me!”
“You say it is not you … Is it me you are talking to like that? Is it me you are talking to?” Her questions were accentuated by further slaps that sounded like thuds against a shield of arms.
“It is not you, it is not you then who is it? How many of us are in this house you useless girl. Is the baff where to piss? Ehn…Is the baff where to piss? And you,” she turned towards where the children sat “… what are you children just sitting and looking at like mumu. Oya get inside!”
The children scurried towards a bare door.
The maid called Patience – in her early teens, by now was negotiating her way slowly towards the nearest the door, away from her domestic assailant. The blows hurt but what hurt more were the words of her mother – words she still remembered before leaving their little hut in Otupko in Benue State. Words that gave her hope that she would ‘only’ be travelling to ‘help’ these people. A hope that died when her mother paused to count the money the agent had paid in return for her service as maid for one year. Patience smarted at the sting of the madam’s ring as it caught her right knuckle in searing pain that ran up her forearm.
She couldn’t hold up much longer. She made a dash for the entrance door which was open wide but barred by the net shutter that prevented mosquitoes from entering, she tore away from the arms of her madam, as the older woman tried to pull her back by the neckline of her tee shirt. The black tee shirt gave way too easily as Patience hauled herself against the net shutter. It wasn’t bolted and yeilded to her weight, she stumbled her way to freedom on the two steps that led to the bare earth of the outside and the wide boughs of the almond tree that shaded the front of the unpainted bungalow she called home.
“Where are you going?” The woman screamed from inside. “Don’t come back into this house today. If I see you in this house I will kill you.”
Patience ran a couple of metres away from the house – out of earshot, turning to face the receding house before she finally stopped. She then folded her arms in defiance and began breathing hard as the pent up streams of tears she had held back for so long began to flow easily now that their dam was broken. She hadn’t done it. She hadn’t urinated in the bath. She didn’t know who did it.
She couldn’t help but wonder whether her two elder sisters – Ene and Florence, who had also ‘travelled’ the year before her were facing the same things. She wondered if they ate dinner before going to bed. She wondered if they slept on the bare floor beside an empty bed no one ever slept in. Maybe they had more caring madams.
She missed their mischievous trio and battles with their other brothers. Even in lack, the company of all seven of the kids was all the home that mattered to her and the brief moments with her father, in the little time she got to know him before he left home and never came back. Patience looked around the alien surrounding she had lived in for almost 6 months now, the trees, the grass, the idling livestock, the people and their strange language.
She looked up at the wide skies and imagined she was a bird. She would fly away and see blues and greens in its splendour, the wind beneath her wings.
She imagined herself in far away lands where she was queen and had numerous servants and vasals tending to her every wish. She would not be a wicked woman like her madam. She would be kinder, more considerate, more human.
She ran her gnarled fingers through her matted hair down the nape of her neck. It was thick with sweat and hurt badly. She couldn’t see the scratches and the little welts that had begun to form just below her hairline. She couldn’t see the blood either.
We leave you to enjoy and maybe reflect on the story of ‘Patience’.