It was definitely surreal for Asekegbe, her life had always been like a pot of soup hurriedly put together by a busy mother trying to quell the starvation of the household. She was a University Graduate at the age of 19, but she couldn’t remember having passed through the four walls of a University.
‘You rush everything; I hope you do not rush to your death.’ Her brother once told her 7 years ago.
‘Honey, guess what? I have gotten you the perfect maid.’ Her Husband said.
‘The perfect maid? Whatever that means!’ She thought. She could never remember having a maid during her childhood, perharps they had one but she was too young to remember. She made a mental note to ask her Mom about it someday.
The news thrilled her, it did not occur to her to ponder on the personality of the maid that her husband had employed. In the world of House maids, there were categories of maids such as the lazy maid; clean maid; dirty maid; arrogant maid; humble maid; experienced maid; green maid; stealing maid; husband snatcher maid; possessed maid; lying maid and gossip maid. A maid could be in any of these categories. Asekegbe did not know this. All she knew was that she needed a maid to restore a certain level of balance and orderliness to her life. Her life had been a whirlwind ever since her hurried marriage to Yomi Peters. The house chores were always screaming out to her, the dishes were exceptional. It had no respect and always soiled itself on every occasion it’s called to serve them.
Every chore had its day, but the house was big, imaginably too big for her to follow her well-crafted chore table with strict precision. And the result was that she was always overwhelmed. Her two children made no difference, they were babies in the loose term of the word. They were 2years old, a set of gorgeous twins and she could remember how everyone dotted upon them at birth.
They all chanted, now no one dared took a second look at them, they shooed them away at all times.
‘Leave here, don’t you know you are no longer a baby.’
Food stains and inks constantly soiled their shirts. The floor always grunted at them for spilling the food crumbs on it. Her furniture was an extraordinary type, it took special pride in sparkling and shinning and she dazzled with it. But again this was restricted to her special days assigned by her well-crafted chore table.
Advent of the maid brought slices of excitement to her being, she must impress the maid she thought to herself and so she set out upsetting the well-crafted chore table. The furniture could not understand why their Mistress gave them a good bath and a shine before their assigned days. They could see the weariness in her as she struggled to keep up with the chores in the midst of her two sons. Then came the relentless buzzing of the doorbell, the buzz wouldn’t stop until she scrambled to open the door. Yesterday it was the mail man and today it was her Husband’s Aunty whom they called Mama. She had no husband and children of her own. His parents were dead and his Aunty was his sole living relative. He said something about his parents dying in a car crash before he turned 4. Possibly the experience was too painful for him to recount or he had no recollection of it because he never talked about it.
‘Are you deaf that the sound of the bell has become too silent for you to hear?’ Mama said in that husky voice of hers.
She was strange because she disliked frivolous greetings for one whose culture encourages it. She did not wait for a response but continued.
‘Ehn the maid she must be young, the older ones snatch husbands. Also take her for some spiritual cleansing else she brings evil spirits into your home. Check her background to ensure that she is not sent by your enemy to come spy on you. Take her for medical tests o! Disease is rampant these days. What tribe is she?’ She asked, clearing her throat.
Asekegbe muttered something beneath her breath. She was distraught by the constant interference of Mama in her life, she wanted to be free from the incessant advice. Let me make my own mistakes and learn from them she thought.
‘I don’t know, Yomi said she is from the Agency, he will get the full details later.’ She said.
‘Hmm you people better find out yo, before you bring a husband snatcher into your home. Am telling you because you are the woman o! Men do not care.’ Mama said.
The maid came in the midst of the chaos her advent brought, there was the endless bickering between her Husband and Mama because she wanted to approve the maid before she arrived at the Peters’ home. She also wanted to have the last word on if the maid was fit for purpose. Yomi wouldn’t hear any of it. For Asekegbe, it was simple, if Mama wanted to see the maid for approval, then let her see the maid. She failed to see the underlining of the battle. The battle for supremacy and power.
The maid was brown in complexion she thought, but on closer look her body was dark and her face light. She was of two colours.
She was pleasant towards the maid who made a show of doing house chores.
‘Good evening Ma.’ She said as she stepped into Asekegbe’s house for the first time. She headed straight in search of the kitchen as if she knew the contours of the house, leaving her suitcase at the threshold.
‘Where are you going? Allow me to show you round the house.’ Asekegbe said with a smile. To her it was not just having a maid, the maid signified a talk mate. A maid would fill the void in her solitary life. Her boys were too small to understand her and her husband too busy to listen and talk.
‘To get broom to sweep the house, the place is too dirty. I am experienced at this work; you no go teach me my job. I sabi work well well. No worry, I go clean for you.’ The maid said.
Three weeks later and the maid sang a different tune, the clothes were unwashed, the windows covered with filth, the centre table and the dining table coated in dust, and the dishes cried for a wash. The furniture was unhappy and, it began falling apart. A little touch by the maid and the curtain fell off the rails.
Then the unexpected happened, Asekegbe had her first encounter with the maid when she confronted her not minding the maid’s stories of how her well-to-do suitor disappointed her; how her wealthy suitor is asking for forgiveness; how circumstances made her to start the job of a maid; how she trained her whole family with the job of a maid; how her last employer’s husband wanted to have sex with her.
She was tired of hearing her sweet coated and inconsistent stories of her experience as a maid in 5 different homes. Her age kept on changing like the rising sea waves. Today she was 25 and tomorrow she would be 23, two weeks ago she was 20 and when she moved into their home she was 19.
Asekegbe couldn’t keep up with it. She confided in the maid a lot and, joked with her but not today, for she was fed up.
She confronted her but, it did not turn out well, the maid screamed back at her and cried, they had a screaming fit and both kept sullen faces for the rest of the day. Asekegbe trembled to say the least, though not confused, just mystified from it all. The maid refused to eat for 2 days and Asekegbe wondered if she was not married to the maid. She called the maid, this time to reason with her.
‘I do not eat when I am angry, ask my family members.’ The maid said.
As if she knew the family members of the maid. She was stunned when the maid said she would leave the house because she could not work in a house where there was no love for her. She kept mute and over the next few days the tension thinned out and the animosity evaporated. They were friends again, not best friends but friends with a great level of new found closeness. They went everywhere together and left the evening chores undone until they were back from those little trips. She carried the twins and, the maid carried her handbag. There was an unspoken agreement between them. Asekegbe most times washed the clothes and, the maid did the cleaning. She stopped concentrating on things that mattered to her and made housework her priority. Asekegbe was always there to give the maid a helping hand and, the maid enjoyed it so.
Then came the day one of the shop owners in the neighbourhood challenged her. The shop owner recounted the happenings in her home and insulted her. She remembered she had fought with that same woman for calling her maid an old woman. She was not a troublesome person, but with the presence of the maid in her life trouble associated with the maid seemed to hug her from all corners. There was that day she told off her dressmaker whom she had known for 5 years because the dressmaker was rude to her maid according to her maid’s account of the story. She wouldn’t hear the other side of the story. She went all out to defend her maid.
The shop owner said in a loud voice.
‘You are a talkative, you go about pretending to be nice, but you are not, I heard all you said about me, coward, you don’t have the decency to tell me to my face. Your maid told me all about you. How you squeeze your face like an undone moi-moi, when your husband speaks to her.’
Passers-by and the neighbouring shop owners came out to witness this.
‘Amebo, two-faced woman.’ The woman continued. She laughed out loud and clapped her hands as if to dust off Asekegbe’s presence.
Asekegbe looked all around her, she couldn’t see properly, tears had blinded her view. Her twin boys tugged at her long flowing kaftan and she cried all the more.
She made to walk but her legs wouldn’t carry her, they wouldn’t obey her command.
She knew it was all her fault, she had treated the maid like a friend rather than an employee, like a sister rather than a maid. Everyone starred at her with pity. She shouldn’t have been too friendly with the maid, the lies were too much to bear and all of a sudden the truth dawned on her, she felt pained not for the insult but for the betrayal.
The shop owners and passers-by whispered:
‘She has no experience.’
‘That’s the problem with human beings, she was too trusting.’
‘I pity her.’
‘She is too weak to be a boss.’
‘That is the problem with young couples, no experience with these issues.’
By some miracle she left there in one piece and that day, she was all business-like with the maid. The helps seized and, the jokes seized, the attempt at a well meaningful conversation was absent. She willed and hoped that the maid would ask, but the question never came and the betrayal became more real.
Every night after the incidence she wrestled with herself, should she tell her husband, should she sack the maid. They had a difficult time getting this one, will the next maid be any good. But she somehow couldn’t decide. Maybe, just maybe she was indeed a coward.
Written By Flora Martins