On that fateful morning, the sun was unnecessarily lazy; it took it a long while to drag itself to full view. As soon as it had settled in the sky, everywhere became balmy. That also gave us the permission to engage fully in our chores. It was my departure day. I just got a job in the city; my joy knew no bounds. I chuckled in excitement as I took hastened steps to the stream to wash my body.
It was my first trip to the city. I arrived early enough to catch a glimpse of busy Lagosians returning home after a long day at work. I was exhausted, but not by my hopes about the journey into another phase of life about to commence. My handler had asked me to wait for my soon-to-be madam at that spot. I rested my back against the wall of the building while I directed my gaze to the busy road. I found the honks and yelling of angry drivers captivating; the pip–pip sound was music to my ears. Hunger pangs interrupted my ecstasy by reminding me that I had not had any food in hours. It forced me to exert some pressure, using my hands, on my pelvic area with the hope of preventing my stomach from rupturing.
Soon, a car pulled over and the woman driving called out to me. ‘Get into the car at once’, she said in a loud and intimidating tone. I jumped in like a cat that just fell off a cliff. We zoomed off before I got the chance to say ‘good afternoon, madam’ in my timid and shaky voice. I was overwhelmed by the fact that a woman was contentedly doing a man’s job- driving. The car was nothing compared to the type in my village. It did not stop halfway into the journey to cool off or gulp some water like the ones in my hometown.
From the look on my madam’s face, I was sure she was underwhelmed by either my appearance or the tattered English that found its way out of my mouth during the brief question and answer session we had. I was not sure if she liked me or disliked me. I just saw myself floating in the chambers of her semi-vexed heart. I knew I needed to win a space in her heart to guarantee my stay in her house.
When we got to the house, I was blown away by its sophistication and beauty. It felt like heaven on earth. I stood there with my bag still clutched to my chest mainly because I was not sure if it was safe to sit on any of the white chairs. ‘Welcome to my house’, she said hastily as she made her way up the ‘ladder’. They call it ‘upstairs’. Halfway up, she turned towards me and added, ‘someone will come to attend to you and take care of you’. The hunger pangs in my stomach vanished as soon as those words hit my ears. I felt sorry for the ladder- like staircase. I imagined how it suffered each time heavy bodied men and women ascended and descended, carelessly. Climbing the staircase did not feel safe. Heart-troubling was the fact it looked normal to all of them, including the servants. I wished they took shorter and softer steps to prevent it from collapsing some day.
While I was still musing, a servant-lady showed up to welcome me. It was easy to decipher her position in the house; her dress was the same hue as that of the security man that opened the gate when we drove in. She ushered me to the kitchen. The fine kitchen brought butterflies to my stomach. But a closer look made me dislike it for being too neat; I could literally see my reflection on the walls. I was served rice and chicken. It was sweeter than party rice. The spicy chicken got the saliva in my mouth and mucus from my nose dripping into the plate. Some found solace on my chin and rolled down at their own pace. I went as far as giving the plate a thorough wash with my tongue; I licked every particle and grain of rice off the plate. Somehow, the stares from the servant lady suggested she was maddened. My mum would have given me a pat at the back for doing that. Although the pepper lingered in my mouth longer than expected, it left a city taste in mouth, which was a huge favour to me.
Again, I noticed an irksome dislike in her disposition; her eyes hovered around me in contempt. When I was done, she pulled herself sluggishly and showed me around. ‘Your job in this house is to sweep, mop and wash’, she said with a stain of pride in her voice. ‘Thank you’, I replied to further saturate her ego. ‘Good, we will start tomorrow’, she said as she walked away wagging her buttocks in a promiscuous manner.
I entered my assigned room and was amazed by its painstaking beauty. She had explained earlier that the house is called a ‘born–galore man–tion’ and that the small room in my room is called a ‘baff–room’: it is for defecation. In my mind, I was mad at all the city people. I found it hard to explain why full gown adults would defecate inside the house, but I was marveled as to why the whole house did not smell foul. To save myself the pains, I held back my poo and wee throughout the night. The cold got a better part of me that night. It joined forces with the pepper I consumed earlier on to give me a runny nose which they comfortably blamed a man called ‘Air Conditioner’. ‘He must be a mean fellow’, I muttered beneath my breath.
After three days of rigorous training, I decided it was time to put my best foot forward in my new job. I woke up early and tiptoed round the house with the intention of not waking anyone. I noticed they dislike noise with an inconsiderate passion and use only few words. So, I decided to dazzle them with my cleaning skills. I added a generous portion of detergent to water, poured it on the floor, and rushed out to get a broom with the hope of cleaning even invisible grimes. I returned only to find my oga on the floor. They said he ‘slipped and fell’. That became the genesis of many troubles in that house.
Oga was discharged from the hospital two days ago. Between that the day he was admitted and the day he was discharged, I saw and kissed hell. I was begrudged and called all sorts of names. They said I was a witch. They called me dirty and accused me of harbouring body and mouth odour. Agreed, my armpit gets wet easily and my mouth froths when I talk, but it is not appallingly bad. My madam announced that her son who has been living abroad would return to face me. I felt my village people had finally caught up with me. I cried to a sorry state most nights.
He arrived as expected but he was nothing like what I had imagined. He was gentle and soft spoken. I was taken to the oga’s Library where I was quizzed. I answered all his questions in all honesty. When I told him Mr. Air Conditioner could be responsible for oga’s ‘sickness’… he was puzzled. I had to narrate my runny nose experience on my first night. Instead of consoling me, laughter erupted from him. ‘Your ignorance is loud’, he said as he made his way to the door. Before leaving the room, he pulled me into his bosom and patted my back. ‘I LOVE YOU; WE ALL DO. YOU WILL ADJUST’ , he said. I was not sure if he really meant it. But one thing was certain, those words rolled off my three weeks of misery off my chest within a blink of an eye. It also gave me hope and another chance at being a jolly- good fellow.
Peace Habila, a resident of Jos, Plateau state is passionate about creative writing. She wrote in via firstname.lastname@example.org