Memoirs of the House Help

Alright, so the main reason I started this blog was because I write. I write fiction mostly, and I love it so much. I hold it so dear to me. I loved writing this (but haven’t completed it. This is only chapter 1), and sometimes I marvel at what I write and thank God for giving me this skill. I hope you enjoy! Please leave feedback, and most importantly, please share on your various platforms!

For non-Nigerian readers:

House Help: A house help is a Nigerian (not sure if it’s only in Nigeria we use this term) term for a maid/live-in nanny. They usually live with the family they work for, and assist around the house with chores and in most cases, the raising of the children.

Okada – a motorcycle, one of the forms of transportation in Nigeria

Garri – Cassava flakes, can be made into a round lump to eat with soups (savoury), or made into a watery kind of paste to eat with sugar (sweet)

My future was decided on the day a strange woman came into our home. She was seated amongst us, discussing business with my mother under the low light of our algae green kerosene lamp. I sat in the bedroom with my younger brother and sister, finishing off our dinner of beans and garri. The hot meal had been placed on one large silver plate and the white garri had swelled up, swallowing our two sugar cubes and rendering it tasteless, but we had to manage. 

I was attentive to the food, eating it before it went cold. At the same time my ears were highly attentive, listening for snippets of their hushed conversation at the other side of the thin curtains which we used as a door. I watched as my siblings ate, my younger sister’s sluggish movements as she lifted the spoon to her lips with the same effort it took to lift a 10-litre bucket of water.

Ruth was not the biggest fan of beans, but knew she would be in trouble if she skipped out on dinner. On the other side of me, David was eating quickly, taking advantage of Ruth’s sluggishness as he planned on filling his stomach. They were both young and exposed, exposed to the struggles which came with an underprivileged life, but still unaware of their surroundings. They didn’t feel the unease in the air, the uncertainty that this strange woman had brought along with her. 

Having enough of the hot beans, I stared out into the other room where my mother and the woman were seated. I took in her appearance that was partly shielded by the darkness. The lantern illuminated some features. A dark blue top, wrapper and a head wrap that sat atop her curly black wig covered up her body. Time passed, and they all went to sleep. I stared out of the window as a slight breeze brought in coolness to fight the heat in the room, along with the familiar high pitched buzzing of mosquitos eager for victims. 

My mother had said this woman was an important visitor, that she was the key to a better life for all of us, and thus should be regarded highly. The woman did not come empty handed, she brought gifts of a small bag of rice and vegetables, something we received with joy. This was because it was nearly Christmas, and all we had in the kitchen was a nylon bag filled with weevil infested beans and a small jar of salt. We would’ve had to manage this until the end of the year, because Mama had to pay for Ruth and David’s school fees. With the introduction of the rice, we would be able to end the year on a good note.

In the morning, my mother revealed to me what had been discussed. The mysterious woman had been long gone, but it was revealed that she would be back soon. She would be taking me with her the next time. I would have the opportunity to further my education in exchange for working for a family in the city. The woman was a family friend who had come to know of my plight. My mother was a widow – our father passed away from an illness several years ago. His death had opened up the wickedness in the hearts of men, coming in the form of the ill treatment we received from his side of the family. 

We couldn’t access much help from my mother’s side, as most of her family had deserted her due to the man she had chosen to marry, amongst other issues. My mother had fought like a lioness, a will to survive awakened by the hardships she faced to this day. The soft exterior was gone and she pushed all of us to do our best at whatever we put our hands to.

She had done everything she could to get us all an education, ignoring the people who said that educating female children was all futile, because marrying us off would get more money. She had hawked, sold her most valuable items, begged and borrowed just to be able to keep us alive and educated.

I was to go along with this woman to the city just before the New Year began, and although It pained me that I would be leaving the life I knew behind, I saw that it would be a chance to help my family. It would lift up the financial burden from the slumped over shoulders of my mother. Staring into her tired eyes, which had dark bags under them, I caught a glimpse of the woman buried within, and she let out a small smile. I took in her lanky appearance that resulted from skipping a few too many meals, her brown skinned face characterized by worry lines, frown lines deeply embedded into the sides of her full lips.

Her hands once soft were hardened by work, and her skin bore the marks of hardship, scars from injuries both inflicted by my father and by the intensity of her work. Her baggy pink top was faded from too many washes with Omo detergent, and so was the blue patterned wrapper which was loosely hanging off her waist, thin hair braided into cornrows which were becoming messy and half covered by a head wrap. She was my mother, and now I had the responsibility of making sure she never had to worry too much.

In the last few days I spent with my family, I took in our village with a renewed appreciation. I would miss the small houses with chickens and goats walking freely around, the farms full of corn and cassava amongst other things. I had taken my first steps as a child on the orange earth, and could replay my laughter with my friends as we climbed up the large mango trees that seemed to be in every second compound. I would miss my house the most, the place I had known all my sixteen years of living. Our home was a faded blue boys quarters building we co-owned, with a large mango tree in front, further decorated by purple hibiscus bushes which served as a border around the house. 

Behind the house was a large plot of farming land; a small portion belonging to our family while our neighbours owned the rest. I could picture myself sitting outside with my mother as the sun was setting; her hands working magic, turning my tufts of wild hair into intricate braids, preparing me for another few months of school. She would sing to me and sometimes tell stories, and we would laugh while David and Ruth played with the other children from the community, just outside our compound. I would miss the days where I would return in my blue and grey uniform from school to my mother who would be waiting for me, the smell of food permeating through the air.

I sat under a mango tree, discussing with my friend Chichi, who hung unto every word I said, jealousy flashing in her eyes as she wished she was in my position. 

“I’ve heard many things about the city. It’s not like this place where the roads are bad and the only fast thing we see are bicycles and sometimes okadas (motorcycles). It has big buildings taller than palm trees and there are a lot of people there. You’re so lucky! So one day you’ll come back to the village and I won’t even recognise you,” Chichi said with awe and longing in her voice as I simply smiled. I was going to be leaving the next day, and a boulder of nervousness was resting in the pit of my stomach. 

Inside, my bags were already packed because I didn’t have much in the first place. I just had a small pink Ghana-must-go, which held three skirts, five tops, two scarves and three pairs of shoes— two of which my mother had bought using the money the mysterious woman had given her. I was given a lecture about how I should always be a good girl and hold on to God so that this opportunity wouldn’t be wasted. This caused my nervousness to grow.

So many of my schoolmates and neighbors visited and gave me things if they had any as a farewell gift and I gave some of the stuff to my mother and siblings.

Later that night, as I looked at my last moonlight through the old wooden windows in our room while David’s light snores routinely broke the blanket of silence, Ruth crawled up next to me and rested her skinny arms on the window sill, sadness clearly on her face.

“When are you going to come back sister?” I looked at her young worried face, smiling slightly. Ruth and I were very close and had shared a lot of memories together; our relationship strengthened by the hardships life had thrown at our family.

“I don’t know, but I hope it will be soon,” I said, trying to reassure her when really I struggled to convince myself about what the future held. She let out a sigh and slumped her shoulders.

“I wish I could come with you to the city, I don’t want to be in this village suffering. I’m tired of everything,”

“Don’t say that, just keep praying and focusing on school, and everything will be good at the end of the day,” We sat in silence, both staring out at the moon and its ability to throw a blanket of silence over our neighborhood, apart from the occasional bleating of goats.

The next morning, the woman came at dusk but I was ready for her. I had been shaken out of my sleep at 4 by my mother who urged me to take a bath, then prayed for me after giving me some bread and tea. I walked next to the woman who was still covered up, the cool morning breeze hitting my face as I stared back at the last memory I would have of my home for a while. My mother stood at the front of the house just at the gap in between the hibiscus bushes with my brother and sister by her side, waving as a tear slid down her cheek.

We continued to walk until we reached a big road where we caught an okada to a small bus park. Arriving there, I saw it was already busy with people who were about to travel to different states, seated at different areas. I walked with the woman towards the one scheduled for the big city, and we sat in the plastic chairs in silence. I took in the environment, the sky gradually getting lighter, the silhouettes of young hawker children trying to sell food to the travellers who were about to embark on a 9+ hour long trip.

We finally boarded the small white Hilux bus, where we were seated all the way at the back, in a tight space taken up by other passengers and large bags holding goods. I was next to the window, and stared out at it just as someone said a short prayer. The bus lurched forward just as the sun began to rise, and I said goodbye to the life I had known, moving further and further into my tomorrow.

A story by Mind of Amaka

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14 thoughts on “Memoirs of the House Help

  1. Red says:

    Very nice and descriptive. In the meantime, consider using Thesaurus more to find replacements for words that occur more than once in close succession (like attentive, sluggish and just). Looking forward to part 2!😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

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