Although I have suffered in this house, I must admit that there has been some positives. When I first came to Mama Ken’s house, I could only cook what mother had taught me. I did not know how to cook sausages, chips, pilau, meatballs and all those luxury foods that city dwellers indulge in. At least I could make mandazi and chapati. But not to Mama Ken’s standards!
For a long while, I had to put up with her constant criticism of my mandazi and chapati making skills. If it wasn’t the amount of oil I used, it would be the shape of the chapatis or the taste of the mandazis that she would be complaining about. Tea had to be served in a certain way. The cups and plates arranged on the shelves in a certain way. It’s like Mama Ken had rules and regulations to how everything should be done in her house.
Surprisingly, I had over time grasped the routine perfectly and especially in the kitchen, just as she liked. She was not one to openly congratulate you for your efforts, but I could tell that she was pleased with my cooking and kitchen cleaning efforts. She rarely complained nowadays about my food.
Mama Ken is not your typical woman. She is well traveled. I hear she used to be an air hostess in her younger years before she had her kids. This I learned from Angie on those rare occasions, when she is not glued to her phone screen and seems to be in the mood for a chat.
“Mum was once an air hostess” She announced, out of the blues, one day.
“What kind of work is that?” I quickly inquired.
“The guys who work in an aeroplane.” Angie informed in that twang’ of hers. You would think this girl has lived among White people, for she always insists on speaking and acting like them.
“Oh,” I gasped, not knowing what else to say.
“But she quit when she had us.” Angie now switched to Kiswahili, noticing the apparent confusion on my face.
Sometimes I wondered if the only topics this girl was good at, were the ones with an intention to boast and remind one of how privileged she was.
“If I had been her, I wouldn’t have quit. Can you imagine mum has been to so many countries abroad? She tells us she couldn’t have been able to travel like that once she had kids. That’s why she settled for a job at the airport…” Angie carried on breezily.
I said nothing. What was there to say anyway? The only aeroplanes I had seen were the ones that flew overhead rather noisily. I had certainly never been in one. Only the privileged in society flew in those things not village girls like me employed as house helps.
But Angie’s revelation about her mother kind of explained some things to me.
Only a person who has been abroad acted the way that Mama Ken did. The insistence on neatness, the manicured nails, well done make up, smart clothes, neat hair, her love for spending, the way she carried herself.
I have had the privilege to see some of her friends whenever they come visiting. Well refined ladies who insist on conversing in English. Even if I tried to eavesdrop on their conversations, I cannot make out much. They speak of the schools they send their children to, the bosses they have to put up with at work, nice places to take the family on a vacation and such kinds of topics.
Nothing of much interest to me. But sometimes, I find myself admiring them and this lifestyle. I wonder if a simple girl like me can be able to lead such a kind of lifestyle. It happens in the Nigerian movies I have been watching though! Village girls with unkempt hair and drab clothes, who end up in the city and become refined ladies such as Mama Ken’s friends. But that is just acting. Acting is not real.
Or maybe it is! In Nigeria, perhaps.
But mother has always advised us to be content with our lot in life. She says that had she not been content with her life, she would have probably ended up married again after father’s death. But her only desire has been to raise her children. My mother is such a strong woman. However, being in the city for a year already, it is hard not to notice that there is a different kind of life, to that which I had grown accustomed to in the village. One that I’m increasingly getting drawn to.