Fiction

15.

African American Art Print Poster by Artist Sarah Jenkins

There is no doubt that religion has always puzzled me.

In the village, it was only Priscilla and I who used to attend service. Neither of our parents went to church. But we went all the same because we assumed it was the right thing to do. It also gave us a valid reason to avoid house chores for a few hours on Sunday mornings.

And if we did not feel like doing any in the afternoon, we could always lie that a church member had sent us on an errand after service. In truth, we would be lazing about by the stream, catching up with some of our other friends who might have also told the same lie, who knows.

Soon after father’s death, I once gathered enough courage to ask mother why she never went to church and her answer was curt.

“What will church help me with?! ” She had posed in response.

I knew mother was still grieving. Even if she never said it, I could see it in her eyes when she sat next to the fire most evenings after our meal, staring into nothing. No tears. Just stony eyes which ironically, spoke volumes. Our only response was to lay down our mats and go to sleep. We never knew just how long she sat there by the fire alone. In the mornings, she was always bright and early, a complete opposite from her previous solemn self.

Mother never forbade us from going to church though. On rare occasions, my siblings would also join me and Priscilla for service. Priscilla is the last born in her family so it was mostly her.

The village pastor was as dramatic as they come. He spoke of hell fire in such a threatening manner, we were left convinced that we would not escape it, as long as we did not repent and accept Jesus. He would bob around the makeshift pulpit condemning witchcraft, fornication, polygamy and all those ills associated with the devil. It was like this every Sunday. Sermons on just how real, hell fire was.

Some villagers attributed the pastor’s demeanor to the fact that, he still held it against his congregants, for failing to raise enough money to build a better church. Others thought he was truly called by God judging by a particular story about him making the rounds.The rest who avoided his church altogether, were simply not willing to give up their traditions at the prompting of a strange, short man or they saw no need to change, what they considered the norm in their lives. I believe our parents fell into this latter category.

The story that congregants of the church loved to narrate as proof of the pastor’s calling, was of one family which had been having trouble sleeping at night for a lengthy period. Every time they retired to bed, strange noises would be heard coming from the roof. As a last resort, they called the village pastor who held a powerful prayer session in the home. That would be the last of the bizarre occurrence.

If he could pray successfully against evil forces, then he was truly after God’s own heart, so they concluded.  I like to think of me and Priscilla as spectators and not very much interested in proving the credibility or none, of the pastor’s.

Here in the city, church is very different. There is a large parking lot where people park all types of cars. The church is built of stone, very spacious and aerated with overhead screens and an assortment of musical instruments for the choir and praise and worship team.

The pastors are always impeccably dressed. Their wives well put together. I’m sure if our village pastor came here, he would instantly feel out of place with his disheveled appearance and simple bicycle. The pastors here are all driving such wonderful cars. The sermons equally vary. It is not always the same thing being preached.

On Sundays, Mama Ken in her beautiful African inspired outfits will sit on the pew, next to her husband, nodding at everything the pastor says. Ken will be fidgety and would go out before service ends. Angie would have that bored look on her face. She will also eventually find an excuse to go out.

Here, it is seemingly allowed to wear trousers to church. In the village, wearing trousers as a female is highly frowned upon. The gossipy village women would not hesitate in calling you out on it. Your peers will alienate you for being openly brazen in your dressing. Your father would probably beat the living daylights out of you for bringing shame to the family.

Being the help, I’m expected to sit through the whole service. Many times, I do not really understand what is being preached. The pastor speaks in that twang’ that is very similar to Angie’s. I would rather be home sleeping after working for 6 days straight. But I know that is just but a pipe dream. Not in Mama Ken’s house. I have to be in church with them every Sunday whether I’m up to it or not.

At the end of the service, she would then gladly introduce me to her church friends as her help. She will act like she is so grateful to have me, although I suspect the real reason behind her introductions and her insistence that I attend service with them, is just to prove how Godly she is to her friends. Her church friends will in turn smile in awe, their carefully applied lipsticks glinting in the sun.

They will question why she never showed up at the cell group meeting last Sunday for her residential area, to which she will openly lie that she had to work in the afternoon. I will be there, standing in the shadows, trying to look invisible for I know that Sunday afternoons are reserved for outings in Mama Ken’s house. The ones I’m hardly included in. Never for boring church cell group meetings.

 

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14.

Well seasoned banter. African Art courtesy of Pinterest

With the troubles back home preoccupying my mind, it is such a welcome relief that Abel is finally leaving the house. Angie mentioned that he will now be staying at the University hostels. Finally, I can be more comfortable. It has been such a struggle for me, working in this very same house, where a young man imagined how easy it would be to pounce on me. It has really made me question the male motive. I would rather carry on being a virgin than give in to such kinds of advances from the opposite sex.

Being 19, a lot of adult things do not make much sense to me. It is almost like being in a fog. You know that you are supposed to act like a grown up but the whole idea of being grown up is still not very clear. I wonder if my friend Priscilla goes through this too. But I have always known her as one who takes life easy. Even when teachers were openly ridiculing her at school for not performing, she took it in her stride. She never showed that she was affected by it up until the time she quit school.

Priscilla’s husband recently bought her a phone and the first thing she did was rush to mother’s and request for my number. When she called me, she sounded very excited just to get a hold of me. I asked about the baby and she said he was doing fine only that he kept her awake most nights. She equally mentioned that it was unfortunate that someone was malicious enough to steal from us.

We still do not know who took the coop and the chicken. I doubt we ever will. And then Priscilla’s credit finished. I could not call her back. I haven’t yet received my salary. The little extra I had, I sent it to mother the day she told me about the theft. Mama Ken is not the kind of employer whom you can ask for an advance. I can tell that she is very glad that Abel is leaving the house. More so because she thought me and Abel were up to no good. I wish she knew that I have always felt harassed with Abel around me.

But I should not expect anyone to understand me around here. I have since learned that adulthood entails handling some of your problems by yourself, the best way you know how to. By now you would have thought I would have been accepted in this house, but that is not the case. I am an outsider and will always be in this house. As a matter of fact, I ought to be grateful for the free lodging and food. Sometimes, when Mama Ken is really angry with me, she likes mentioning how she has provided me with a place to lay my head and food. I take it to imply that I’m the one who needs her not she who needs me although I’m very tempted to doubt this fact sometimes.

The thing with these urban dwellers is that they expect their domestic workers to always feel indebted to them, the same way uncle expects mother to feel indebted to him for getting me a job in Nairobi. They also have this weird attachment to food. An employer can lock up all the foodstuffs in the house when they are out, for some crazy reason that the help will spend the rest of the day binge eating, if the food is left out in the open.

They like to treat us as if we are greedy hyenas who cannot control our appetites. I keep hearing them giving the excuse that food is expensive yet they still get to stock up on all these luxury foods that us villagers have never even heard of. Sometimes we only eat what we are not supposed to out of innocent curiosity.

Koki, Mama Brian’s help from next door told me that when her employer is out, she makes sure that she has eaten to her fill whatever food is available. On some occasions, she also finishes up Mueni’s food, the 2 year old last born daughter of her employer’s, when the child won’t eat. I asked her why she does so and she disclosed that Mama Brian is very stingy with her food. She rarely gets full during supper. The woman’s eyes are always on her, to see how much she has served on her plate.

I did not tell her that I have my meals in the kitchen  where I have easy access to second helpings without my employer’s knowledge. Mama Ken barred me from the dinner table very early on. It bothered me for a while why they excluded me from the table until I realized just how much never ending house chores made you hungry. Now I can always choose the kitchen over the dinner table where nobody is monitoring my food intake. The employers can carry on calling it greedy, but we house helps know it is the only way we can keep our energies up, to effectively run their houses.

I know Koki always has these questions and stories for me because she likes to compare notes being way newer in the court than me. This is why I often times withhold information from her. You just never know whose ears the news would land on and I like to pretend that, I do not engage with the other house helps as per my employer’s instructions.

 

13.

“Yellow Chicken” by Franceska Schifrin

Some people seem to delight in the misery of others. That is the only explanation I can give to this occurrence.

Mother called me today morning. She said that when they went to sleep the previous night, all 4 chicken were in the coop. When they woke up in the morning, the chicken and the coop were missing. I can’t even begin to put to words just how annoyed I am. Who would do such a thing?!

Mother suspects some young men who idle in the village. They are rumored to engage in petty criminal activities but nobody seems to produce enough evidence to incriminate them. I’m sure whoever stole the chicken will fetch a good price for them at the shopping center.

Then they will pass by our homestead later on, pretending to be concerned while gloating secretly at the misery of mother. Or they will completely avoid the homestead, until when they are completely sure that their crime has been forgotten and therefore, gone unpunished. The nerve of brazen thieves! This however, is not the only problem that mother has to deal with. The other problem is uncle.

For some reason, uncle’s village wife and 3 children have been having frequent meals in mother’s house and sometimes, demand money for their various needs from her. So far, mother has put up with it since uncle makes her feel indebted to him for getting me a job in the city.

I still do not understand why mother kept this particular piece of information from me when I was home visiting. I did not see any of my cousins nor aunt near the homestead the whole duration. But as soon as they were sure I was gone, they must have resumed their previous bad habits.

I’m beginning to lose all respect for uncle. I told mother this to which she made me promise not to say anything to uncle. My mother does not like ruffling feathers. Besides, it is disrespectful for a younger one to question an older one. In a way, I feel sorry for uncle’s village wife. She has no idea that uncle has an additional wife in the city who recently gave birth to uncle’s child.

But that is no excuse for uncle to make mother feed and cater for his other family’s needs! And especially now that the chicken have been stolen and mother has lost another source of income. She used to sell those eggs that the chicken laid to her immediate neighbors. Perhaps it is uncle who gave instructions to his children to carry out the theft. I would not be surprised. Jealousy can turn anyone into a monster.

I have always thought that uncle meant well but it seems I was wrong. We did not ask him to get me a job in Nairobi. The whole idea was his. So to make mother feel indebted to him is wrong. Had I stayed in the village, I’m sure I would have found other means to help mother financially. I can make hair. I would have definitely plaited the village girls’ hair and made some money.

Meanwhile, Abel has kept his distance. After that incident from a few days back, I am still fearful of him. Today morning, he left in the company of Baba Ken. Something to do with admission at the university. Sometimes, I cannot help but question what such uncouth people are going to do there.

University is where the privileged in society go to acquire degrees and get good jobs so that they can be able to drive good cars and live in big houses in nice environments such as this one. I guess that pretty much answers my question. Abel is uncouth, but definitely privileged.

I have not shared with anyone what Abel tried to do to me. Not even with the ever inquisitive help next door. The one that Mama Brian replaced Jesca with who always wants to talk whenever she spots me outside. That girl can ask a million questions in a very short time period. If I am stupid enough to say anything about Abel to her, I bet the whole court will know within no time.

But Abel is the least of my worries as long as he does not get near me. I’m more worried about mother. Maybe she should get a dog. We used to have one in the past but our youngest is very scared of dogs. For her sake, father gave out the dog. It is times like these when I wish father was still with us. Nobody would be pestering mother. But they keep doing it knowing there is nobody to defend her.

 

 

 

 

12.

A painting depicting fear. Google Images

What is this?

Is this how attraction is supposed to be?

Is this how a man communicates his desires to a woman?

“You know I want you. I have wanted you from the very first day I saw you and I know you want me too.” Abel confessed a while back. He had suddenly grabbed me by the waist and declined to let go even though I struggled to get out of his grip. The bulge in his trousers was obvious. I could feel it on my behind and I was scared.

Avoiding Abel is becoming impossible by the day. The fact that it is always me and him in the house at daytime, makes things even worse. Mama Ken has already given me the lecture.

“Do not play innocent with me Coretta. I know there’s something between you and Abel.” She accused. “I hope you realize that Abel is my husband’s nephew and whatever is happening with the both of you will not work.”

Nothing has happened. I do not understand why Mama Ken is always on my case. I am not the one who brought Abel to the house. If she did not like the whole idea of it, she should have just communicated her displeasure to her husband.

But Baba Ken can be firm. He has this way of shutting down his wife. I have witnessed it before. On those rare occasions, I see a meek side of Mama Ken come out.

This is the first time that Abel has initiated contact. It caught me off guard. Here I was, cleaning the surfaces in the living room and suddenly, male hands were on my waist. All those other times that he got near me, it was only to make me uncomfortable or to whisper things into my ear. He never placed his hands on me.

That I have tolerated. Even secretly liked it. This however, I could not tolerate. It felt inappropriate. Like I had no right to my own body.

“I don’t want you!” I announced angrily, trying unsuccessfully to push him off me.

“You all pretend that you don’t but you do!” Abel retorted, now pressing his body into mine. This is how I could make out the bulge. The disgusting prick! I decided then that I did not want this to happen. Whatever it was that he intended to happen.

“Let go or else I will report you to your aunt!” At the mention of his aunt, he suddenly got his hands off me.

Terrified by the whole ordeal, I fled to my room and shut the door. If I had a key I would have as well locked the door but Mama Ken has denied me one. She once stated that there was no need for me to have one.

But I suspect that the real reason for denying me a key was to make it easier for her to inspect the room without my knowledge. My mother did not raise a thief so I have nothing to hide! But at that moment, for protection purposes, I pushed the bed to jam the door.

“Coretta!” Abel’s voice startled me seconds later, through the jammed door.

“Coretta!” It sounded urgent.

“What do you want?!” I demanded, still terrified. I was literally shaking.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to treat you in such a manner nor scare you.” I was not too sure if he was being sincere. No matter how much he begged, nothing would make me push the bed away from the door.

“I understand that you are just doing your job and I should respect that but sometimes, I can’t help myself. You are too beautiful and I like you…” Whatever was he rambling about?

I did not respond.

“Coretta, say something!” He pleaded.

I said nothing.

It then dawned on me that as long as Abel is in this house, I am not safe. Being the help puts me in a very vulnerable position. It’s not that situations such as these are uncommon. I have seen it happen in this very same court that my employer resides in. Husbands preying on hapless house helps and sometimes getting them pregnant in the process.

In my case, it was the nephew to the husband constantly harassing me. But I have now had it! Since Mama Ken never believes me, the next time Abel tries the same, I shall make good on my threat and instead of reporting him to his aunt, report him instead to his uncle. I know Baba Ken is more reasonable than that wife of his.

 

11.

Young man portrait painting by eydii …

There’s a new occupant in Mama Ken’s house.

His name is Abel.

It is pretty obvious that Abel won’t be staying with us for long. He is Baba Ken’s nephew who came when I was away in the village. He is waiting to join University in May but I can already tell that Mama Ken does not want him around.

If I previously thought that Ken was bad news, Abel seems worse. You can just tell from looking at him. When I arrived from the village and found him at the house, he gave me one of those looks. Those looks that communicate a lot without words. Those looks that immediately warned me that I ought to be careful around Abel. But yet sometimes I can’t help being curious about him.

Unlike her own children who dump their dirty clothes in the laundry basket outside the downstairs bathroom door, Mama Ken makes Abel launder his own clothes. He does it, albeit reluctantly. She also warned him about his habit of watching movies the entire day.

This particular warning, Abel seems to ignore. He still watches the movies whenever my employer is out and wears those jeans of his in the house. The ones with large holes at the knees. In my village, wearing tattered clothes exposes the poverty that has afflicted your family. In the city, wearing jeans that have holes in them seems to be cool.

I have so far done my best to avoid being around Abel but without much success. The young man always seems to find an excuse to get near me. Like the other day when I was washing utensils by the sink, Abel must have crept up quietly behind me. I was only made aware of his presence when he whispered, very close to my ear, “You are beautiful.”

I swear I could have died from shock. But the young man seemed unfazed by my reaction to his gimmick. With a naughty grin on his face, he proceeded to dump his dirty plate in the sink. My heart was beating wildly in my chest. I am not sure whether it was only from shock but also from delight at having a man show that much interest in me.

You see, I recently turned 19 a few days after my return from the village. In a way, I feel like I have not experienced as much as my friend Priscilla has. It is not that I want a baby. I do not feel ready for one at the moment plus I do not have a husband. But I must admit that I harbor a curiosity for many things. And especially a curiosity about love and how it feels to be loved by a man.

Something however tells me that Abel is not sincere. Every time he tries to get close to me and succeeds, I experience mixed feelings. One is a bad feeling that he is up to no good and the other is a somewhat good feeling that he is paying attention to me. A mere househelp.

Mama Ken must have noticed this. Whenever she is home from work, I can tell that she is watching both Abel and I like a hawk. After Ken’s incident, I feel like whatever little trust my employer had in me previously has significantly diminished.

I have always valued my job no matter how tough it sometimes got. And especially after seeing how much my being employed has helped mother in the village, I value it even more.

Honestly, I am not sure if I will be very successful in avoiding Abel but for the sake of my job, I will try.

10.

llustration original fat chalk pregnant African woman style tribal Iemanjá – @Arkane

My best friend was beside herself with joy when I eventually gave her a surprise visit.

“When did you come?!” She demanded excitedly, offering me a seat outside her house and two ripe bananas to eat.

‘Wednesday morning.” I revealed, equally excited to see her after such a long time.

“You mean you have been here 4 days already and I didn’t know about it!” She feigned offense.

“But at least I showed up eventually!” I reminded with a laugh.

It is indeed true that Priscilla is heavily pregnant. Pregnancy has made her add a lot of weight. Her face even looks swollen and the stomach is so large now, you might think she is carrying twins.

“You went to the city and forgot all about us in the village.” She proceeded to accuse.

I knew she did not mean it. People in the village spoke like that to anyone who had been to the city. It was more of a figure of speech with a light touch.

“I did not forget all about you. I wouldn’t.” I chuckled.

Priscilla sat on a low seat directly opposite me, rubbing her stomach every once in a while.

“I tell you, pregnancy is tough. I cannot wait to have this baby.” She suddenly mentioned out of the blue. This was my cue to question her about her husband. To which Priscilla laughed and revealed that they had been dating secretly even before I left the village.

“Why didn’t you tell me?!” I interrogated.

“It was supposed to be a secret, remember?” Priscilla was amused.

“But just how did you manage to get that shy guy to date you?” I insisted.

“See what Nairobi has done to you. You now call young men guy” Priscilla quickly pointed out.

I could not help it. Being around Ken and Angie must have had some significant effect on me. But I was still curious.

“So how?” I pushed.

“Let’s just say he’s not as shy as he looks.” Priscilla replied coyly.

“And were you two doing it while dating?” Before I could hold my tongue, the question had already tumbled out. There is no doubt that being still a virgin, I am somehow curious about what exactly a man and woman do together.

“Doing?” There was a sudden look of confusion on my friend’s face and I immediately regretted asking my careless question.

“Oh, forget I asked.” I tried to quickly brush it aside.

“I know what you mean.” Much to my surprise, Priscilla said with a reassuring smile. I swear I could have died from embarrassment then. Even my armpits suddenly felt damp with sweat.

“Just so you know, we were doing it.” She added cheekily. My eyes grew large.

“You were?!”

Who would have thought that Priscilla would have been engaging in that which married couples engaged in? We used to attend the village church most Sundays where the Pastor, a man of short stature, with a hoarse voice and a penchant for dull colored frayed suits, would constantly remind us of how fornication, would give us a direct ticket to hell.

Since none of our parents had the guts to talk to us about sexual activity, the Pastor’s sermons, most;y delivered in a fiery manner, were just about all the sex education we could get. And although we knew that his warnings often fell on deaf ears, seeing the ever increasing number of pregnant, unmarried village girls, we chose to refrain from that which would annoy God.

But judging from Priscilla’s revelation, I must have been the only one who adhered to the Pastor’s teachings.

“Yes. The first time we did it, I ceased to be a virgin. The second time we did it, this is the outcome.” Priscilla now disclosed, pointing to her stomach. I could not help being all the more curious at that moment.

“How is it?” I asked.

“Ah, it’s just a man panting over you for a couple of minutes and then he’s done.” It was Priscilla’s turn to get embarrassed.

“Didn’t you like it?” I was genuinely concerned.

“The first time I didn’t, but once I got used to it, it was okay.”

“Do you mean to tell me that you two were doing it while…” I made a motion of a large stomach with my hand, to mean pregnant.

“In the early stages of the pregnancy, yes.You don’t know these men Coretta. Sometimes they want it all the time and if you deny them, there are others who will willingly give it to them. But hey, the act is better explained when you experience it yourself.” Priscilla quickly explained.

“I’m even surprised that you haven’t bagged yourself a city boyfriend yet. I hear they give you girls money unlike here…” She added teasingly.

“It’s a bit hard to date when you have a strict employer like mine. Plus I haven’t really taken a fancy to anyone yet.” I informed.

I would then proceed to tell Priscilla about Mama Ken and her family. How she had once worked in an aeroplane and lived in a house with an upper and lower floor in a beautiful, middle class estate in Nairobi. I even told Priscilla  about Ken’s escapades with the girl he used to bring to the house. And about Jesca who had quit and the one who had replaced her. All the while, my friend seemed deeply intrigued almost like she could not believe my good fortune at getting to experience all this.

Indeed, I was happy to catch up with my friend. These are some of the things I occasionally missed about my old life.

* * * * *

Just before I left for Nairobi, Priscilla delivered a healthy baby boy. He had so much black, curly hair that literally covered half of his forehead and such tiny, chubby limbs. She named him Mathias, after her father-in-law.

I know for a fact that I will miss everyone in the village terribly. But duty calls and I have to return to the city. And so now, I’m occupying my seat in the bus headed to Nairobi, waiting for it to fill up.

9.

House Of Wonders Painting – Forodhani-zanzibar by Juma Hassan

The village never changes.

It is us who have been away in the city who change.

There is no doubt that I have changed.

I have been here only 2 days and some things which appeared normal to me, slightly over a year ago before I left, now look absurd to me. Take today morning, for example.

I caught two of my siblings walking out barefeet and can you imagine I scolded them. I even went as far as demanding to know where they had kept the sandals I had brought for them from the city. Before, that would not have been an issue to me. I also used to sometimes walk around the homestead barefoot.

But the city has a way of changing someone. I am not sure whether it is a good or bad thing. The looks on my siblings’ faces told me straight away that they were wondering who I was at that moment. I didn’t seem like the sister they knew previously.

Mother mentioned that I have added weight when I arrived. I know I have. I cannot even fit in some of the clothes I went to the city with. But I like how I look. I even feel more feminine. Like a grown woman now not a young 18 year old girl.

Mama Ken gave me a two week leave from work. I wish she had extended that period, but I know she cannot do without me, picking up after her house occupants.

Since it is the April holiday season, Mama Ken’s family will be traveling to Zanzibar for a week. I heard her tell her children that they have been to Mombasa so many times already. Zanzibar would make for a good change.

I only have a slight idea where Zanzibar is. Somewhere outside of Kenya.

Last year, I did not come home for Christmas. This year too, it seems I will also miss Christmas in the village. I doubt if Mama Ken can give me two leave periods in a single year.

You know, I complained about this to uncle at the bus stage as I was about to board a bus to the village, but he silenced me. This is unfair. Even uncle’s boss lets him travel home for Christmas. Why not me? This I asked uncle to which he accused me of “beginning to grow horns”. The term they use to describe a child who is getting spoilt or a wife who is suddenly changing for the worst.

I kept quiet.

However, I’m growing increasingly tired of not saying anything. It is not like I’m mute or something. I also have opinions. Why is it that uncle is the one who always gets to have the last say in my affairs?

I wanted to complain about this last fact to mother, but could not form the words to, when she showed me the developments, the money I send home has helped her do. We now even have a wooden chicken coop, 3 hens that regularly lay eggs and a big cock, all thanks to the money. Mother says that, she no longer has to work in other people’s farms and that my being in the city, has transformed into a huge blessing.

I am glad that mother feels this way. I have been a witness to her struggle after father’s death. I am also happy that my brother, the one who follows me, is also in the process of getting a secondary school education. In a year’s time, he has grown very tall, I was surprised. Nowadays, he repairs bicycles over the school holidays and gets paid for it. My other siblings are equally doing well. At least my brother and I have eased mother’s burden.

It is Priscilla, my best friend, whom I have not yet seen. I hear she is heavily pregnant now and will get a baby anytime soon. I want to pay her a visit and congratulate her in person. Mother promised to show me where she now lives with her husband.

Can you believe Priscilla married the Carpenter’s apprentice?! Who would have thought that these two had eyes for each other? The young man could barely look Priscilla and I in the eye whenever we visited the shopping center. Priscilla must tell me how he gathered enough courage to even propose to her.

8.

african american art – Cute Couple (Pinterest)

Nothing prepares a parent for the realization that their child could be sexually active.

Certainly, nothing had prepared Mama Ken for the day she bumped into her teenage son’s girlfriend coming down the stairs from her son’s room.

I have never seen my employer react with as much disbelief as she did that Saturday.

Instead of admonishing her son for bringing a girl to the house, she ended up threatening to report the girl to her parents.

“Why didn’t you tell me that girl has been coming to my house to see Ken?!” Mama Ken would then proceed to direct her fury to me.

I knew this would happen. The house help gets all the blame for the misdeeds of her employer’s children.

 

Even if Angie had known about it, I doubt Mama Ken would have berated her for it. Angie has been attending Saturday tuition sessions in the neighborhood for as far back as I can remember. It is because that girl is always preoccupied with her phone no wonder she needs extra coaching on school work.

But I cannot tell my employer this. It is simply none of my business.

“I did not know about it Mama Ken.” I lied, all the while hoping I sounded convincing.

‘How can you not know about it yet you are always here in the house?!” It was obvious that Mama Ken was not convinced.

“Do you realize that girl can end up pregnant?! What will happen then?!”

I nearly mentioned that she should be telling her son that. Not me. But I held my tongue.

“Anything that happens in my house under your watch, I need to be told!” Mama Ken was firm.

“And I don’t even know when you transformed into such an expert liar Coretta. I have always known you to be an honest girl.”

An unexpected praise from my employer although delivered in a stern manner.

“I am not lying Mama Ken.” I mumbled, averting my gaze.

“And go change into something decent! That top you are wearing is too tight!” Mama Ken suddenly ordered.

My face subsequently grew hot from embarrassment.

I had recently got my monthly salary and after sending the amount I usually send home, decided to upgrade my dressing. I ended up buying a couple of fitting tops and thought I looked nice in them by the way. But I must admit that I had not thought about the reaction from my employer, once she realized I now dress differently. And it was certainly not good.

Her mouth had now curved into a disgusted sneer.

“I hope you realize that there are men in this house. I will not have you dress in such a kind of manner!” She added harshly.

Retreating to my room, I was suddenly surprised that my eyes were wet with tears.

Mama Ken has never pretended to be particularly nice to me in the past. I have had to put up with her irritability and her need to constantly remind me of my place in her house. But implying that I was trying to get the attention of her son or husband with my dressing, had crossed the line and had indeed stung.

As I peeled off the “offending” top from my body, I let the tears flow freely. Tears of anger for having to work for someone else and follow all their rules. Rules that governed even how I chose to dress. Right then, I hated being a house help living in Mama Ken’s house.

Later on, when nobody was about and I was busy getting the dry clothes from the dry lines, Ken approached me rather meekly.

“Coretta,” He called.

“I’m sorry I got you into trouble today.” He mumbled apologetically.

Still brooding over my employer’s earlier actions, I only nodded.

 

7.

Girl looking in the mirror. Photo sourced from Google

It was not long before Mama Brian got a replacement for Jesca.

She arrived, timid and wide eyed. Looking like the slightest scare would cause her to burst into tears. With a village aura around her. The one that urban dwellers found appalling and sometimes humorous.

I knew she would go through the whole orientation process. Make a few stupid mistakes here and there, receive a thorough tongue lashing from her employer, quickly learn the basics of city life and eventually, join the ilk of house helps who had already spent a significant amount of time in employment.

One thing I have never understood in my whole duration in the city, is why an employer expected you to be enlightened but not too enlightened at the same time. Almost like you could not be trusted if you ended up completely refined.

In Mama Ken’s house, it was totally okay for Angie to dress in a fitting pair of jeans but wrong for me to dress in a pair of tights under a knee length dress. It was totally okay, for the teenagers to spend as much time as they wanted on their phones but wrong for me to keep receiving calls on my simple phone. It was perfectly in order, for the teenagers to hang around the living room when there were visitors but wrong for me, to appear the slightest bit interested in conversation that did not concern me.

I have since concluded that urban dwellers have this deep seated insecurity, that makes them suspicious of anything likely to threaten their position of enlightenment. I have no desire whatsoever to compete with my employer. As a matter of fact, I’m beginning to experience a different kind of awareness. One that is confusing even to myself.

The awareness that I’m actually a beautiful girl.

Beautiful is not a word I would have used to describe myself with in the past. I like to think of myself as plain. I was a late bloomer. I remember my breasts started developing long after Priscilla’s had already blossomed into a full chest.

Quite recently, as I was taking a bath, I noticed just how full my breasts have since become. There is a large mirror in my employer’s bathroom. It is one that I have never bothered looking at in the past. For some reason, with that awareness of the changes in my body, I found myself staring back at my naked reflection that day. Even my hips appeared larger in the mirror.

Then I smiled.

It is a good feeling realizing something about yourself that you had never known in the past. For the first time, my clothes felt drab. The shapeless lengthy skirts and simple tops that I wore in the house did not feel like clothes I wanted to keep wearing. They did not flatter this new figure like I wanted.

But then I wonder if this kind of awareness is even right. Mama Ken has lectured me in the past about the opposite sex. Not that I have ever acted in ways that showed I was interested in men in the past. Mama Ken tends to mention in passing that men can derail a woman and especially a naive girl from the village such as myself. Sometimes, I wonder if she equally takes her time to lecture her children on the same.

Employers seem to have this mentality that the worst can only come from their house helps and not their own kids. Having made a promise to her son not to say anything, I cannot tell Mama Ken that a girl shows up at her house on most weekends when she and her husband are away working. I don’t want to lose my job for withholding information.

So if Ken was ever to get caught, let him get caught by either of his parents. I have since decided that it will be easier for me to pretend then, that I knew nothing about it.

6.

 

Painting courtesy of June Kelly Gallery, New York. Photo credit: Becket Logan

Then Jesca quit.

I had seen it coming so it was not a surprise to me.

Although we rarely talked in recent times, I knew it was only a matter of time before Jesca, finally decided to pack her bags and leave her employer’s house. She was one not easily satisfied and on those occasions we had spoken in the past, kept alluding to domestic work jobs which paid better.

When a house help suddenly quit her job, she immediately transformed into the villain. Even the watchman at the main entrance to our court, automatically knew that the errant girl was no longer welcomed in the environment. Women who hardly paid attention to each other before, instantly transformed into the best of friends, discussing about the help, who had been ungrateful enough to just up and leave.

Although your decision to quit might have been reasonable enough, no employer wanted to admit to that. The common consensus was that it was shameless for the girl to do so.

The day that Jesca left, Mama Brian, her once employer, came visiting in the evening when she was sure that Mama Ken was already home from work.

“Today I have had the worst day ever,” She began, loud enough for me to also hear. As if  she could not fathom how I could still be working for my employer, when her help had just left.

“What happened?” Mama Ken asked, seemingly bored.

From my vantage point in the kitchen, near the open door that led to the living room, I could tell that my employer was hardly interested in Mama Brian’s visit.

Mama Brian is an obviously younger woman with small children. I have no idea where she works but it must be at a good place for she always drives herself to work. They rarely interact with Mama Ken so I’m sure my employer had to be wondering why she had shown up in the first place.

“Imagine my housie left in the morning. And she did not even inform me of her intention to quit earlier. She knows I have young kids and she just wakes up and decides to go. I tried requesting her to at least stay till evening when I came back from work and the insolent girl would hear none of it.” Mama Brian now rambled on.

“Eh, now what did you do?” Mama Ken inquired in that same bored manner.

“I didn’t even know what to do. At least Brian goes to school for half day but now Mueni was the problem. I just bundled her in the car and took her to my sister’s.” Mama Brian informed.

“I had to ask for permission to leave work early. And can you imagine this girl made me beg for her to stay?! I have never understood what these housies want. You give them free lodging, food, they even use your soap to take a bath and they still leave when you least expect…”

“Yes, they are difficult to understand.” Mama Ken mumbled. She suddenly sounded genuinely sympathetic.

“At least you are lucky yours is a good one.” Mama Brian now mentioned.

“It’s just luck sometimes.” Mama Ken quickly agreed.

“I don’t even know what I will do tomorrow. Baba Brian was so annoyed when I informed him the help had left. He never liked that girl from the onset. He used to say she looked like she knew a lot, that one. But you see I had no choice. I got her from a bureau. You know how our work goes. By the way, would you mind doing me a favor?”

In that short time span, I had concluded that Mama Brian probably talked too much.

“Go ahead, I’m listening.” Mama Ken urged.

“Could your help watch Mueni for me tomorrow as I figure out what to do with my help situation. I would have taken her to my sister’s but it’s quite far and inconveniencing for me…” The request now tumbled out in torrents.

For a moment, silence.

“Coretta is usually very busy during the day looking after the house. I doubt she can be of much help to your daughter. I would really have loved to help but you know these girls. Next she’s going to start complaining that she has also been looking after the neighbor’s kids and demand a raise.” Mama Ken cleverly declined.

I know Mama Ken pretty well and carrying out favors for neighbors was one thing she rarely did.

What followed was a somewhat unmistakable grimace on Mama Brian’s face. And then she quickly excused herself, claiming she had left something cooking on the fire. I doubt if that was even true, because the time she had already spent in my employer’s house, would have been enough for whatever she was cooking to have already burned.

“Did you know that Mama Brian’s help left today?” Mama Ken would later interrogate me.

“No Mama Ken, I didn’t.” I replied, shaking my head vigorously in the negative. The one house help rule was, never to disclose any information you knew, about a fellow help whether you were close friends or not. No matter the good intention behind it, it would one day be used against you by your employer.

“People cannot even say hi to you when times are good but they expect you to quickly lend a helping hand when times are bad.” Mama Ken now wondered aloud, to no one in particular.

Still following uncle’s advice, I said nothing.