“Which Dauda? Isn’t that the name of Otunba Adekunle’s gateman?” Mrs. Phillips asked in a voice that was devoid of empathy.
“N-n-n-o-o-o, ma,” Gloria stuttered. “Dauda na de mechanic wey dey–”
`A quick slap across the face ended Gloria’s explanation.
“You got pregnant for a mechanic?” Mrs. Phillips asked, as if she felt that getting pregnant for a gateman would have been far more prestigious or easier to swallow than getting pregnant for a mechanic. The timing of the revelation made it necessary for Mrs. Phillips to desist from immediate judgment. But the following morning, she sent Gloria packing.
Number 2 was Esther. She was four years younger than Gloria, but not as good with the laundry. Her cooking skills were passable, and she would have stayed longer, save for one thing: her singing. While doing the chores, Esther would sing very sorrowful, heart-wrenching songs, in a language that Mrs. Phillips did not understand. The girl’s pain was evidenced by the torrent of tears that usually followed these solos. She was crying because she missed her family very much, and this was the first time she had lived outside her home.
Depression is contagious, and soon enough, Mrs. Phillips found herself inconsolably sad whenever Esther was around the house. Finally, one day, Mrs. Phillips decided that although Esther had a beautiful voice, she was not prepared to die of depression. So, she sent Esther packing, to be reconciled with the family she missed so much.
Philomena, who everyone called “Philo,” was a cheerful, round-faced, diligent worker, and she was Number 3. She was 17 when she came to work for Mrs. Phillips. Unfortunately, she soon discovered that Philo was a sneaky little liar. Whenever she sent the girl to the market, she would buy every single item on the list alright.
But, Philo inflated the prices so much that Mrs. Phillips began to wonder if the girl had been crossing the border to go to source the items she was told to buy. She always came back with tales of how the prices of foodstuff had gone up exponentially, or how the bus fare had tripled over night. It did not take too long for Madam to discover Philo’s deception, after she visited the same market herself and ascertained that her housemaid had been exaggerating and pocketing the change. Philo was promptly fired to go and continue her life as a career criminal.
Number 4 and Number 5, Mary and Mercy respectively, were sisters. Mary came to work with Mrs. Phillips and was fired after two weeks for insubordination. The girl was rude, and perhaps her age accounted for this: she was 22. Mrs. Phillips’ good friend, Mrs. Towobola, was the one who had brought Mary to her. After apologizing for the girl’s ways, she offered to bring in Mary’s sister, Mercy, who was the very picture of humility, Mrs. Towobola said. Although she was hesitant to hire another maid from the same family, Mrs. Phillips decided to give it a shot. That was how Mercy, who was 18, came to work for her.
Mrs. Towobola was right. Mercy was very humble and well-mannered, and Madam wondered how she could possibly be Mary’s sister. She was sure that Mercy would be with her for a very long time. Unfortunately, Mrs. Phillips overlooked a critical fact: Mercy was ambitious. She had finished from secondary school and had plans to attend a polytechnic or even a university, if she was given the chance.
There was nothing wrong with her aspirations, except that she saw Mrs. Phillips as the ticket to the realization of her dreams. As soon as she told Madam her plans, she at first, welcomed the idea. Madam suggested that she could learn a trade like catering, but the girl wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor. Fine. Madam then suggested that she could study law or medicine, but she had to do it part-time, as she had to remain in her employment for the duration of her education.
The girl refused stating that with all the strikes that institutions of higher education were notorious for, she would be well into her 30s before she could dream of graduating. Her counter-offer was to go to school full-time and then come to work for Mrs. Phillips on the weekends. Understandably, Madam declined.
As soon as Mercy discovered that she would not be getting any assistance from her Madam to further her studies, her attitude changed. She became sloppy with her chores, and started talking back to Mrs. Phillips. Those were the warning signs. Not long thereafter, after giving her a chance to repent, Mrs. Phillips fired her, though with a lot of remorse, because she understood that the girl’s aspirations were proper. She just knew that Mercy would be unable to continue working for her, if she was a full-time student. And since Mercy had no desire to learn a trade, their deal was off.
That brings us to Number 6: Mama Joy. Mama Joy was a woman in her early 40s, who had five children. She never mentioned a husband, so Mrs. Phillips assumed that she did not have one. She was working as a clerk at a local supermarket, which Mrs. Phillips frequented, when the older woman casually told her she was looking for a housemaid.
After listening to Mrs. Phillips’ compressed account of what had happened to the previous house helps, Mama Joy empathized with her and told her that age was what accounted for their dispositions. The former helps were young and restless, Mama Joy said. What Mrs. Phillips needed was an older, experienced woman who had a firm grasp of household duties, and who needed little to no supervision.
Unsurprisingly, she volunteered her own services, especially after Mrs. Phillips had told her the amount she would be paid every month: N 10, 000. It was two and a half times more than her salary at the supermarket. By the time she started listing the various dishes she could cook, some of which Mrs. Phillips had never heard of in her entire life, she was hired on the spot. Mama Joy happily took the position and resumed work the following day.
– to be continued –