She Wore A Pair Of Jeans, And Stepped Into The Night
Our new house help calls me ‘Mama Nelly’. The first time she called me that, I offered to tutor her on the pronunciation of my daughter’s name. So I asked her to say “HAILEY(pause) Mama HAILEY” In the manner of Bond (pause) James Bond. Then she goes “Hellen?” I correct, “Hapana. H-A-I-L-E-Y” she repeated, “HALEY” refusing to acknowledge the ‘I’. I gave up.
So she calls my girl Haley, and curiously also calls my younger one by the same name. I found it a hurdle having to start another pronunciation session of the name Heidi, and so I let her be. In her world, both my daughters go by the same name; HALEY. While I go by the name “Mama Nelly” I wonder when she will ever realize how ridiculous this is.
Since she is new, maybe she will get better with the names as days go by. There is always one challenge or another when a girl starts working in a new household. The girl we had before her did not have a problem with our names. That’s not to say she did not have a few challenges of her own.
She was fresh from the farm when I took her under my wing; young, naïve and hardworking. No phone, short hair, she wore long dresses with the hem stopping reluctantly at her ankles.
She did her chores shabbily at first; her level of cleanliness a bit wanting. I reminded her tirelessly to use soap – she seemed to be allergic to soap so much that she would rinse utensils under running water then dry them, oil and all. I never quite understood why she hated soap so much! I wondered what soap ever did to her, did they have a bad history or something?
I suspect where she came from, taking a shower was not an everyday affair because I had to tell her to take a shower every single day. I asked her to find a milder lotion because of the baby. The one she was using had a pungent fragrance whose scent floated boldly through the whole house and welcomed everyone who walked in through the door.
I patiently taught her how to cook; how to always heat (and not necessarily burn) the onions to a golden brown color, how to follow the onions with tomatoes and always cook them thoroughly before adding the food. I tried to show her how to cook Chapatis, but after several failed attempts where they came out thick and crispy, I gave up. I henceforth got stuck with cooking chapatis.
She learnt the ropes eventually and worked considerably well. She hardly went out even on her day off neither did she interact much with other housegirls. So reserved was she that she was taken advantage of sometimes. Once she was duped to spend one thousand shillings on ill-plaited cornrows. When she told me how much she paid for them, I offered to accompany her to the salon the next time in order to negotiate prices on her behalf because she was getting ripped off big time!
Each month she asked me to send part of her salary home to her mother who was helping take care of her son at home. On the second month, she bought a phone and learnt how to use it though once in a while she would mess it up by pressing buttons here and there then bringing it to me to help fix it.
A few months later, her long dresses were replaced with short skirts and trousers. Her face changed its complexion; I realized she was bleaching herself with some bleaching cream. She became keen about her appearance; she did not need to be reminded to take a shower anymore. She took her time consulting with the mirror too.
Her phone rang, in full blare, incessantly, sometimes into the night. I had to ask her on more than one occasion to watch that she doesn’t wake up the kids. Plus, her ringtones were not borrowed from Christian songs anymore. She spoke and laughed coquettishly into the phone when she answered it.
She took longer to respond when I called her. She gave me ‘the look’ when I asked her to do something she did not feel like doing. Her responses were short when I phoned her during the day to ask how the kids were doing. When she went out to bring in the laundry, she took some time to chat with her newly acquired pals who once or twice were invited for a chat in our living room.
It was only a matter of time…
She waited until her salary was safely in her custody, then she did it the way men break up with women; short and heartless. She casually informed me that she was leaving the next day.
I asked how she expected me to find her replacement in …checking my watch… what, 10 nocturnal hours? I suppose this was the part where I was expected to fetch my magic lamp, rub it, and make a wish for a replacement to pop up pronto!
When her conscience nudged her a bit, she agreed to leave the next day in the evening and true to her word, she was at the door with her luggage waiting for my arrival when I got home from work the next day.
She wore a pair of jeans, and stepped into the night.