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Agonies Of A HouseHelp
Life has been unfair to me right from the start.
Born into a family of ten: 3boys and 5girls plus mum and dad, survival had been a struggle.
My father was a palm wine tapper and my mum was a petty trader who dealt in foodstuffs.
We lived in a remote village somewhere in the South-eastern part of Nigeria.
My father’s palm wine tapping didn’t earn him much and even after combining with the proceeds of my mum’s petty trading, my parents still couldn’t afford 3square meals to sustain the family.
I was the first child; followed by a male then females before the two last males.
I never went to school even for a day. None of us did.
Then disaster struck.
My father went for his usual palm wine tapping business and never came back.
On dispersal of a search party, it turned out that he fell from the palm tree and died on the spot.
This sudden death of my dad launched my family into more terrible hardship and my mum couldn’t cope.
Things grew worse after my dad’s burial and it became necessary for my mum to send us out to live with different people in the city.
At that time I was 15years old and my immediate younger brother was 13.
It was my late father’s sister that brought up the suggestion to my mother and my mother quickly bought the idea and soon had me introduced to my madam.
In a matter of days, the whole arrangement was concluded and I followed my madam back to the city of Enugu.
The first few days, I was treated well maybe because it was my first day of arrival.
I was shown around the house, taught how to use some of the appliances, I was also shown the little room that was to be my room and also the small mattress that was to be my mattress.
Then I settled in my new home with hope that things would move fine and my madam won’t have any reason to send me home prematurely…
A severe lash of cane sent me hurrying to my feet the next morning.
“So you’re still sleeping?” My Madam asked looking ferociously at me. “So you’re still sleeping by 7am?” She repeated lashing out two more strokes of the cane. “Who are you waiting for to clean up the mess in the kitchen and sweep the house?” She asked.
“I’m sorry ma,” I sobbed.
“Come on, go and do your morning function!” She barked as I ran out of the room and into the kitchen.
It wasn’t my fault that I woke up late that morning.
I had overworked myself the previous night clearing up the dishes that was used in preparing and serving the meal for the night.
By the time I finished and went to bed, the night was far gone.
I sobbed as I washed the remaining dishes in the sink and swept the entire house.
“Make sure you fetch water after sweeping that thing,” my madam’s harsh voice reminded me from the bedroom.
“Yes ma,” I replied hurrying up.
The buckets I used in fetching water were those big saclux buckets that were so heavy that I never attempted to fill them to the brim.
I was to fill one very big drum in the front verandah with another at the back.
For more than 3hours I ferried the buckets from well to drum and back.
By the time I finished, I was very hungry and exhausted.
My madam gave me two slices of bread and a cup of mixed water in the name of tea.
The mixed water was tasteless, hot and almost burned my tongue in the first sip.
My madam was married to a well to-do husband and they already had 3kids the last of which was very tender.
It was obvious that she was the one I came to babysit.
The other two – a boy and a girl – were much older but still needed certain degree of babysitting like bathing them and washing their clothes and even feeding them as at when due.
But then the tender baby gave the biggest trouble. She cried a lot and more often than not always put me into trouble.
With only two slices of bread and mixed water in my tummy, I carried the baby about trying as hard as I could to quell her cry.
“Why is that baby crying?” My madam asked walking into the sitting room.
“I don’t know ma,” I replied with terror.
“Gbawam!” A very hot slap landed on my right cheek and I nearly dropped the baby out of pain.
“What did you just try to do now?” My madam asked advancing ferociously towards me.
“Please I’m sorry ma,” I pleaded sobbing.
The raised voice of my madam coupled with the sound of the slap further increased the baby’s crying and my madam took her from me.
“Come on, go and put hot water on the fire for her pap!” She thundered and I ran into the kitchen in obedience…
I lighted the stove immediately and put some water into the kettle and placed it on the stove.
“Hope you’ve put the water?” My madam shouted from the sitting room.
“Yes ma,” I replied twisting my fingers in fear.
“Come and wash off these napkins immediately,” she ordered sending me running into the sitting room.
She handed me the soiled napkins and I zoomed off with it into the bathroom to wash it.
I had barely soaked the napkin into the water when I heard madam’s voice dishing out another instruction.
“I will skin you alive if you continue wasting my kerosene in this house!” She bawled. “Or do you want to tell me that you don’t know that this hot water is boiling?”
“Sorry ma,” I replied.
“Sorry for your stupid self!” she fired back.
I instantly rinsed my hands and rushed to the kitchen to bring down the hot water.
I didn’t know where the pap I was to prepare was, so I went to the sitting room to ask madam.
“Ma please where is the pap?” I asked trembling with fear.
“Idiot the pap is there!” She fumed pointing at the fridge.
I went to the fridge, brought out the pap, prepared it and took it to her in the sitting room.
Then I went to the bathroom to continue with the napkin.
The baby’s cry filled the entire house and I soon heard my madam’s voice calling me.
“Adaeze!” She called.
“Yes ma,” I replied rinsing my hands once again and running into the sitting room.
“Sing for her, sing for her,” she urged.
“Fine baby don’t cry, fine baby don’t cry,” I broke into an unrehearsed song.
Fortunately for me, the baby stopped crying and listened to my song as she gulped down the warm pap.
When she was done, I carried the plate into the kitchen and washed it off and then went to the bathroom to finish up with the soaked napkin.
Soon, baby went to sleep and madam went to sleep too and I had little time to myself…
The other two children, Nnenna and Chimaobi soon came back from school and scattered their school uniforms, sandals and school bags in the sitting room creating more work for me.
“Where is my food,” Chimaobi asked with an authority that was much stronger than his 3years of age would suggest.
“And mine too!” Nnenna added.
“Its inside the warmer,” I replied.
“Go and get it for us!” Chimaobi ordered.
I wondered how little Chimaobi and Nnenna would be ordering me around.
Little children whom I was older than with nothing less than 10years.
I brought their food from the warmer and gave to them.
If not for the presence of my madam, those children would have had it hot with me but madam’s presence was hell-fire on its own.
Not to talk of when she gets report from any of her children.
I hadn’t taken anything except the two slices of bread and mixed water that I took since morning yet I endured.
I cleared the sitting room and removed the school uniforms, bags and sandals that the children scattered there and went to the bathroom to wash the uniforms.
I had barely started washing the uniforms when madam woke up from sleep.
“Hope the children have eaten,” she asked with bulging sleepy eyes.
“Yes ma, they have,” I replied.
Then she went into the toilet to ease herself.
“Adaeze!” She called.
“Yes ma,” I replied.
“Have you washed this toilet today?” She asked.
“No ma,” I replied.
“If I meet you in that bathroom, I will tear you into pieces!” she threatened.
I rushed off to the balcony to get the mop and bucket to wash the toilet.
“Why didn’t you wash it since morning?” She asked.
“I forgot ma,” I replied.
She gave me a very hard push and I fell backwards and nearly hit my head on the wall.
“Silly a#s!” She cursed and went back to her bedroom.
With tiredness, hunger and exhaustion I washed the toilet.
When I was done, I went back to the bathroom to complete the washing of the children’s school uniforms.
By the time I finished washing the school uniforms, my stomach was tearing apart with hunger.
But I couldn’t muster the courage to tell my madam that I was hungry.
So all I did was to go to one corner of the kitchen and cry silently.
Madam’s husband came back later in the evening and observed that my eyes were red.
“Why are your eyes red?” He asked peering into my face.
“Nothing sir,” I lied in a bid to avoid trouble.
“Have you been crying?” He asked still peering into my eyes.
“No sir,” I lied again.
“Ok have this,” he said handing a can of fruit juice to me.
My face brightened up as he handed the juice to me.
“Thank you sir,” I greeted and went into the kitchen with the can of juice.
I gulped down the entire juice in no time and my stomach calmed a bit.
The family had dinner around 8pm but I wasn’t given anything till I finished washing all the plates and pots used for the dinner.
Then madam put one very small leftover of the food for me, the size of which wasn’t even going to be enough for a toddler and went to bed.
I ate the food fast and retired to my small room to catch some sleep as I was very tired and exhausted…
I woke up in the middle of the night and heard madam and her husband whispering in hush tone.
“Give it to me harder,” madam whispered breathing heavily.
My heart skipped some beats as I thought madam was in distress but I kept calm and listened further.
The squeaking sound of their bed increased and madam’s voice filtered once again into my room.
“Ouusss…mmm…ahhh,” she moaned.
At that point I knew what was happening.
Madam and her husband were at it again and another baby could soon be on the way.
Some minutes later madam’s husband started groaning aloud and everywhere went quiet afterwards.
“Darling you’re so wonderful,” my madam said.
“And you too my queen,” the husband responded and let out a short laugh.
I didn’t know when I slept off and by the time I woke up it was morning.
I got up immediately and went to do my morning function.
Within one hour I was through so I sat on the mortar in the kitchen waiting for my madam to wake up.
Part of the warning madam gave me was that for no reason whatsoever was I to sit on the padded seats in the sitting room.
“If you feel like sitting down,” she instructed. “Sit on top of the mortar in the kitchen and never in the sitting room.”
For no reason whatsoever was I to touch the remote controller in the sitting room no to talk of putting on the television.
The dining room was also out of my bounds so I ate in the kitchen and on top of my mortar.
Madam woke up very late that morning around 11am and came and inspected everywhere but saw nothing to complain about yet she wasn’t satisfied.
“Who put on the toilet light?” She asked frowning her face.
“I don’t know ma,” I replied.
A very hard knock landed on my head and I shouted in pain and ran towards the toilet to off the light.
Then she went back into her room.
“Darling I suggest you take it easy with that young girl,” I overheard my madam’s husband admonishing her.
“That girl can be very annoying,” my madam replied. “Can you imagine that she hasn’t scrubbed the toilet uptill now,” she added, which was a very big lie.
“Just be patient with her,” my madam’s husband insisted. “I believe she will learn,” he added.
“I hope so,” my madam responded.
I felt very bad.
The toilet my madam lied that I didn’t scrub was actually the first thing I scrubbed that morning.
Why my madam was being so wicked to me was what I couldn’t explain. I was doing all my best to please this madam of mine yet it seemed like all my best wasn’t good enough.
I swallowed hard and let the annoyance pass.
By noon, madam ordered me to prepare and escort her to the market.
Her husband stayed behind with the baby and waited for us to come back.
We boarded a bus and madam sat down while I continued standing.
A passenger alighted at the seventh bus-stop and left a free seat which out of exhaustion I decided to sit.
Madam’s hard blow on my thigh sent me to my feet in no time.
“Who gave you the permission to sit down?” She fumed ogling at me. “Will your dead father pay for the seat or your wretched poor mother in the village?” She asked still staring at me ferociously.
Her words hurt me as much as the blow on my thigh but I endured.
“Madam please take it easy,” one man sitting behind us pleaded. “She will learn with time.”
My madam kept mute and didn’t utter any word in reply.
When we got to the market, Madam bought everything we went to buy and I carried them on my head till we got to the house.
“Wash those vegetables and cut them,” my madam instructed. “Cos I’ll cook soup this evening.”
With tiredness and exhaustion I set to work immediately.
Within 30minutes I was through with the vegetables. Then I proceeded to cut the okro as well.
When I finished, I was very tired so I went into my small room to rest for a while…
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