I said nothing.
I remained calm but said nothing to defend myself. My eyes did not stop blinking. I could not have a fixed gaze on both of them. Everywhere looked blurry. But I knew she hit me. She hit me hard. Her normal expectation of having me rush to meet her raised left hand for ‘slaps’ did not come through. She coerced me till I was on my knees. My hands were on the floor to support my shaky knees. She got angry. She kicked my hands off the floor and I fell hitting my nose on the kitchen broken tile. It was sharp and it scrubbed the left part of my face alongside my nose. She dragged me on the floor while she screamed “oloshi”.
Everywhere was dark. My face was swollen. I felt it. I was back to the old storeroom that bore nothing ‘again’. The floor was extremely cold. It was colder than the last time I slept in it when she punished me for burning the semolina. This time, I left to check the pumping machine and forgot the pressing iron on her silk fabric.
I had no courage to bang the door. So, Iwaited patiently. I was hungry. Two days passed and I saw no ray of light. I had no idea about what time of day it was. I was about to go to sleep again on an empty stomach when I heard them. She shouted at her husband for being too ‘soft’. She mocked him for not being a man. I had no idea why she said that but her husband pleaded on my behalf. My madam’s husband spoke in a low tone but she shouted and mocked him the more.
My name is Sophia and I lived on the 11th street of Akpan.
September 19, 1999
We scrubbed and scrubbed until the floor became spotless. My mother made us scrub for so long I lost track of time. Not that I hated scrubbing. No. We always had our house clean though quite small in size and a ‘pure’ depiction of abject poverty, we always made sure it was neat. We might not have enough knowledge about sanitation but we knew dirt brings flies and those little ‘things’ causes what they call cholera.
My mother made us scrub everywhere again even after she knew a little more scrubbing would wash off the broken cement used to cover the little part that covered the obviously sandy part of d living room which we carved out from the one room the 8 of us shared( it used to be 12 of us).
Our guest’s arrival made everyone nervous, except me. They were coming to examine us to select one out of myself and my available 5 siblings. Four other siblings had been selected when I was younger. Father acclaimed the number of his children to his ability to be able to generate wealth from the family we get to be picked as maids from. We were always lucky. We got families that had spent almost half of their lives in white man’s land. My family was top on the list of families to be considered first in the entire village – And that made us popular.
The woman entered first. Shoulders so high, and she barely looked down. She walked with so much elegance. She looked extremely rich. Wearing a short purple gown that was too revealing for a married woman. Her thighs were spotless and very fair. She looked too fair to be a Yoruba woman. I twisted my lips and looked at my immediate sister for confirmation that Mrs Adewusi took the length of her dress to the extreme. My sister beamed stupidly in appreciation of how the woman was dressed. Her perfume filled everywhere. She smelt really good and that was the only good thing I appreciated in her.
“She is from Aameerika..Aameerika people don’t like long something”, she said quietly with a funny accent that came from nowhere. I gave Sandra a disappointing look.
I stopped staring at her and focused on the man that was behind her. He carried her handbag and wore a fixed smile like he was told not to relax his jaws. I concluded that he must be her driver except that he looked too clean and smart to be a driver. His white buba stood on him but his pride was loosely gathered.
Welcome!!, my mother shouted. I looked at her sternly. Her belief that we were born to be slaves to some got me pinched. She offered them seats and was about to clean them with her wrapper after the thorough cleaning I did when the man told her not to bother. The woman looked at him furiously and told my mom to go ahead.
“Meet Mr Adewusi…my husband”, she said with a straight face. Her intonation changed when she got to the ‘my husband’ part.
I paid no attention to their discussion even though I stood in front of them alongside my siblings. Deep down, I prayed not to be chosen.
They all shouted my name. The madam to be had asked others some questions and I did not know when it got to my turn. She looked at me and made it clear how she hates it when people don’t pay attention to her.
‘She must be the boss at her place of work…probably the first born…or maybe she was dealing with some life crisis..’, I thought to myself.
“Sorry, ma, what did you ask”?
She carried her face from my side and signalled to her husband that they have to go. My mother was confused. she walked behind them and asked them why. The husband was about to answer when ‘madam’ cut him short with a raised eyebrow. My father met them on their way to their car. He was drunk. He staggered to my side and asked what happened. I pointed at my mother and told him to ask her.
“They are leaving, Sophia annoy madam”, she said in a rush.
Father staggered to my side, raised his hands to slap me but he missed. He was drunk again. After several pleading from my parents and siblings, ‘madam’ came down from the car. She looked at my father and pitied his irresponsible state. She moved back to stay off the stench that came with father’s breath. I was embarrassed but at the same time, I was irritated. She was too proud for me to abide.
May 24, 2009
The next day was Sunday. I missed Saturday cleaning and after spending two nights in the storeroom, I worked all day to cover up the mess my madam made for the days I was away. She can not do anything herself. Madam got back by 11:30 from a church. She fumed with anger because I was still cleaning not knowing lunch was ready.
My madam and Oga both ate in silence. I could see them from my own eating table in the kitchen. Oga did not raise his head up. Madam ate without focusing on her food but on the table and chairs. She moved her hands on them to see traces of dust but she looked satisfied. She banged her fork on her empty plate to get Oga’s attention but he refused to raise his head up.
“I will not do it”, she said angrily and almost sobbing.
Oga looked at her scornfully. I was surprised. There was no fear in his eyes. He continued with his meal, peacefully. Madam got angry.
“I am talking to you”!
I was scared. Had never seen madam so angry before.
Oga still did not move until he finished every grain of rice on his plate. I watched them closely. Oga stood up and walked slowly towards the stairs. Madam ran after him as if he was far away. She pulled his shirt but Oga continued walking. I could not catch a glimpse of them after that. I cleared the table and washed the dishes. A part of me was happy that madam had something else to deal with for the entire day and I wouldn’t be a bother to her; another part of me was confused.
He walked briskly. I saw him. My fixed time to wake up weekdays was 3:00. Madam gave me the time and I had learned to keep to it. I was about to switch off the light to my bathroom’s bulb when I saw the shadow pass. I did not switch the light off again. It was not a bother. Most times, I leave the light on for reflection. Madam had refused to fix it for me even though the electrician was in the house a week after I slept in the storeroom.
I knew it was not my madam that passed at that hour and if it was Oga, he would not walk cautiously.
The shadow kept looking back to see if someone was awake. I saw the shadow wait for some seconds at the entrance to my room. There is no door to my room. I stayed glued to my bed but I was ready. I already gathered the strength to scream and hit whoever the burglar was. The person moved closer. My bedside was extremely dark. I kept my eyes opened but pretended to be sleeping.
I snored with my eyes wide open. The person did not move too close and after believing I was not awake, the person left. Fortunately for me, he had no torch. The shadow climbed the stairs and that was all I saw of the person. My thoughts drifted to my madam….. My Oga… then I mumbled some prayers and laid still till it was 6:00.
I turned on all the switch downstairs even though it was unusual for me to do so.
“Oga, I think a thief was in the house this morning sir”, I said hurriedly.
He looked at me and his expression said it all.
He did not believe me.
“Don’t worry, I would get someone to come and check the house from the office”, he said. But I did not believe him.
“Madam is not okay, let her rest.”
I nodded with inward excitement. The week started on a good note. A little rest from her, I thought to myself.
“So you are saying you did not know”?
Yes, I have no idea, I said.
My madam still did not come downstairs. For nine years, I never entered my madam’s room. Mrs Sulaiman came every Wednesday and Saturday to clean the room.
I did not know if I should check her or not. She had forbidden me from ever coming upstairs. I climbed the stairs countless times but I did not have the courage to knock the door. I stood at the door. Paced left and right with unstable thoughts.
Seliu was sleeping and despite the noise of the honks..he did not move. I opened the gate but the car was different. I peeped to see who drove the car. It was not Oga. The man was in uniform. I ran and then stopped not because I wanted to, but because he told me to.
He pushed me to a seat in the sitting room and told the young man in uniform to watch me.
I prayed for the arrival of Oga.
In an awkward moment, the older man in uniform asked me to get him water. I walked slowly and looked back to check if I was being followed. But I was not.
I peeped from the kitchen to see what was going on in the sitting room. There I saw him. My oga. He was with them. I ran out to greet him. He looked at me sternly.
“Madam did not come down today Oga”, I said slowly with fear.
“That’s her”, Oga said.
“Take her”, the man in uniform said.
I struggled with the young man that wanted to cuff me. He hit me with his club.
I woke up trembling. It was a dream that bore what was coming.
I ran……and did not look back.
*** *** ***
She said I was not a man and that if I saw myself as one, I was not man enough for her. My name meant nothing to her and she refused to drop her father’s name for mine. She could not have a child and it was my fault despite the medical reports that said something was wrong with her womb and that I was okay. I was a nobody to her family because I could not keep up with her father’s political talks and aspirations. My silence was my weakness and she saw me as a man with defects. She said she did me a favour by marrying me and that my wealth meant nothing to her-
She said her father was wealthier. To her, I was a man whose name deserves no recognition even after our marriage. I was a stranger in my own home and hours spent at work eased the pain. So I finally decided to let go and she would not. I signed my portion of the papers but she would not sign hers. She said I had no guts whatsoever to leave her- That the decision was only hers to make. I ignored her rants and did not move. She hit me. I cautioned her and reminded her that I was not strong enough health-wise. She pulled me out of the bed and hit her head on my chest. I panicked and begged her but she continued. She grabbed my top and mocked my entire effort to maintain peace by letting go.
I begged her to leave me alone not because I was scared but because I was not ready to lose myself. I had been helpless all through our marriage but I had never had it to my throat. My heart, as the doctor put it, could stop anytime. But that was nothing for her to be worried about; she had always cared less about that. She focused on my chest and would not stop hitting it. It hurt so bad I flung her over. I could not breathe… My heart almost stopped but hers stopped instead.
I panicked. But, I was free.
My name is Kolawole Adetunji.
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Written by: Makanjuola Olayinka
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Other stories by Olayinka
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