Mary sat in the large couch in the far left corner of the room and watched as the short stocky Mr Tinkpe taught the boy arithmetic or should we say as the boy taught Mr tinkpe arithmetic?
She had been in the house for three weeks and with each new day, she found more reason to stay than to go. her plans to run away were falling apart and she didn’t know what she could do about it. her small Carry all bag had remained unpacked because she still didn’t know if she wanted to be sitting with this boy all day long. she seldom saw her employer and even when she did, he just nodded at her briefly and continue with whatever he was doing. Since the day he brought her into the room, he had not been back there to see the boy. The boy didn’t seem to notice but Mary felt sad all the same. How could anyone have is sort of a beautiful creature for a child and yet be so distant from him…. especially since they lived in the same house.
When she had first met duke, she had thought he would be one of those rich kids who constantly rubbed it in her face that she was not educated. But as the days had rolled into weeks, she had found at he was more interested in shapes and corners than in anything she knew or didn’t know. He constantly avoided physical contact and as she would find, he also stuck to a personal routine that nothing seemed to be able to shake him out of. Once, when she had been outside his room at bed time, he had stated to throws things over and jumps up and down. Crying profusely and making a hell of a fuss. She had had to resurface like the speed of light but even then, he couldn’t sleep all night. His bed time had been disrupted and so the whole day had gone to hell. Mary had cried herself to stupor as the little boy only got worse whenever she tried to bring him into her embrace.
When he did sleep that night, it wasn’t because he was ready to… it was more because he was exhausted and his body finally conquered his mind. She had learnt her lesson that day as she discovered that this particular kid was not being spoilt as the other rich kids were, he was genuinely distressed over her absence at bed time. She decided that night to never let it happen again. So today, as she watched him learn from his ever so patient teacher, she decided that she was not ready to leave yet. There was still time after all. she would stay and be dukes friend till she was finally ready to leave.
When the teacher packed up and left, Mary walked gingerly towards duke like she always did. He was in his study chair, poring over the books that had just been used to teach him. “Small oga…” she started to say but he looked up and said to her
“My name is duke” Mary paused in her strides. They had been over this a couple of times. In all the places where she had served as maid… their children was as much her boss as the parents. She wasn’t used to calling any one of them by just their name.
“oga duke..” she said in an attempt to satisfy herself and duke at the same time
“Just duke.” he said again. Mary was frustrated. Where did they bring this boy from exactly? Where was his mother anyway? She made a mental note to ask duke sometime. She neglected trying to find an appropriate mode of address for her little boss and started to pick the book and pen he had used for studying. Not that it was littered all over the place like children usually did. In fact, duke was so neat that Mary barely ever had anything to clean as far as the room was concerned. she however put the books away and started to set the small table in the room for lunch.
“it’s time for lunch ”
Duke nodded briefly, ” I know…” he said
They sat in silence as they always did while they waited for lunch to come. Mary wanted to talk to the boy, she wanted to say something nice… something that would make him feel less alone.
“where your mama dey” she asked quietly but without whispering in order to prevent the boy from thinking she was gossiping about his family.
“my mama is dead”
The boy said simply. He didn’t seem sad or happy, he answered the same way one would have said “the food is cold” his tone was bereft of any form of emotion.
Mary looked at him, what was wrong with this boy exactly? Why couldn’t he relate like a normal human being? He didn’t seem retarded to her so what wrong! She had seen a lot of retarded rich kids, by this one was nothing like anyone she had ever seen. She shook her head slightly and sighed. She looked at the wall clock and was hoping to high heavens that they didn’t bring the food in late. “I nor fit shout today o” she muttered under her breath.
“where is your mama” duke suddenly asked
Mary was surprised, it had never happened before that the child of the rich actually asked where her parents were.
“my mama dey village.”
“Do you have a brother?” he asked again. Mary smiled warily as the image of all the little children playing in the compound came to her mind.
“I get like twelve brothers and three sisters.”
He didn’t seem surprised. Rather he repeated the words.
“Twelve brothers and three sisters”
Mary nodded, thinking he was just echoing what she had said
“No… I mean the correct way to say it is twelve brothers and three sisters. You have to use plural to describe things and persons that are more than one.”
“Okay, I hear you small oga.”
A knock sounded on the door and Mary rushed to get the door.
A lady in a blue checkered uniform and white apron came in with a big try of food. She brought the lunch in and set it on the table. While she out everything in place, all was quiet. The minute she was gone, duke turned to Mary and said…
“Tell me a story about you,” Mary looked at him and laughed. This boy was really something. What was there to tell anyone about her?
Okay… Duke” she said a little uncomfortably. “I nor get story for me to tell o.”
“That’s not true. You have seen outside the house, tell me about all the places you have been.”
” chai duke but that go be long long story o, ”
well, we have all day Mary”
“I no efen know wia to start from sef.”
” start with telling me all of your names. about your twelve brothers and three sisters, and about your village.”
” sho! we no go fit finish today o”
” tomorrow is another day Mary”
Mary laughed at the way he called her name. she knew she had to tell him something or else the rest of the day could be shot to hell. so she started slowly with her voice just loud enough for the boy to hear. her first few words wavered and shook but with each new word, he voice got strengthened. duke ate, seemingly oblivious to everything else. but she knew that his was listening. so she told her story.
” na night they born me. Na as my mama dey waka go mama Joseph house na hin her water break. She born me for road there…”
She started to say, but duke looked at her and raised one hand.
She started to say, but duke looked at her and raised one hand.
She stopped, wondering what she had said amis.
” Mary, I know you can speak fairly good English. Please don’t use that language, it confuses me. ”
Mary was shocked. No one had ever been able to tell. She spoke pidgin so well and it just never occurred to anyone that she might be able to speak any other form of English. Her eyes widened and she looked away.
” how did you know… She asked”
Duke looked up from his food and said
” well, you talk in your sleep a lot. ” he shrugged.
Mary looked at her fingers. She felt exposed, as if a big secret of hers had been shared with the world without her consent. She didn’t like it but there was nothing she could do about it.
She re adjusted herself in the chair she sat in and started all over.
” I was born at night, my mother was walking to her friend, mama sunday’s house when she went into labour. She had me on the road there and I was later taked back home.”
” taken Mary”
” taken back home” he corrected
“I lived with my mother till I was twelve years old, I already had six siblings. When I was a few months over twelve, one night my uncle came to the house. He sat with my mother and they concluded that i should go to the city to work. I was in Lagos for the first time a week later . they brought me to mrs adamolekun’s house.
When I first came, I was so happy. So eager to impress. I was going to give it my all.
Mommy had three sons. A pair of twins that were around fifteen years old and a small boy of my age group. Mommy needed a girl in the house because they were all boys and they couldn’t be expected to do all the house chores. I got there on a Sunday evening, on Monday morning, the woman showed name what I would be doing! It was a lot of work for a twelve year old me but I took it up in good faith and launched into my job squarely. By the time she came back from work, the house was Spick span and I was quite satisfied with myself.
She wasn’t a bad boss herself, Mrs adamolekun was strîçt, but she didn’t maltreat me. Her sons Adewole and Adegoke however were different. They were devils. Evil brats that made life hell for me.
One Friday afternoon, when they got back from school. I was in the kitchen, washing the plates that had been used in the morning, The sink was too tall for me so I stood on a low stool that added height to my short legs. The boys knew this, so they crept into the kitchen while I was not paying attention, Adegoke kicked the low stool out from under me. I fell face down onto the hard tiled floor. I couldn’t even cry. I was too shocked to cry. It started that day and it would be another eleven months before I would be rid of them. ”
Duke had finished eating. He had been staring straight ahead into space for the duration of the time that she talked. He was listening. She knew he was listening. But she knew it was time for siesta, so she stopped and said.
“Its time for siesta. ”
“It is.” He replied.
” we will continue later then?”
” yes we will.”
She took his hand and led him to his bed. Helped him get in and soon started to hear the light breathing of the little boy.. Wanting to be nearby in case he needed her, She stretched out on the sofa closed her eyes for a nap.
Mary stirred in her sleep, she was feeling uncomfortable. That feeling we get when something is off, or when someone is staring at us… yea that feeling that makes the hair at the nape of your neck stand at a grossly uncomfortable attention, well, she was getting that feeling.
she sprung out of her couch and opened her eyes simultaneously. she looked around and realised the it was either she had been sleeping for two days straight or she was having one of those episodes where you wake upon from a nap and realise that you have no idea what day, month or year it is.
she looked at duke’s bed and he was still in it. sleeping soundly like a drunk puppy. she realised that she wasn’t the only one who had been enjoying the sweet sleep. she glanced at the wall clock with the huge “PM” letters written. on it. instead of the usual numbers that told what time of the day it was, it was symbols that represented what duke should be doing at the moment. the spot where 12 would be was occupied by a book and pen. meaning that he had to be studying with his teacher at that time . she looked at it presently and saw that the time was on the game pad icon, which meant that he was supposed to be playing video games at the moment.
she stood by his bed and wondered if she should wake him or leave him to wake on his own. she considered all the odds and came to the conclusion that she couldn’t handle it if he started to throw things around the place again. so she sat on the bed and pulled his big toe gently. he stirred and opened his eyes, his eyes went straight to the clock and he was out of the bed in a flash.
“its games time, will you play resident evil with me today Mary?” he said. the sleep was still in his voice but Mary knew that she would be un able to talk him into going back to sleep. she was fine with that, at least he won’t be biting her head off for letting him oversleep. He was skipping into the game room, frantically setting up his game obviously trying to make up for lost time. he sat down to it and started to play.
sometime later, Mary was laying the bed when she looked up and saw him by the door. she was alarmed, duke never skipped an activity. he had been playing for less than ten minutes and he still had about 45 mins to go. she dropped the bed sheet she was holding and rushed to his side. being conscious not to touch him at all.
“Are you okay? do you need something? are you hungry?”
she was saying. nearly frantic for all the possibilities that were running through her mind. she bent low and looked into his eyes. he looked away and said
“Mary can we change all my leisure time to story telling time?” he said, pointing at the wall clocks simultaneously
marry almost laughed.
” sweetie,” she said
“we don’t need to chang it on the clock, we can just tell stories anytime we have leisure.
“but that’s impossible, if the clock says to play games, then we can’t tell stories” he said
” its very possible dear. we will just ignore the clock”
duke looked at Mary as if she had just blasphemed.
” are you kidding me!” he exclaimed exagerratingly. we cannot ignore the clock! nobody ignores the clock, ” he turned and walked over to the nearest clock and exclaimed again, probably for effect
Mary could see that he was getting worked up. that was the last thing she wanted.
” its okay… its okay… she put her hands out to touch him withdrew it quickly almost at the as,e time, she noticed that he also withdrew away from the prospective touch.
” I’ll talk to your daddy about it’ we will have someone fix it tomorrow.”
” it can be done today. tell him I want not done today.”
Mary looked at him and smiled cynically
” like hell I will” she said. she imagined herself so short, standing in front of her boss and telling him that she needed to have the clock icons changed immediately. that would be one very funny sight. despite the cynicism in Mary’s voice when she said ” like hell I will’ the words seemed to calm Duke down and he went to sit on the couch, he supported his chin with his palm while resting his elbow on his lap. his stance made it obvious that he was waiting for her to finish what she was doing and go and get his dad. it suddenly occurred to her that Duke did not get the sacarsm in her last words. he had assumed that ” like hell I will” meant that she would neo his bidding.
at this point, Mary found herself wondering if she should set the records straight and just tell him what she really meant, or she should at least attempt to do his bidding since she had given him the impression that she would. she looked at him and knew that she dared not try to tell him what she reapply meant. she would be setting fire to the house. so she finished upon laying the beds and stepped outside the room and went to look for her boss.
she walked down the long corridor. it was nearly 7pm so most of e staff had gone home. the only staffs who lived in the building were her, security, and driver. every other person came and went. the building felt so quiet, so silent. she could almost hear her footsteps echoing behind her. she decided that she would check e car park first to see if all the cars were in the house. if they all were, it would mean that her boss was in. but if even one of them was missing, it could mean that he wasn’t in the house. when she looked outside and counted the cars, she noticed that the black Mercedes was missing. she therefore assumed that her boss wasn’t around. she was relieved and was going to tell Duke that his daddy was not around and therefore, they could not get his consent just yet.
she turned back into the house and started to walk back towards the belong corridor. as she neared the entrance of the corridor, she heard some click clacking sounds comking from the dirrection of the kitchen. she was going to ignore it but it was irregular and noisy. it news obvious that it wasn’t the cook nor the maid at was in there. she walked towards the kitchen gently and got ready for a fight in case it was an intruder. she tried to be as quiet as she could by walking on tip toe. she was mal most into the kitchen when someone said from the kitchen.
” you can walk on tip toe all you want but I know you’re there.” the voice was feminine and laughing. Mary was about to jump the person and shout “help thief” when the voice continued.
” if you think you will bend me over and fuck me in your kitchen … ”
mary’s eyes opened wide. and it continued to grow wider as the person whose voice she had been hearing jumped out of the kitchen and said
“… you are dead right!”
“JESUS!!!” they both yelled at the same time as the lady jumped on Mary. Mary shouted because she didn’t see it coming, and the person shouted because, she was expecting someone else. someone that wasn’t female or short. they both fell to the floor and then started to try to get up.
” what the… what the fuck is this!!” the other lady was saying. Mary on the other hand just got to her feet and started to run away from the lady in blind embarrassment. she ran as fast as her legs could carry her and then smashed into a wall. she fell back and was back on the ground. she hit the floor wit a thud and closed her eyes for a second. She thought “what the hell was that?” there wasn’t supposed to be a wall in that direction! she was sure she was running in the right direction and it had to be that the lady in the kitchen was a witch to have brought a wall to her way.
Mary… are you okay Mary? Fumbi call the hospital. use the land line so they know its me”
is she dead?” someone was asking
” shut up Fumbi, people don’t just die like that. get the ambulance”
well, she looks dead to me.”
” I think she might need a mouth to mouth”
what! ” no way in hell are you putting the mouth I kiss in that thing’s mouth.”
” this could be a matter of life and death… I think I knocked the wind out of her”
” I don’t care if its a matter of heaven and hell, you’re not kissing her.”
” so you would rather have her die than get a Mouth to mouth resusication…”
” I swear by god Bolaji, if you put your mouth in that thing,’s mouth, it will be the last you see of me.”
” wow! ” her boss exclaimed. ” wow” he exclaimed again. Mary could feel his hand tense up on her shoulder where he had put it. It seemed to her that he was about to smash his fist into something. she wanted to talk and stop this conversation, tell them that she was fine,m deliver her message and go but then he said
” you know what, fuck this. I’ll help this girl. she’s my staff.” and he started to bend towards her. Mary became frantic and in her anxiety’ she put put a weak hand to stop him.
” Oga… I dey. I dey okay.”
Mary said weakly. He looked her over and said
” can you stand?”
” yes Oga.”. he helped her up and then she said…
” Oga… Duke say…”
” you’ll tell me what duke said later. now go to your room.”he said curtly
he turned around and started to leave. Funmbi followed him, close at his heels.
” who is Duke? ” she was asking.
” nobody… no one” he answered.
Mary’s eyes started to burn. the tears were heavy in her eyes and she tried hard not to spill it. how could he do that to his son? ” nobody?” seriously? she could feel the anger welling up inside her. she had heard those words before.
” nobody! ”
” she’s no one”
” you are a nobody, I could kill you and no one would notice”
” you are nothing, you’ve got nothing, you are nobody.”
Mary ‘s head spun as she walked blindly towards the boy’s room. she pushed the door open, walked in, shut the door and broke down crying.
Mary continued to cry despite her conscious efforts to stop. She realised that her eyes seemed to have developed a will of their own. She was feeling very miserable. “ why why why!!”
She found herself moaning. But eventually, she calmed down. She went into the bathroom and started to wash her face.
Right at the sink, she decided that she could not stay in a
house like this. She had to go. She could not watch a man
treat his child like this. She just couldn’t. She washed her face and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She blinked twice in a bit to get the last of the water out of her eyes.
“ i have had enough, i cant stay here. This is so messed up”
She said aloud to the mirror.
“ where will you go Mary and why are you going?”
Mary jumped and nearly jumped out of her skin. How did this little devil always manage to move around so silently and catch her unawares? She forced a smile and said to him ..
“you’re awake little bugger. How was the sleep?” He looked at her with one nose crinkled. He wasn’t buying what she was selling, he was not about to switch to another topic.
“where will you be going to, and why will you be going? Can i come?”
“duke I’m not going anywhere” he shook his head and pursed his lips.
“ you are lying. You eyes are swollen. Are they hurting? Are you going to see the optician?”
Mary couldn’t help laughing. How difficult could it be for
anyone to see that she had been crying? Her eyes were still wet and red and swollen from all the crying. It occurred to her that it should have been his first guess that she was crying and not that her eyes were malfunctioning. What was it with this boy anyway? why did he seem so cut off from the rest of the world? why did he seem to be absolutely oblivious of emotions? she supported herself with the bathroom cabinet and came up. come with me little Oga, we need to get you something to drink.” she said as she subconsciously reached out for his hand. she was just about to withdraw it, remembering how much he hated to be touched but his little hand curled around her thumb before she could. Mary was surprised. this boy was a
bag of surprises and it pained her that she was practically the only one seeing it.
“did my daddy agree that we should change the times on the clock?”
he asked as he go back onto the room.
“yes” Mary said without hesitation. she wasn’t about to tell the boy what had really transpired outside. will you tell me more of your story now?” he asked, looking up
at her with that baby faced look. Do you want me to? ”
okay … listen. she said as she picked him up and dropped him. in the middle of the bed. she then sat down beside
him and started again..
when Mrs adamolekun came back home that day, she scolded her sons and told them some old bible story about why we should be nice to people that are less privileged. the boys were repentant, or so it seemed until the following Friday when they came back early again. this time I was in the bathroom washing some clothes that had been left there by my madam and her husband. Adegoke was the first to talk. in fact he seemed friendly and seemed to be Willing to start afresh. he asked me if he could help and I said “no” . he flew into rage and started to turn the buckets that contained the clothes over. He poured them over my head and kicked me vigorously. Even in the intense pain the kicks gave me, I was scrambling all around the place to gather my ,madam’s cloths. we were still on this when his
brother joined in and added some slaps for the equation to get balance. I was wet all over and my body hurt like crazy.
Their mother was my angel, the minute they heard her car come into the compound , they ran out of the bathroom and dressed up in a flash. they changed out of their wet clothes and looked like they had been dry all day. I on the another hand was a basket case., trying to pack the clothes off the floor and trying to put the house in order at the same time.
She came in and met me in the bathroom, she was furious. she assumed that I was lazy and had been playing all day.
“do you even know what you’re here Mary?”
confused and not really understanding her English, I
” madam… I dey hear word o… I wan finish the work but
karsala burst for toilet. I just dey try do am now.”
by saying this, I made her even angrier. she asked me a
different question, and I was answering in a way that did not even tally at all. what was worse was that she had also interpreted my ” karsala come burst for toilet” to mean that I had been purging.
” what did you eat that you’re purging? have you used the toilet carelessly now? I hoped you didn’t use my own toilet o ?
you better make sure you flush properly, I must not perceive any odour from that place.”
I was confused. I didn’t know how to explain myself properly and it was starting to become obvious to me that we would have that communication problem. this was a problem that I had never anticipated.”
Mary paused to see if duke was sleeping, he had seemed so quiet all through the time she had been talking. but he was awake, he was listening. she decided to continue.
“when I first got to Mrs adamolekun’s house, I also had
another problem, it was the problem of hygiene. you see,
where I come from, bathing was not an everyday thing, it was rather something that we all did together in the big stream that ran across out village. some of he cleanest of us bathed twice a week, and a man who only bathed once a month was not considered dirty. life was simple and infact, some of us believed that bathing too often would cause us to lose our immunity.
Mrs adamolekun was not pleased with the way I handled my hygiene when I got to her house. so when she noticed that I only bathed once or twice a week, she started to restrict me from things. I could not use their plates, or spoons or any other cutlery for that matter. she gave me a cup, a spoon and a plate that were supposed to be mine and only mine. I was not to use anything else in the house.
I didn’t mind much… after all, where I came from, we also did things like that. every one had their own cutleries in order to prevent misunderstanding. what however started to open my eyes to the fact that I needed to improve my hygiene was that she also started to restrict me from the furniture except if I was cleaning them. once , she came in and met me seated on
the small armchair. on the corridor she was so furious and even said to me
“get your filthy body out of my chair… is that what you came here to do?”
I jumped out of the chair and really, after that day I never sat in it. things were different, Mrs adamolekun was not making conscious efforts to maltreat me, but somehow she had started to.
The smallest of her three children was a small boy of very light build. it seemed to me that he was always sick. he was his mother’s sorrow and it seemed to me that he would die very soon. I liked him best in the house because he didn’t victimise me. he was a splendid little angel and it often broke my heart that he was always sick.
often times, he would sit with me and tell me about his day at school, it was through him that I got the hang of basic arithmetic. when his brothers teased or maltreated me, he became a sort of protector, often reporting them to their mother.
The last character in the house, and one that I barely ever saw was their father. a middle aged man who only came home something like once a month. sometimes he spent the whole weekend, other times he left the same day. but Mr Adamolekun had a little bit of a bad habit, this bad habit not his would turn out to be the biggest factor that helped me decide that I didn’t want to stay in their house anymore.
You see, duke, Mr Adamolekun had a weakness for meat.
considering how much meat he ate, its surprising that he was not fat. He also had another problem, he was an acute insomniac. He almost never slept. whatever sleep he got was often short and light. so often times, after the whole house had gone to bed, he would walk around, talking to himself, checking on the children and just basically walking around now when you brought his first problem together with the second, what we have now a man going around the house, eating meat anytime he could find any. One Saturday morning, after my Oya had left for his has as usual, madam can to the kitchen where I was washing plates and said,
” Mary… who ate the meat I put in the oven?’ I of course
knew who did. but how was I supposed to tell her that her husband walks around the house, eating meat? so I did what every good housemaid should do.
” madam, I no know o…”
but my madam was not to be deterred. she had obviously been patiently waiting, hoping to catch the person who had been staying her meat. she had the wrong person but she didn’t know. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her so I just kept quiet and continued with my plates washing.
my madam must have interpreted this to be defiance. she
walked upon to me and slapped me hotly three times. she was furious.
” you stupid creature, you stupid stupid ingrate. ” she was saying a bun of things that I don’t even remember right now. I wept. it wasn’t from bitterness, it was just the sting of the slaps. she stopped at the slaps and ignored me for the rest of the day. Now that was what made me sad. my madam was not a bad woman, but I had made her so angry. I disliked my Oga at that minute.
the following weekend, when my oga came back, my madam told him of my theft. I as a bit happy that my oga would at last tell my madam where the meat went. but all he did was grunt sheepishly and continue reading the newspaper that he was reading. I was dumbfounded. when my madam told him that she slapped me a couple of times, he just looked at me briefly and
” you should discipline her properly. these Igede people are little less than animals. if she’s stealing, you need to show her what will happen to her if she steals from you again.
My madam had chipped in saying
” Mary is a good girl really, the stealing is just a bad habit. ”
My oga grunted again and that was the end of the
conversation. I had been eavesdropping, hoping to be vindicated but it was not to be. I was sad. I made up my mind that day that once I left the home for Christmas, I would not be coming back. ”
There was a knock at the door and before either Mary or duke could answer, dukes father came into the room. Mary stood up with her hands at her back like she always did when her boss came into a room. duke remained in the bed, using his small palms to support his chin.
” hey there duke, Mary said you need to speak to me?”
duke looked at me, angry at the fact that I had obviously
deceived him into thinking that his father had agreed. I looked away from him. his father, noticing the tension between us said as gaily as he could
“why don’t I take you out for iced cream tomorrow and you
can tell me all about how you are getting along with Mary?
“okay” duke said . then he stood up and went to the closet to get his pajamas and walked until the bathroom. as far as he was concerned, the conversation was over.
Mary’s boss was actually twisting a key around in his hands. he looked like he was embarrassed. Mary almost felt like saying ”
I swear I didn’t tell him anything” but she didn’t. instead, she just continued to look at her feet. she was still looking at her feet when her boss left the room.
To be continued…