A couple’s dependence on a nanny has serious consequences on their marriage.
The walls in our house can grow. They grow like the way trees grow but they don’t need water and air to grow. They only need silence. They feast on the silence between our parents and grow to a height between them that makes it impossible for my parents to see each other even if they stand on their toes. They just grow between my mum and dad and prevent communication between them. They are beginning to grow between us, the children and our parents too. But they can’t grow between my parents and Nanny. Neither can they grow between Nanny and us, the kids. Let me tell you about my house and my parents. Let me tell you about the walls. But first, I must tell you about Nanny. She is the one that discovers the walls.
Nanny is a small woman with a big heart. I met her in our home when I came into this world. She has always been around as far back as I can remember. This is because no one can do what Nanny does; not even our parents. Nanny is the heartbeat of our home. The heartbeats of our home are not my parents. Judging from her age (Nanny is older than my parents) and her amiable spirit (she has the spirit of a dove), she should have kids that will be older than me and a family that will be close to her as me and my younger ones are close to her. I have never asked her about her family and she has never volunteered to tell. On my part, I know why I have not asked her. It is because I am selfish and self-centred. I think if I ask her, I will remind her of her loved ones. If she remembers, she might go to them and leave me and my siblings to the mercy of our parents. I shudder whenever I think of living without the guidance and loving care of Nanny. She knows the answers to every question any kid can think of. She sometimes answers my parents questions too whenever they think of any. She knows where my father’s missing pair of socks is whenever he asks her. She can answer my mum’s question about what to wear whenever she asks. I personally don’t know what I can do on my own without Nanny’s help. I think I speak for my younger ones when I say Nanny is our mum and dad. Our mum and dad are just labourers that go out and take care of other people’s businesses and come back home with more money than we really need. They come back home and ask their usual questions, “How are you? How was school?” We are a family of five but we tell people we are a family of six. Nanny is the sixth. She is the first to know everything that goes on in the house. And so she is the first to notice the walls that are growing between my parents.
She tells me to sit down one day after she has finished helping me with my homework. She starts by telling me how proud she is of being my Nanny. I reply her that she is more than that. Remember, I say. Remember those days you had to go to school with me whenever my teachers wanted to talk to my parents about me? I remind her about one particular incidence that we both code-named ‘Crush.’ I fell in love with a classmate in my first year in secondary school. During a boring Maths class, our equally boring Maths teacher, Mr Johnson, caught me passing a note to Sheila, my love. It was a common thing among us then but Mr Johnson took it for an uncommon thing in a Maths class. I was sent to the Principal’s office. Upon reading my carefully composed love note, the Principal felt he had to show my parents. The note suggested that my intention towards Sheila was not noble.
When I got home that day,after my parents’ usual, “How are you? How was school today?” I blanked. I didn’t know who to tell between these two strangers. So I told Nanny. And she laughed. She said she was actually getting scared that a day like this would never happen. I asked why, greatly relieved that once again, she answered my question. That would mean I failed in my duty, she said. That would mean I raised a sissy and not a man. She said ‘man’ in a fake baritone voice. I told her she needn’t worry. I was living up to her expectations. We both laughed again and thereafter I told her about my love for Sheila. She shook her head slowly and told me that wasn’t love.
“Nanny, I swear to you. I love her.” I defended my feelings.
“No, you don’t, son.” Nanny crushed my happiness in one short sentence. And I was sad as fast as I was happy when she first laughed. I thought she was on my side. So she had been laughing at me and not with me. I asked whose side she was on and she smiled benignly, saying my side, of course. I told her that I was not sure about that.
“See son, which is exactly what is happening between you and Sheila. You are not sure about your feelings. And that is why it is not called love.”
“What is it called, then?” I was getting angrier at every sentence.
“Would you like some tea? I just finished baking some fresh cakes before you came in. I know it’s your favourite choice of snacks.” Nanny cooed in my ears and I succumbed to her soothing. I knew it was her way of telling me to be relaxed. She was telling me to calm down like she always does whenever I got anxious about anything. She will just simply make me an offer I can’t refuse.
I nodded slowly and sat back. She went about fixing my cold tea and I thought about the last time my parents and I had this kind of conversation. There was never a time. The closest experience to this was whenever I brought home the list of the things I needed for school. Dad would go through the list on a Sunday, always on a Sunday and ask questions like “Do you want me to give Nanny the money or send one of my office boys to go and pick them up for you?” He has never asked me something else. Something else like “Why are you buying this again? I thought we brought this last term? Where is the list for last term?” I took home an extended list of a previous term and the current one to my parents once and my father was so shocked about the unusual length and the bogus total amount that he said, “I think I will just give Nanny the total amount. I will be very busy this week. My office boys are all fixed up for the week too. There is this big contract that we just won…” I never did that again. It was too cumbersome to go to the business centre and make a bemused girl look on in shock as I tell her to help me forge school-term lists. I would just go to my father on a Sunday and tell him verbally that we have been asked to bring such and such books or equipment for our science class experiments. And he would ask his trademark question in another variety “Would you like me to give Nanny the money or send the office driver to get it for you?” Of course, I would tell him to give the money to Nanny. I would then tell Nanny that some of the books and equipment were being sold in school at cheaper prices. In fact, we were been mandated to buy those ones in schools. My ever loyal Nanny would agree. When Nanny noticed this the second time I had to buy special books and equipment for my science class, she showed up unannounced in my school and asked to see me. She told me silently in a very stern voice when we were alone that it would cost her nothing to report me to the school authority. But what would it cost me? I confessed there and then and pleaded for forgiveness. And I never did that again or any other misdemeanour for that matter. Nanny is that influential in my life.
It was the same Nanny that told me that what I had for Sheila was a crush. She explained to me like I was a ten year old in clear and simple terms and I listened to her. I didn’t understand it then though but she didn’t say I would. She just talked to me and I calmed down. She then calmly took me through an extended course in sex education. Nanny told me everything my parents should have told me about my body and I thanked her. We code-named our operation ‘Crush’ in which Nanny followed me to school and starred as my mother. She handled the situation perfectly. She was shocked when they wanted her to, scared when they suggested she should be. She was surprised at me as the school were. She promised to handle the situation. The school was happy that I had such a co-operative mother. The closest I get to my mum is when she comes home on Saturdays, always on Saturdays, and gives me and my siblings yet another toy; yet another present. “Do you like it, Alfred? Do you like it? I am sure you would, see? Mummy loves you so much. Mummy will give you whatever you need, ok? Now be mummy’s boy and give mummy a kiss, would you?”
“So how is Sheila now?” Nanny remembers alright. She smiles benignly and waits for me to answer. I tell her that Sheila is fine. We are good friends now, Nanny, I go on and remind her that I am now in my third year as if she doesn’t know. I want her to know that I have moved on; I am no longer a junior. And yes, Nanny was right. It was a crush. We talk about this and that for a while before she stops for a while. She looks into my eyes and tells me about the walls.
“There is something I want to tell you, Alfred. You will have to listen and try to understand. I know that it is hard. There are walls growing between your parents. These walls are growing taller by each passing day. They are growing wider too as your mum and dad move farther from each other.”
I remain speechless for a while, hoping Nanny will continue and probably tell me more about these walls. She remains speechless too for a while. In fairness to Nanny, I have never in my thirteen years on this earth, in this house, seen my mum and dad sit down together and talk like Nanny and I do. I mean, they do sit down and talk but not as much as my friend, Paul’s parents sit together and laugh at their children’s silliness. I know this. I spend most of my free time at Paul’s whenever Nanny lets me out of our big, big compound.
“There is a rift between your mum and dad.” Nanny continues, slowly this time. I think she knows she is going too fast and too deep for my brain to catch up.
“They are getting a divorce.” She says finally.
I know what a divorce is. It is when couples break up and go and live separately. To me, my parents are divorced a long time ago. They just still live together. And it surprises me to know that Nanny is the last person to know this open secret. I tell her about my surprise. She nods and continues.
“It is the walls, Alfred. They grow on you so high you can’t see who is opposite you. But they take time to grow, you see. A very long time is needed for them to grow. They are like trees, you see. But unlike trees, they don’t need water to grow. They need silence to grow. When they grow between adults like your parents, they feast on their inability to communicate. They thrive on the silence and develop very fast. They grow like that until they are denied silence. Words break down walls. Your parents talk but not to themselves. They talk to me. I am the cause, Alfred.”
Nanny can’t hurt a fly and I tell her so. My parents are to blame for the silence between them.
“I have to leave to save this marriage, Alfred.” Nanny finally drops the bombshell. She says this as calmly as someone who is announcing the time. But I know it is hard for her to say this. She takes advantage of my bewilderment and continues before I ask why.
“Your parents will have to start talking to themselves and break down the walls with their words. But they can’t do this as long as I am around, Alfred. If I leave, they won’t have anybody to talk to but themselves. If they start, the walls will be starved of silence and the words will break down their foundations. If I don’t leave, Alfred, I will eventually be the reason your parents will get a divorce. I can’t live with that. Your parents’ dependence on me has caused more harm in this house than blessings. They will talk to themselves and talk to you and your siblings.”
This is true. I don’t talk to my parents the way Paul talks to his. Paul jokes about his parents to me. How they usually pick fights over seemingly unimportant stuff because of him. He says his parents are always telling him to tell them about whatever bothers him. He talks to them like they will understand whatever his tiny brain is thinking. He even told them about my ‘Crush’ incidence and how they had both laughed over it. I nearly killed him. He told his parents about our fight too and they settled it for us amidst a lot of laughter.
But the sacrifice is too much to bear. My world will crash if Nanny leaves. I tell her so. She smiles and asks me if I am ready to eat.
Nanny will leave. My parents will get back together and the walls will fall. Then we will have a home and not a house. Because a home can heal, a house can hurt. Nanny says so.