Twice it had happened that morning, and Mrs. Phillips was losing her patience. She had called this boy almost five times, before he finally answered. Dotun had only worked for a week, and she was already counting down to the day when she would kick him out of her house. Yes, she had a date picked.
One has to be ready for such things, if every single house help you’ve hired in the last six months has left under less-than-pleasant circumstances. That was Mrs. Phillips’ experience and she was ready for Dotun. He was already displaying what she termed the “warning signs,” and strongly believed that to be forewarned was to be forearmed.
According to her limited, though varied experience, the warning signs of a house help who was going to leave included the following: spending extended hours running errands and doing chores that normally took less than 30 minutes, breaking expensive china plates, stealing food and anything else that was not glued to the floors of the house, and most importantly, a sour attitude.
The sour attitude was the part Mrs. Phillips could not deal with as it was usually prefaced by feet dragging and ended with mumbling under the breath. The rest of the signs were dealt with immediately using threats.
The most popular threat, which was uttered in loud tones in Yoruba, accompanied by much finger-shaking, and menacing looks, was “If you break another plate, I will use it to draw tribal marks on your face.” Mrs. Phillips had never resorted to actually mutilating any of her house helps, but with Dotun’s behavior, she was veering dangerously close to putting her words into action. She had never had any house help who was so stubborn. But then, Dotun was her first house boy.
It might be worth noting that Dotun had just turned 11 when he was brought to come and live with Mrs. Phillips. The woman was nearing 60, and lived alone, her husband having passed away the year before. Her children – she had three – were all grown up and did not live anywhere near Lagos. They all lived in Abuja, the federal capital city.
The suggestion to get a house help came from her daughter, Sayo, who visited her mother every month, and was worried that seeing her mother once a month was not enough to make sure she was properly cared for. This was barely two months after their father passed away.
After discussing the idea with her siblings, for Sayo was the eldest, they agreed that their mother needed to have someone living with her who would take care of the household chores and also keep her company if needed. Mrs. Phillips was a quiet person, and her husband’s death had made her even more reserved. She welcomed the idea because she also saw that the enforced solitude she faced was not going to benefit her. That was when the hunt for the perfect companion, or shall we say, house help, began.
Aside from Dotun, six house helps had worked for Mrs. Phillips in the preceding months, and they were all girls. Except for Mama Joy, who was certainly not a girl. She was a woman. The size of her hips, which made a good case for eating fewer carbohydrates, suggested that it had been at least two decades, and five children, since Mama Joy was referred to as a girl. Or a maiden. She was Number 6. But it is best to start with Number 1.
Number 1 was Gloria. She was a very attractive, fair-skinned girl of 16, who had no qualms about doing laundry. In fact, that was her forte. Mrs. Phillips could swear that she had never seen her whites cleaner than when Gloria washed the filth out of them. However, Mrs. Phillips was a good Christian woman, and she did not swear. Aloud. Gloria was far from perfect though. She had two major weaknesses, which accounted for her short stay: cooking and men.
Gloria was a poor cook and as the days passed by, her employer developed a genuine fear of being poisoned. Not deliberately, of course. But whether by accident or premeditation, Mrs. Phillips had no intention of dying from food cooked in her own house, let alone by a teenager.
Gloria’s other weakness was men. At odd hours of the day, there would be knocks on the door from strangers, and when her Madam asked who was at the door, Gloria’s reply was usually “Oh, someone asking for directions, ma” or “The man wey dey live for that white house down the street, ma” or even one time “Na these Jehovah witness people, ma.”
Wondering why her house had suddenly become the port of call for all these strangers who happened to be men, Mrs. Phillips set out to uncover the truth behind these unwelcome visits.
Alas! Before Mrs. Phillips had a chance to investigate, what she feared the most came to pass. Gloria came to her one night, with tears streaming down her pretty face, and confessed to her Madam that she was pregnant. A shocked Madam asked her who was responsible, and she uttered the name Dauda.
– to be continued –