“Ekaette! Eka…..where is that girl sef?”
My ten year old son peered at me over his handheld game.
“Hmmm, if you’re planning to give her those clothes to wash, I guess you’re intending never to wear them again. Who knows, this time she might wash them in engine oil!”
I looked at the clothes in my hands. He had a point. A good point. In fact, a very good point. The clothes included the white shirts I wore with suits to work during the week and a pair of purple colour-fast shirts that had been distributed to volunteer mothers at Church in preparation for the oncoming children’s week. If I asked Ekaette to wash them, I would probably end up with twelve purple or lilac coloured shirts that were once white.
“Madam”, the tiny, wiry girl appeared in the doorway, wiping her wet hands on her skirt. A skirt I had bought the previous week for goodness sakes!
“What are you doing?” I asked, choosing to ignore the now well stained, bright yellow skirt. How many times had I told her to use an apron? I might as well have been talking to a rock, anyways.
“I dey wash plate for kitchen ma.” She responded, my eyes still managing to catch the wet hands as they left tracks on the skirt I had bought for three thousand naira.
“Are you sure?” I asked. I had to. I lived with the secret fear that one day, she would set fire to the house and not even know it. And my son seemed to read my mind.
“Yes ma,” she replied.
“Don’t worry mum,” Daniel, my son said. “I don’t smell smoke. The house is not yet on fire.”
Well, at any rate, I knew that washing the dishes was one of the few things she could do competently without causing a small catastrophe. Still, I made a mental note to make sure she had been washing the dishes with the liquid detergent and not kerosene. Goodness knows they looked similar and in Ekaette’s mind, similar meant no difference.
“Anyway, don’t worry,” I said, dismissing her for the good of my white shirts. “You can go back to the kitchen.”
With a “yes ma” and a curtsy, she swept away back to the kitchen.
“Hmmm,” muttered Daniel, getting up from where he was seated. “I’d better follow her to make sure she isn’t drying those plates with my towel or washing the fish again.”
And for good reason too. Ekaette’s stay with us had lasted slightly over a month so far and had been one hell of a ride, from inducing heart wrenching frustration to causing rib cracking laughter, this girl’s presence in our house had become quite something. Even visitors to the house had taken to asking after “that funny, tiny girl in your house” after just one encounter with Ekaette, especially Sola, my colleague from work into whose tea Ekaette had poured salt instead of sugar when she had come visiting. I must admit in retrospect that seeing Sola gag after swallowing a mouthful of salted tea was priceless. And the event had quite endeared the crazy girl to Sola.
Normally, I would have preferred to stay without a house help (and till her arrival slightly over a month ago, I had lived without one for the fifteen years I’ve been married to my husband). However, my mother had come visiting once and I had retailed to her the challenges I was having with to deal with over house work, the kids and my work (my husband was as undemanding as awesome so no problems there). She sat there and nodded her head as mothers always do when they’ve made a decision for you that they had no intention of telling you about. When she came visiting again two weeks later, it was with the small, wiry pack of wahala called Ekaette.
“But Mum,” I moaned. “I never said I needed a house help.”
“You do,” she declared firmly “and this is it.” Then turning to “it”, she said;
“You, na your madam be dis, you hia?”
“Yes, ma,” Ekaette curtsied and replied, staring at me goggle eyed, like I had a huge boil at the tip of my nose. I subconsciously rubbed my nose to be sure that something hadn’t grown there while my mum and I had been discussing.
“Ehen, anytin she talk say make you do, you go do am, you hia?”
“Yes ma,” another curtsy.
“Anytin her pikin dem tell you make you do, you go do am, you hia?”
She seemed to consider this for a bit then with a curtsy, “yes ma”
“ Ehen,” my Mum concluded this short lecture that apparently covered all that Ekaette was required to do in the house. “Oya go greet your madam.”
The girl sidled a bit closer, then knelt and said, “Good evening ma.”
I nodded in response, wondering how this was going to turn out. Apparently this girl was going to need a bit of teaching. “So, Mum…”
“Er, madam,” Ekaette cut in, leaving me quite amazed. “Big madam,” my mum, obviously, “talk say make I do anytin you talk.”
“Ehen,” mum agreed.
“And anytin your pikin dem talk.”
“Ehen,” mum affirmed again.
“Oga nko?” she indicated my husband seated beside me. “I go do wetin im self talk?”
I buried my face in my hands. My husband burst out laughing.
Still, we kept Ekaette, but instead of taking away from my work load, she seemed to have added to it. It was like having a new child, just one that needed more constant supervision than others. The night after showing her how to use the gas cooker, I woke up to smell cooking gas in my room that’s all the way across the house from the kitchen.
“CHRIST!” I cried, leaping from my bed. “Ekaette will burn down this house!”
I temporarily banned her from any kind of cooking till I was sure she had learnt how to properly use the gas cooker. Still I was always last to go to bed at night to make sure that she hadn’t left something on that would kill us all in our sleep.
I had intended to first teach her how to cook basic meals so she could take care of lunch when my kids were back from school and I was still at work, but teaching her how to knock in doors suddenly took top priority after she swept into my room as I was dressing up after a bath. All I had on were my panties. I hadn’t even put on a bra!
“Er, madam,” she began, “person dey for gate dey find….”
“OUT!!!!!” I screamed, covering my breasts like a teenage girl whose bikini top had floated away in a public swimming pool. “GET OUT!!! OUT!!!”
“Yes ma”, she curtsied. “Sorry ma.” She curtsied again and swept away, leaving me amazed, flustered and quite, quite red in the face.
This was followed shortly by my husband practically leaping back into the bathroom as Ekaette unceremoniously pushed open the door to our room to get the laundry basket I sent her there for just as he was stepping out of the bathroom in his briefs. Which was lucky, he usually steps out quite naked!
I declared our room totally and completely off limits to her.
Teaching her to be useful in the kitchen was another issue entirely. The previous week, I had assigned her a few tasks in the kitchen and had just settled down to watch a TV series when my son sauntered into the sitting room, a half smile on his face. That was a sure sign that someone (that wasn’t him) was doing something wrong.
“What is it?” I asked, suspicious.
“You might want to see what the new girl is doing in the kitchen,” he said, sniggering (since she arrived, he had always called her “that new girl” and never her name, Ekaette).
I had asked her to rinse the fish I’d bought, and then call me when she was done so we would start cooking lunch. There was no way she could get that wrong.
Getting to the kitchen proved me so very wrong. There was Ekaette, scrubbing one fish with gusto, using a soft sponge to which she had applied a generous amount of liquid detergent. The other fish lay marinating in a bowl of foam filled water, like those fish that die when a dirty person enters water in cartoons.
“EKAETTE!!!” I yelled. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO THE FISH?!”
“I dey wash am ma,” curtsy. “The blood no wan commot for dis wan. I dey find dat iron sponge make I use commot am.”
I felt weak, whether from frustration or the laughter that was threatening to overwhelm me from somewhere within, I don’t know.
Two days later, I delegated an even simpler task to her. We had had vegetable salad the previous day and had some left over in the fridge. Apparently, it had frozen and I wanted it defrosted so we could have some for dinner.
“Ekaette,” I said, taking care to stress my instructions and outline them carefully so she wouldn’t do something totally outrageous. “Get the salad out of the fridge so it would be defrosted in time for dinner, okay?”
“Yes ma,” curtsy and sweep to the kitchen, she did.
Five minutes later, my son swept in, this time with a wide smile on his face. I didn’t need him to tell me that Ekaette was doing something the wrong way.
“What is she doing this time?” I asked, fleeing to the kitchen, hoping I wouldn’t meet an explosion.
Well it wasn’t that bad……at any rate, Ekaette was looking very pleased with herself, like she had just discovered the cure to cancer.
“EKAETTE!” I cried. “IS THAT…..IS THAT THE SALAD YOU’RE HEATING ON THE GAS COOKER?”
“Yes madam,” she curtsied, smiling like a child that won a prize for finishing first in class. “Im go warm fast fast like dis.”
I could feel a headache coming on…..or was that a desire to strangle someone?
So there was no way I could have Ekaette to wash my whites, not if I wanted to wear whites with my suits to work the following week. So I just dumped them in a laundry basket with the intention of washing them later and headed back to the sitting room where I’d been doing some work on my laptop before remembering the clothes.
I had been in the sitting room for approximately twenty minutes when the doorbell rang. Ekaette appeared to open the door for my husband (it was he that was at the door) and was heading back to wherever it was she had been when I noticed her hands.
“Come, Ekaette,” I called. “Why are your hands wet?”
“Madam,” customary curtsy. “I dey wash cloth ma.”
“Whose clothes?” I asked, my apprehension rising.
“The one you leave for basket make I wash. I been soak everytin for water so I wan go wash dem finish now.”
An explosion went off in my head.
“LORD OF MERCY!!!!” I screamed, dashing off to the bathroom. “EKAETTE!!!!MY WHITE SHIRTS!!!!”