ME: “This is a freestyle sort of thing. Just tell me your name, age and your story.”
AMAKA: “My name is Amaka*. I’m thirty-five years old. I came from wealth. When I say wealth, I mean stupendous wealth, the kind where neither I nor my siblings lacked anything we needed or wanted. Then life happened and my parents fell on really hard times. Times so bad, we went from private schools to public schools, to not even being able to afford the relatively cheap school fees in the government schools. The immediate option available to me was to become a maid. I desperately wanted to get a good university education. Having fallen on hard times, I was no stranger to chores and work. I met a friend who lived in the same area as I and she told me about this woman who needed a maid.
I told her I’d speak to my parents and if they agreed, I’d go work for the woman. I spoke to my parents and they agreed. The lady said she was going to pay me ten thousand naira and that was fine with me. So, I went to work for this woman as her maid. It was hell! She was from Akwa Ibom, very soft-spoken. You know those people who never raise their voices whether they’re angry or happy. You can never tell if she’s mad at you until she says what she wants to say. And because of the way she spoke, whether she was dishing out insults, cutting abuse or instruction for some backbreaking errand, I couldn’t say no or argue with her.
Many days, I would cook from dawn till one o’clock in the morning. Fresh food was made for her and the family every day, all the time. If a member of the family felt peckish at two o’clock in the morning, I had to wake up and prepare a meal from scratch. When NEPA struck and food went bad, the bad food was for me. I’d cook fresh food for everyone and eat sour soup, beans, rice or whatever had gone bad. I’d have diarrhoea for days and still have to work from morning till morning. You know spring cleaning is done once in a while. With her, spring cleaning was every day. When I say clean every day, I mean sweep every room, lift chairs, furniture, wash, mop, dust. Every single day! One of my daily chores was also to wash a TON of her baby’s clothes. Wash, iron, fold away. But that wasn’t the worst part of it. One of the worst parts was her husband. He sexually assaulted me on several occasions.
The other worst part was that she made me wash all the toilets in the house every day. With my bare hands. I’d boil hot water, pour it inside the toilet, pour in detergent and bleach and scrub it with an iron sponge. IRON SPONGE, Eketi! The water had to be boiling. It didn’t matter that the hot water burned my hands. It didn’t matter those pieces of the iron sponge sometimes entered under my skin. I had to scrub those toilets to her satisfaction each day. Yes, she’d often inspect the toilets to make sure I’d done a good job.”
(At this point, tears in her eyes, Amaka pauses, shakes her head and takes a deep breath)
“This part of my life, I don’t like reliving it. I’m a graduate, have done my masters, and have a good job. I just look at myself today and say, ‘thank God we don’t look like what we’ve been through.’”
ME: “I’m sorry. Should we stop?”(Amaka shakes her head) “When and how did you leave?”
AMAKA: “I kept telling myself it was for a little while, for a purpose. That one day, I’d no longer be her maid. But her husband’s assault was getting too much. He’d corner me and touch my breasts, buttocks. I kept thinking of how I’d go back home, no school. I kept quiet. But there was this time, he was so aggressive, tried to force himself on me and I screamed so loud…hmm…
I knew it was only a matter of time before he finished what he’d been trying hard to start. I reported him to my sister, who in turn told my father. My father came to ask what was going on and these people turned it on me, said that I wanted to seduce the man. They paid the money they owed me there and then and my father bundled me back home.
I got admission and somehow, God always provided the money. I’ve sold second-hand clothes, hawked foodstuff, done so many menial jobs and slept hungry on many, MANY occasions. There was a time in school when I didn’t eat for three days. I was so hungry, I thought I’d die. No hope of money from home. Again, God came through. Now I eat what I want, I have travelled abroad, and I don’t serve anyone.”