ME: “What’s your story?”
EKAETE: “The man said that she’s looking for a Calabar girl to come and work for them. You know they call all of us Calabar, whether you’re from Akwa Ibom or Ikom and speak different languages. That one is not their business. Auntie, somehow, these people believe that our people were put on this earth to be their housemaids. My case was even worse because my name is Ekaete. Once you call that name, some nonsense people automatically think you’re a maid and will start treating you anyhow, sending you message up and down.
I was working with this family. The man is one of those businessmen who own many shops and has boys working under him. The wife worked in one company like that. There were two of us, maids, who worked for her. I suffered. I saw pepper! First of all, every week, she would ask me to cook a different Akwa Ibom food for her. Afang soup, atama soup, edikang-ikong, unripe plantain pottage. Every week, they were eating fresh, delicious food. But you know what me and the other maid ate? Dry okro soup.”
ME: “Dry okro?”
EKAETE: “Yes. You know some people dry their okro in the sun and then use it to make soup. That’s the soup I ate in that woman’s house for two years. I’m serious. The only time me and the other girl ate what we cooked is if we were licking the pot or she wasn’t around and we would sneak and eat small. But once madam was around, it was okro soup with no meat. She said we didn’t need meat because it was bad for us. The only thing in the soup to make it tasty was crayfish and we ate it every day. It’s so bad that if I see okro now, my tummy will start turning and I’ll feel like vomiting. I can never eat okro in this life again!”
ME: “Apart from that, was she good to you in any way?”
EKAETE: “Good as how? We also ate food that went bad, food that you wouldn’t even feed a dog. And every little thing, this woman would call me a prostitute. There’s no human being above mistake but with that woman, I was supposed to be perfect. Any small mistake and I’d hear my life’s story. That she knows I’ve finished sharing my body with all her husband’s boys. That she’s not surprised because that’s what women from my place are known for. Ma, I swear, I never let anyone of them touch me with my agreement. Her husband was nice but he likes women. He will be telling me about women from my place, that he heard that we can do—you know—that we know sex very well. That when am I going to show him my skills?’ The kind of beating that woman beat me, if I was a wicked person, I would’ve done it back to her children. But those children loved me and I loved them. I endured until the suffering got too much. Kai! Poverty is a curse! If my parents weren’t poor, where would that woman have seen me to treat me like that?”
ME: “How and when did you leave?”
EKAETE: “I left when the former governor of our state, Godswill Akpabio, made primary and secondary education free. I still wanted to go back to school, if not for anything, to finish my secondary education. One day, when they went out, I packed my bags and the small money I’d saved and went home. It was hard and even shameful because I was too old for the class. Sometimes, the younger children laughed at me. But I focused on what I wanted and studied like the world was going to end. I still had to do some jobs to pay for books, exams and other things. At last, I wrote my GCE and made my papers. But there was no one to fund my university education, so I went back to look for maid work. I got this job that I’m doing in a restaurant. I work as a manager.
At first, she wasn’t paying me—she said she was keeping my money for me. I figured she was trying to cheat me but what choice did I have? She was nice, I was living with her and eating free of charge. Then my nineteenth birthday, this woman threw a birthday party for me. No one had ever done that for me. As if that wasn’t enough, the next day she took me to the bank to open an account for me. In it, she put in one hundred and eighty thousand naira. She said it was my salary plus extra, so I could start applying for school. I cried eh. I cried!”
ME: (I smile, a little teary myself)
I’ve gotten admission into a polytechnic and she allowed me to continue working as her manager, even though I’m not always here and she had to hire someone to cover for me. She didn’t reduce my salary or anything. If I do something she doesn’t like, she’ll call me like her junior sister and discuss it like we’re equals. She talks to me like I’m a human being. Ever since I started working with this woman, I’ve changed. When I came here, I was thin and dry like wood. Now I’ve fattened up. See my skin. Fresh. Now I’m confident and proud of myself.
God bless my madam and her husband. He too—correct person! He treats me like his first daughter. I don’t lack anything. Every year, the extra that they add to the salary for my schooling gets bigger and bigger. They still give me an allowance every now and then, even if I don’t ask. The kind of prayers my parents pray for this woman eh, she can never fail in this life. She will never be poor.”