For a long while Chioma tried
to reconcile herself with the fact that she was going to remain idle for as long
as her father was jobless. Staying at home these past three days haven’t been
easy and she missed school, she had no phone to contact friends and she didn’t
even have money to make calls at business centers.
Normally, her first move
would have been Queen’s house but after last week Saturday’s incident, she was
not ready to reconcile with Queen. It was a very dull Monday, the house felt
choking and the compound was too quiet, her father had left the house some
hours ago on job search. The look on his face everyday broke her heart as she
knew that his chances at getting a new job was growing slimmer which invariably
meant that chances of her getting enrolled into another school was going to be
tough. Despite the depressive state of things, her father still promised to try
hard in securing another school for her before the year runs out. But it was no
fun sitting at home, Chioma was bored, there was hardly any power supply and
even when there was, there was no television to occupy her time.
It was already past nine am and
she had just washed the dishes and cleared the table when the doorbell rang. Chioma
was curious, no one came calling at such time and she wondered at how the
person knew that someone was at home. She almost didn’t answer the door but the
bell rang again and after the third ring, she decided to see who was at the
door.
Opening the door quietly and
thankful that the burglary proof was securely locked, she sighted the visitor,
it was a young boy of about twelve or thirteen years.
“Good morning.” The boy
greeted, obviously shocked to see a young girl at home on a school day.
“Can I help you?” Chioma asked.
“Nooo…I mean…yes, e get one
flat wey I dey find so.”
“What flat is that?”
“Na one woman wey dey buy moi
moi, she be my madam customer.”
“Well…I don’t know her and this
is not her flat.”
“You sure?” The boy asked.
“Of course…why do you doubt
me?”
“I no dey doubt you.”
There was silence as they both
regarded each other, Chioma couldn’t help but notice the boy’s different
colours of slippers and ‘mehn’ did he stink?
“Why aren’t you at school?”
“I no dey go school, I dey
work.”
“At this age? How old are you?”
“Fourteen.”
“Don’t you want to go to
school?”
“Money no dey for school…na wia
money dey, I dey.”
“How much do you make a day?”
“Abeg no dey ask me dat kain
question.”
“I am sorry to bother you with
such questions but…I am not going to school as well, and I am puzzled that you
make money for yourself at this age. Who knows? I might be interested in
joining your business.”
“Haaaaa….” The boy was shocked “You
wan follow me waka?”
“Yes…maybe… I mean its
Nigerian currency right?”
“Yes na…abi na American dollar
you want?”
“You are not getting my drift
but I’ll let it pass.”
“Abeg, you no go fit join our
waka ooo…see wia u dey live…no be your type dey do our work.”
“That’s for me to decide.” Said
Chioma rebelliously and angry that the boy doubted her capabilities.
 “Okay…if you talk say na im you want. We get
madam wey dey cook, she get us plenty, some of us dey carry moi moi, others dey
do join join work.”
“Do you hawk?”
“Nooo, we no dey hawk again, na
before we dey do am. Since government banned children hawkers, we don stop am.
Now, na supply business we dey do. Every morning, we go carry our goods dey
knock from house to house, if person see you for road, dem no go know say you
dey sell anything.”
“Really? I am interested, can
you introduce me to the business?”
“Hmmm…I hope say you no wan put
me for trouble sha but wait small, make I go find my madam customer, when I
return, we go comot.”
“Are you sure you are going to
come back?”
“Yes na.”
Chioma nodded and the young boy
left, she hurriedly ran to have her bath, in less than a minute, she was
through. As soon as she strapped her sandals, she heard the knock at the door
and opened it to see the young boy. Without sparing a second thought, she
unlocked the burglary proof, stepped out and locked it again, securing her
flat.
They walked for a while and
Chioma was familiar with the streets they passed through, she also memorized
the street names so as to find it easy locating her way back home. They reached
a very unkempt compound filled with small compartments and walked inside,
Chioma startled at the insults that was being hurled at someone from the
inside.
“We must wait, when madam come
out, I go tell am.” Said the boy.
Chioma nodded and convinced
herself that she was making the right decision, besides, the boy was almost her
age and was definitely not a 419 or a swindler like Kazaxtan and Jumbos.
Suddenly, a young girl ran out of one of the compartments wailing loudly,
following her from behind was a thick woman whose face could scare a ghost,
Chioma shrunk in fear.
“Get out of this place, you
lazy swine…I gave you everything you needed and after that what do I get? You
finished my money and destroyed my property…may you never find peace in your
miserable life.” Screamed the woman.
The boy turned to Chioma and
whispered in a smelly breath.
“That na our Madam.”
Chioma almost bolted out
through the gate.
The young girl cried harder and
quickly hurried out of the compound and Madam who from the satisfied look on
her face was fulfilled over the insults she heaped on the girl, turned towards
the boy who brought Chioma and asked.
“Ezekiel, what are you doing
here? Have you finished selling the moi moi?”
“No ma…I….bring person for you.
She talk say she wan join business.”
The woman nodded and as though
she had never frowned in her life, she smiled at Chioma.
“Welcome dear, how are you?”
“I am fine ma.”
“What is your name?”
“Chioma…Chioma Agballa.”
“Good…good…Ezekiel, get back to
work, you must meet target today or no salary.”
“Yes ma.” Said Ezekiel as he
scampered off.
“So…you want to join us.”
“Yes ma.”
“Hmmm… that’s nice. Do you have
any experience?”
“Experience?” Chioma echoed.
“Yes…for every job, you must
have experience or didn’t Ezekiel tell you? What have you done before…? I mean,
what were you doing before you decided to join our business.”
“I was schooling, but I was
expelled.”
“Hmmm…bad egg abi…I know your
type.”
“Nooo…I wasn’t a bad egg ooo,
someone framed me up.”
“I have heard that story many
times, the children that come here…many are from good families but they are bad
eggs. How long can you work?”
“I can work from nine in the
morning to four pm because, my brothers will come back from school by five and
I want them to meet me at home.”
“You see…you have verified what
I said earlier, you are a bad egg. Does this mean your parents don’t know that
you want to work?”
“Yes…No…I mean…my mother left
us six months ago, and my father was sacked from his job.”
“Yes ke… it’s your type that
come here to look for a job…sit down let me give you a brief break down of the
jobs, then you choose the one that suits you best.”
Chioma sat on a small stool
beside a big water drum, the compound was dirty and everywhere smelt of urine.
“The first work is fetching gallons
of water, I will assign you to a house where you will fetch atleast twenty
gallons of water daily. For every gallon, you earn two naira. Another is
washing plates, my restaurant is not too far from here, every set of plate you
wash is five naira, if you break one plate, you lose your whole salary for the
day. Moi Moi business is another one, that one involves, carrying moi moi to
schools, offices and homes. For each moi moi sold, you earn ten naira but if
there are leftover’s, I will deduct the price from the ones you have sold. Last
but not the least is house help job, I hire out nannies and house helps to
people’s homes but they are expected to live there, after every month’s end,
they are paid the sum of two thousand naira.”
Chioma’s mouth hung open, she
couldn’t believe that this woman was offering her a job at a meagre sum, the
total of which wasn’t up to her pocket money per day when things were still
going good for the Agballa family.
“Are you ready for the job or
not?”
“Madam, I would not want to be
seen by anyone that might know my family, so I will opt to wash plates. But I
must confess, five naira for a set of plates is too small, I want to save up
money to pay my school fees. How many sets of plates can I wash to make enough
money for myself?”
“I like your spirit, you will
make a good business woman someday.”
Chioma smiled at that remark.
“Are you sure you don’t want to
carry moi moi? You are a neat girl and people will patronize us when they see
you sell it. My problem with most of my workers is their dirtiness and from all
I have gathered, you are a neat girl.”
“Thank you ma but I do not want
to sell moi moi, I want to avoid seeing people that I know.”
The woman nodded and went into
her compartment and later emerged in another clothing, beckoning to Chioma she
led her out of the compound.
***************************
Of all the restaurants Chioma
had ever visited with her family, she had never seen one of this kind. Madam’s
restaurant was the dirtiest place she had ever been to, flies buzzed around and
customers looked tired and worn out, the place was crowded and it smelt stale.
The kitchen was worse than the restaurant itself and Chioma found herself,
wishing that she could run back home but the need for money, strengthened her
resolve. The cook was sweating profusely and the heat from her armpit dripped
into the pot of stew which simmered over the fire, hiding in corners and
peeking out once in a while, was gigantic rats that couldn’t wait for droppings
long enough.
“Jemima, this is our new wash
girl, her name is Chioma…” Said Madam as she scanned the kitchen as though
looking for someone. After a while she continued, “Where is Ada?”
“Madam, we never see Ada since
two days…she don run commot.”
“So who has been washing
plates?”
“Na Bose, the girl wey dey serve
food…na she dey do the two work.”
“God will punish that Ada,
after everything I have done for her ehn…Chioma I hope you will not be like
those lazy work girls of mine who seek their gain alone?”
“No ma.”
“Did you see that basin over
there? Go and pack all the dishes at that corner and wash them, Jemima will
count how many plates you washed at the end of the day, we will settle
accounts.”
“Yes ma.” Answered Chioma.
“How do you want your money to
be paid? At the end of each working day or at the end of the month.”
“At the end of the month ma.”
Replied Chioma as she felt that it would help her keep a proper account of her
money and not spend it so fast but then again, what if her father got a job
before month’s end and she started school? She asked herself, but shrugged off
her thoughts.
Madam did a brief survey of her
restaurant and after a while, she left, Chioma squatted at the side of the
kitchen and started washing the dishes. Jemima continued cooking and soon, Bose
came into the kitchen.
“Na the new girl be dis?” She
asked Jemima.
“Yes ooo.” Jemima replied.
Bose addressed Chioma.
“Wetin be your name?” Bose
asked Chioma.
“My name is Chioma.”
“Na wah ooo…see fine pikin wey
wan waste her life for here so…she fit speak better English sef.” Said Bose.
“My dear abeg leave matter for Matthias,
if no be say nothing dey, we for dey here? How many people don commot for this
place? Kolade, Musa, Aderigbe, Ese, Kenneth, Ada… make we count am? Madam na
proper witch, I swear.” Said Jemima, dipping her finger in her tongue and
raising it up to the sky.
Bose asked Chioma again.
“You no dey go school?”
“I used to, but I was expelled
and my father doesn’t have money to enroll me into another school.”
“Eehyah… una no get relation
wey una fit beg? My dear, this place no fit you at all, if you like yourself,
drop that plate waka comot oooo. Na condition bend crayfish, if not ehn, you no
for see us here ooo.”
“I am here to wash plates and
that’s all, I will try hard to be careful so as not to break a plate, I do not
want my pay, deducted.” Said Chioma.
“That one na grammar. Na only
salary she go remove? Turn ya eye face that corner, shebi you see that big
BULALAH, if you crack one plate, that Bulalah go destroy ya body.”
“She cannot do that…the only
person that has a right to beat me is my father or my teachers at school, apart
from these people, no one can touch me with cane.” Protested Chioma.
Jemima and Bose almost fell to
the ground in laughter, Chioma ignored them and continued washing her plates.
She was going to work her hardest inorder to earn enough money to pay her
tuition fees. From her calculations, if she washed twenty sets of plates each
day, she would make a hundred naira. For a week excluding weekends, she would
be making five hundred naira, in two months she would have made four thousand
naira, hopefully, there would be a school somewhere that would accept tuition
for that amount. Then, by the time she resumes school, she would look for ways
to smuggle herself out of the house and make extra money during weekends. With
this plan in mind and happy to have found a job, Chioma scrubbed the plates
hard as though her life depended on it.

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