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“Madam is not as bad as people think”

That was Chioma’s thought on her first three days of work
but by the time days progressed into one week, she had to admit, Madam was
indeed wicked.

She made life hell for her workers, and deducted more than
enough money from their wages which made Chioma feel she had made a great
mistake of agreeing to be paid at the end of the month.
So far, she had
committed no great offence but there was no perfection in Madam’s dictionary as
she looked for ways to heap blame on her workers. Everyday was the same and
Chioma wasn’t finding the job easy as she had thought at first. Though she had
no problems sneaking out to work each morning since her father was more
occupied with his thoughts than he was of her, she really wished she could stop
working at the restaurant.
After each day of work, she penned down every mistake she
had made and how she could improve on it, she also kept a small book of how much
she was due on a daily basis.
It was a Tuesday morning and her brothers were at home,
since their father was yet to pay their school fees and from all indications, it
didn’t seem remotely possible because there was no money. 
Sometimes, Chioma found
herself wondering where her father had kept the money he had saved. She remembered
her literature teacher’s saying; ‘Make hay while sun shines. The way you make your
bed, so shall you lie on it’ and so on, and she couldn’t help but wonder at how
good a manager her father really was. Perhaps too much luxury wasn’t necessary,
she told herself as she recalled the fancy and sometimes very expensive and
unnecessary excesses they had when all was going good. To think that in less
than one month, everything was gone with the wind was too much to bear as it
had affected their way of life drastically. Gone were the large chunks of chicken,
beef and fish on their plates of food, now they all had to share either one
piece of beef or a small piece of fish, if there was any.
This morning as usual, her father had left home to start
another fresh day of job search and she was forced to leave her ever inquisitive
brothers at home as she had to be at Madam’s restaurant before nine am. She had
lied to them that she had a friend to visit and would not be long. Thomas as
usual didn’t believe her as he could never stop doubting, he had raised his
voice in warning at her desperate attempts to leave the house.
“I will tell daddy when he returns…you’ll see.” Thomas had warned,
“Do your worst. I don’t care what you tell him.” Chioma had
“Have you forgotten what happened the last time you left us
alone at home?”
“What happened ehn?” Asked Chioma, disgusted over the noise
Thomas was making.
“All our valuable gadgets developed legs.” Sneered Thomas.
“If you ever repeat that sentence again, I will slap you.”
“Slapping me would not change the fact that you are making
the same mistake you made last time.”
“What rubbish? You are raving mad.” Screamed Chioma.
“If only you hadn’t given the phone to that man who duped
you, I would call daddy this minute and tell him what you are about to do.”
“It’s a pity you can’t, daddy is somewhere looking for our
daily bread and hopefully, money to pay your school fees.” Screamed Chioma.
Their quarrel had gone on and on till Chioma stormed out of
the house. On her way outside the compound, she went to the
backyard to check the clothes she had spread on the line to dry. She had washed
the clothes since Sunday but because of the light drizzles of the rain, the
clothes still remained damp. Sighing over the realization that the clothes
still had to sit on the lines for an extra day, she walked out of the compound
and headed to the restaurant. It was already ten thirty am by the time she
arrived, Madam was already in the restaurant busy with a phone conversation,
Jemima was stirring a pot of stew and Bose had begun washing some of her
“Thank you Bose.” Chioma said, overwhelmed with
gratitude over Bose’s thoughtfulness.
“Wetin happen? See time, ten o’clock don knack.” Said Bose,
rinsing out the soap suds and wiping her hands with her skirt.
“My brothers were sent home because they didn’t pay their
school fees, I had to make sure that I took care of some things before I left
the house.”
“Madam don ask of you ooo” Said Jemima.
“Yes, we tell am say, you go buy pure water.” Said Bose,
chipping in.
“Thank you very much.” Said Chioma as she crouched low and
started washing the plates.
Activity in the kitchen buzzed as customers noisily breezed
into the restaurant, Bose and some waiters asked for plates to serve their
customers and Chioma carefully handed plates over to them, mentally taking
notes of the sets of plates she had washed so far. The next time Chioma glanced
at the time, it was two pm, she almost screamed in alarm, her brothers were all
alone at home and she was supposed to prepare Indomie for lunch. She washed the
plates faster, trying not to spend too much time on one plate, but more kept
coming as it seemed that Madam’s customers had large appetites or had brought
their friends along as well. She searched for a viable excuse to give
Madam but nothing came up.
At about three thirty pm when Chioma felt all hope was lost
as regarding her closing for the day, some well dressed men and women walked
into the restaurant. Madam as usual was seated at the entrance of the restaurant,
counting her money and shouting at the top of her voice at her workers. Immediately
she saw the people coming, she was all smiles as she hastily made ready tables
for them and rushed into the kitchen. Chioma had just washed the last set of
plates and had arranged them accordingly when Madam rushed into the kitchen and
signaled to her.
“Did you see those customers?” She asked.
“Yes ma.”
“I want you to go out and serve them, they
are obviously well educated people who want clean hands to serve them. You are
the neatest of all my workers.”
“But Madam, this was never our agreement…I told you that I don’t
want to be seen, what if they know my family?”
“Take a quick look at them.” Madam said.
Chioma drew aside the curtain which separated the kitchen
from the main restaurant and stole a peek, she didn’t know any of them but, she
felt that they were too well dressed to eat at such an unkempt place as Madam’s.
Even she had never tasted the food from Madam’s kitchen for fear of dysentery or
Chioma shook her head and said;
“I do not know any of them ma.”
“Good. Go ahead and serve them, tell them that a plate of
food sells for three hundred naira.”
“But…that’s cheating, a plate of food is eighty naira.”
Protested Chioma.
“Don’t argue with me.”Snapped Madam.
Chioma nodded and did as she was told, as soon as she went
out to get their order, she could feel the stern gaze of the customers as
they stared at her grimly.
“Sir, Ma, can I take your order please?” Asked Chioma as
she smiled at the customers.
“What is your name?” One of them asked.
Chioma was puzzled at the intensity of the man’s gaze.
“Chioma…Agballa, sir.”
“Why aren’t you at school at this time?”
“Well…I chose to work…isn’t life about choices?” Answered
Chioma, a bit rude and offhandedly.
“Where are your parents?” A woman asked.
Chioma turned to stare at the entrance to the kitchen but
Madam wasn’t at the doorway as she had hoped.
“Are you here to buy food or receive a lecture on my life
history?” Spat Chioma.
At that moment, Ezekiel walked in, a tired look on his face,
his cooler of moi moi sat on his head, he greeted the customers and stared at
Chioma questioningly. When he saw the anger written in her gaze, he smiled,
carefully dropped the cooler of moi moi from his head and spoke.
“Good afternoon, abeg wetin una wan chop?”
“Do you work here?” Asked one man who hadn’t spoken since he
entered the restaurant.
“Yes sir, but I no dey work for restaurant ooo, I dey carry
moi moi.”
He was still replying the man when Madam strolled in from
the kitchen, she frowned as soon as she saw Ezekiel addressing her customers, looking dirty
and unkempt.
“Ezekiel, what are you doing here?” Madam snapped.
Ezekiel opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by Madam’s heavy knock on his head.    Other waiters alongside Jemima and Bose peeped at the scene from the kitchen. 
Suddenly, one of the men rose from the chair hastily and walked towards Madam producing a handcuff which he slapped on her wrists. Madam was too shocked,
Chioma’s eyes widened as she tried to back away but was restricted by another
man who held her at ransom. Ezekiel was fast enough as he had scampered off,
the other supposed customers who apparently weren’t customers dashed into the
kitchen and were able to grab hold of Jemima who wasn’t fast enough as Bose and the rest of the workers had run away. Chioma felt
dazed, she saw the camera man flash his camera at her. Madam was
charged with allegations of Child abuse and human trafficking. The man who had
handcuffed Madam identified himself as a policeman while the others introduced
themselves as social workers. Chioma begged them to let her go as they hurdled her into a bus
which stood at the entrance of the restaurant. The police men had gotten hold
of two small boys that Madam had employed two days ago to fetch water, Jemima
was set free when she produced her voter’s card which showed that she was above
the age eighteen.
They were taken to the police station and Madam was held in
detention, reporters had gathered around, waiting for scoop on the news. Chioma
was worried sick, it was already past four and she was far from home, she had
begged the social workers to let her go but they didn’t listen to her pleas
instead they had her fill out a form where she was to write her parents details
in full including their phone numbers. She didn’t want to get her father
involved, as yet again, he would be disappointed in her, the tears in her eyes
dried up as they refused to fall anymore. 
At five o’clock that same evening, thunder rumbled in the distance and
within minutes, there was a heavy downpour accompanied by a strong wind. The
social workers and police stayed put at the station as the rain fell harder
than ever. At six thirty, the rain stopped, the clouds were still dark and the
whole area was flooded, the bus which had conveyed them to the station was deep
in water almost to its windows. Even the compound which housed the police station was flooded
as well although the water didn’t enter the building.
 Chioma panicked as she had not sent word home. She was sitting on a bench all alone
when one woman walked up to meet her.
“Chioma Agballa, right?” The woman asked.
“Yes…yes ma.” Chioma stammered.
“My name is Mrs. James. We just called your father and he
has assured us that he had nothing to do with your decision to work at the restaurant.
But, nevertheless, once the water level reduces, I would personally accompany
you home.”
Chioma nodded quietly.
“Would you like something to eat?” The woman asked.
Chioma shook her head, she wasn’t hungry. The woman left her
and walked into one of the offices, Chioma felt herself grow chill, it was
as if something had gone wrong but she couldn’t tell what. She could hear Madam’s
voice from inside of one of the cells, as she shouted her innocence. Chioma was confused, nothing had prepared her for this.
It was already eight thirty pm by the time they arrived at
Chioma’s house, Mrs. James had brought her home and they were
accompanied by a policeman who had painstakingly driven them in a small
Honda car. The streets were unkempt as waste from gutters were littered around,
most streets were still flooded and it was difficult maneuvering the car
through them. There was no light in their flat as their light had been
disconnected days ago. As soon as they climbed the staircase leading to Chioma’s
flat, Chioma frowned, their door was ajar and voices could be heard from inside
the house. Forgetting that she was accompanied by Mrs. James and her colleague,
she rushed into the house which was lit up with rechargeable lamps and was shocked to see some of her neighbours in
their sitting room with her father.  He was seated on the floor with his hands
on his head.
“Daddy! Daddy what happened?” Chioma asked running to
meet him and ignoring the neighbours.
Her father looked at her with tears in his eyes, as he
mouthed the word,
“Where is Thomas? What happened, please tell me.” Chioma
“Where were you Chioma?” Her father asked, not able to hold back the tears.
“I…was working, i was trying to support the family…” Cried Chioma.
“When the police called and said you were in their custody, I panicked and rushed home only to find out that…that..” Her father stammered.
One of the neighbours walked up to her and said.
“When the rain started, your brothers went downstairs to
bring in the clothes you had hung on the line on Sunday, as they were doing
that, a heavy wind came and carried one of the clothes into the other compound.
Thomas went to fetch it and hasn’t come back ever since.”
“… ?Have you looked for him? He might be at Ifeanyi’s
house. He loves playing their…their games…he…” Stammered Chioma as tears
welled up in her eyes.
“We have been searching for him for hours, since Zubby and
Ekene came to our flat and informed us about his disappearance. No one has seen
him.” Said the neighbour quietly.
“You are lying! You are playing April fool with me…I don’t
believe you.” Protested Chioma.
The neighbours looked at her and shook their heads
pitifully. Chioma ran into the rooms of the house looking for Thomas. 
Zubby and
Ekene were fast asleep on their beds obviously tired after a long day. Chioma screamed Thomas’s name at the top
of her voice but she heard no reply. She ran back into the sitting room with a
haggard look on her face, she couldn’t believe that fate could deal so heavily
with her, a second time, why had she left her brothers alone again? She asked herself. 
At that moment, a young man walked in, in his hands
was a familiar shirt and a sandal. They both belonged to Thomas.
Chioma fainted!

+Abdullateef Abdulsalam +NigeriansTalk +azzaffe O-O +mariam armisen +Ivor Hartmann +Google Africa



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