By JJ Mponye:
I was initially unbothered about getting to know Nama and her life story. Why would I need to get the intricate details of a maid who is here today and gone tomorrow?
But when I finally got to know more about her, her stories reminded me of my mum. The deep-seated hatred in my heart gradually melted giving way to feelings of compassion towards her. In Nama I saw the struggles and pains that my mum must have endured.
For quite some time Nama was just the shabby middle aged woman who cooked my dinner, placed it on the table and begged me to have my nourishment as I lost myself into the world of television. She would always plead, “Uncle please come and eat. Your supper is getting cold.” Yet as long as I had hot water in the bathroom, my trousers and shirts were neatly pressed, my shoes polished and socks were in the right place, Nama was just like any another object in the house. A wall hanging perhaps! The only problem was that she moved around the house a lot and tried to make conversation too often. All I wanted, when I returned from work was a gatekeeper to let me in, not a nosy woman asking me how my day was and telling all the trivialities that happened at home when I was away.
One day Nama finally succeeded in drawing me into a long and emotional conversation. I don't remember how it all started but I had just returned from work. She quickly served me tea before sitting down on her mat to watch television with me. Nama has a special corner in the sitting room where she always sits during supper time. I think Nama loves this spot because she can very easily lose herself in thoughts and then nod off with her head resting comfortably in the corner. I thought she was going to doze off quickly since there was a documentary on wild life showing, with narrations in English. The language just isn't her cup of tea.
Instead, Nama was intrigued by the behavior of ostriches that was being explained in the documentary. She kept on asking me to interpret. I think it must have been after learning that male ostriches participate in incubating eggs and rearing their chicks that Nama flung me into a conversation about relationships. The transition was easy and swift. She complained about men in general and irresponsible fathers in particular. She talked about the pain of single motherhood, the uncertainty of her future and that of her children. It was then that I learned that Nama was a single mother: a mother of three with the youngest being only two and half. All her children are from different fathers! Her most recent 'husband', is a taxi driver. Medi rejected his son, and subsequently abandoned Nama, because the little boy was too dark and yet, “everyone is his family is light skinned.”
As Nama, described her miserable childhood and struggles with men, I couldn't help but think that hers and my late mother's lives were the same script merely played out by different actresses. Just like Nama, my mum dropped out of school when she was sixteen. My grandfather, known all over the village to have had at least thirty children, had just lost his prestigious government job at the time. Life soon became so hard for the family. I remember my mum saying, “Mzee was forced to take most of his children out of school, starting with the girls.” Mum was the very first to drop out because her performance was consistently uninspiring. “My report always had the same comment, “Poor performance. Please pull up your socks!” And I was always assured of a beating from Mzee (respectful term to mean, Old Man) at the end of the term. So it came as no surprise that I was the first to be relieved of the burden of going to school. Anyway, at that time, I was quite glad because I survived the thrashing!”
Nama's academic situation was quite similar to my mum's although her dropping out of school was precipitated by the death of her mother, who was the sole breadwinner of the family. Her unfortunate father, a village sot who worked for his drink by fetching water for some families, was crushed to death by a speeding bus as he staggered across the road just a day after his wife had been buried. “I stayed with my auntie for about three years before moving in with my first boyfriend. On top of my auntie mistreating me, she always complained that I was a burden. And I constantly prayed for an opportunity to leave her house,” Nama said. It was not long before she fell pregnant and was abandoned by the boyfriend who claimed he had gone to find a job in Kampala. She has never seen him again.
Mother also got pregnant with her first child at around the same age as Nama had eloped with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend started out as a farmer before becoming a trader. He left the village for the city where he became prosperous, got another girlfriend and even married. Mother faded out of his picture and struggled to raise my elder sister. She later got involved in another failed relationship before deciding to close the door on men. Her livelihood was based on growing vegetables and selling them at the roadside market.
Mother's life turned around when her primary school sweet heart stopped his car by the road side market to buy some vegetables. I remember her narrating her story, “We recognized each other right away! I was so excited to see him and I felt that he was going to take away some of my problems. When we were little children John Mukasa promised that he would marry me. We even crossed our little fingers and spat on the ground to seal our juvenile vow. But his father was transferred from the district police post to another part of the country and I never saw him again until that day!”
John initially gave my mum money to boost her small vegetable business and then disappeared from her again. But he later started making frequent stopovers at the market whenever he had an up country trip to make. When John's wife needed a maid, and had been advised to find one from the village, she asked him to get a maid on his next upcountry trip. Mother told me that when John requested her to find him a maid, she responded, “You will find her ready this evening when you return. And I am sure you will like her.”
He was shocked to find mother, smartly dressed in a gomesi and seated by her stall, with two bags and no maid in sight. “Please take me away from here John. I am ready to be your maid,” she pleaded.
I came on the scene three years later.
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