By Hauwa Abdullahi
Atinuke was sweating as usual when she got back to the office. She had complained two weeks earlier that the air conditioner in her car wasn’t cooling effectively anymore, it was safe to assume that it still had not been fixed. She had barely sat down when our supervisor walked into the office. She was so certain he was going to give ‘it’ to her but he didn’t. The universe had been kind to her once more.
It really isn’t my business why Atinuke always came late to the office but today, something piqued my curiosity. I noticed what must have been palm oil stain on her blouse and what looked like flour in her hair. It was oblivious. So I made it my business because as far as my principles go, this was no way for a customer service executive in a prestigious firm to look. Then she burst into tears, and I remembered then that there is a reason people advice that you mind your business! I might have bitten off more that I could chew from just asking: “why the palm oil stains on your blouse? And the flour …” I didn’t finish the question before she broke into tears. Thankfully, no one else entered the office when she finally stopped crying. So she blew her nose, cleared her throat and began her narration.
Her husband expects her to provide him with freshly made meals three times a day. Okay? I grabbed a seat. This should be interesting. This was her routine: We have an hours lunch break every day and she would always steal 15 minutes ahead of time so she could get a head’s start and make a quick dash to the market to pickup fresh vegetables, meat and any other condiments she would require. Lucky for her, her house was a 10-minute drive from the market. She had 30-minutes within which to either make a pot of soup or stew depending on what the man wants to eat. Get a load of this; he ate pounded yam on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and alternate Saturdays. Real pounded yam o! not one of those flour things posturing as the original! By the look on my face, after she told me this, I knew I had betrayed my emotions. She must have felt emboldened; to my chagrin she continued full throttle.
”He is back in the house by 12:45pm everyday like clockwork. I serve him at 12:55pm. He graciously let’s me go once I’ve served him so I can make it back to the office for 1pm.” Again the look on my face betrayed me. One positive thing I picked up was that she had become an adept time manager. ”The few times I had run into supervisor during the 15-minutes injury time of getting back from lunch, I have used the traffic as excuse and from his body language lately, that excuse is beginning to wear thin with.”
At this point, I was bursting with unsolicited advice but I bit my tongue. “I am tried, she continued. His business took a nose dive and I went out and got this job. He has been finding it challenging to turn the business around and so I have become the breadwinner. As if that is not bad enough, he insists that even though I’m actively engaged at work, his standard of living as my husband cannot suffer. He insists he cannot eat food warmed on the cooker or heated in the microwave. He cannot and will not cook and cannot be cooked for by a maid. I have to pick the kids from school because he is always in one meeting or the other. Thankfully my kid’s school is just around the corner and they close almost the same time I get off from work.
The worst situation is when I feel his annoyingly soft hands wandering under my night dress later at night. Believe me when I tell you that I just lie there wondering why he is exerting a pound of flesh from my already tired body. Worse of all, he doesn’t seem to notice my inactivity as he rolls over and grunts out of satisfaction like a goat!”
At this point I shifted uneasily and crossed my fingers tight in her face so that she wouldn’t elaborate more especially because I wasn’t familiar with how satisfied goats grunt. I wanted to interject, couldn’t she resign? Then she read my thoughts. “I have been forbidden from resigning” she offered. Not that it would make any sense anyway.
I could understand her pain: she worked at a 9-5 job, was the breadwinner, ran the children to and from school, cooked three-square-fresh-market sourced meals, serviced her husband regularly complete with new style while her husband lamented on the couch daily but she wasn’t allowed to express her discontent with the situation. You know, she was expected to ‘support’ her husband. In fact in certain quarters, she would be blamed for being a bad luck charm, considering his current situation.
She was too emotional and fragile to handle my emancipation story, she continued. ”He just walked in one day and said that he had lost his job. Not a problem, after all I am a ‘help-mate’. After six months though, I was a bit confused. I don’t want to sound unfair but I expected to see more effort in looking for a means of support for me and his three boys!(they were at that stage where they were each eating for six!)
There was a huge strain on the finances in the house. I was tired on all fronts. Of course, he had most of the day to charge his batteries and wait for me to get back to cook his meal and ‘get down on it’.”
After I heard her story I couldn’t help but wonder what I’d do to save myself if I was in her shoes. Am sure I would begin by serving him Garri (without groundnuts and sugar) for dinner one evening. Then I’ll find a way of serving him leftovers for lunch instead of freshly prepared white Jollof rice without large pieces of meat struggling for space, or basic soups and small portions. I’ll make sure to smile apologetically every time he seem to notice and actually muster the courage to ask. Am a good story teller so I guess I could add a few line of fiction to save myself every time I eat out with the kids before we got home: ”Remember I told you I will be passing through my sister’s place to help her out as she recovers”, I might say. And you know how she is, you must eat in her house.” I know him. He might want to ask to join us there sometime but, I’ll just have to gamble it and hope he does not.
From then on, I’ll do well to send money to my sister to cook us hot tasty meals of anything that caught my tongue’s fancy after I pick the kids from school. After all, we have been advised to be as ‘gentle’ as doves but wise as serpents.”