Monday, November 22, 2010


The ceiling fan was making a whirr whirr sound, swaying from side to side in a last desperate attempt to do the work for which it was made; to circulate air. The Power Holding Company had just emasculated it. Mrs Effiong groaned. Her three month old who was sleeping soundly, would soon cry out when he became hot and sweaty. If she had known that PHC was this unreliable in these parts , she would have prevented her husband from paying for this flat in Ijesha. She lay sprawled on the couch, her well worn jeans skirt riding up her thighs, the copy of the church bulletin fanned out before her. She didn’t need this now, not like it was ever needed, but not now. Especially not now. She was expecting the agent to bring a new housegirl for her.

Mrs Effiong was petite and rotund; her stomach still reeling from the expansive effects of pregnancy. Her face was long like a sheep’s; but she gave no impression of foolishness, rather of hawk like alertness; she had the quick movements of a bird. The most remarkable thing about her was her voice, high, metallic, and without inflexion; falling on the ear with a hard monotony; irritating to the nerves like a constant crackling of biscuit wraps in a solemn burial service.

She liked to have housegirls; not that she couldn’t do her work herself, but she needed to have the company of someone, preferably someone she could control, since her husband would be at work; having escaped temporarily from her bilious tongue. The heat was already getting unbearable, and their Tiger generator had only recently packed up. After the four housegirls that had been through her hands in the last two months, her instincts were now honed to pick up even latent traits of stupidity; and heat would only serve to deaden those instincts. She had refused her husband’s offer to be present at the interview, because she didn’t need him empathizing with a girl just because she sat there, palms folded in laps, a doe eyed look in her eyes.

Mr Effiong was a Sunday School teacher at the Presbyterian Church in Yaba, and had been since 2007, and after two years of teaching youngsters, his constant refrain was “Honey, small small, no kill small pikin!” He was quiet, almost brooding and one who after three years of marriage to Mrs Effiong had learned that it was more conducive to peace to leave her with the last word or action. Mrs Effiong didn’t think any of those girls were ‘small pikin’ and she showed them by pummelling them promptly, and although she was thirty three, five years younger than her husband, she didn’t feel he was as world- wise as she thought she was.

“Madam!” someone called. It was Mr Akpan, the agent, hovering at the burglary proof just outside the sitting room, a young lady at his side. Never one to miss the opportunity of cutting someone down to their size or even below it, she said,unlocking the padlock, “Mister Akpan, I have a door. Knock ! No dey shout person name” , eyes roving all over the girl.

Mrs Effiong had resolved not to accept any girl who looked anything like all the others, and so when she saw this one; with her tapering jeans and white plaid shirt, a pink beret on her head, she smiled to herself. She thought she might be someone who fit . Someone who didn’t look stupid. Of course her judgement was biased; her mind had told her: as long as the girl doesn’t look like anyone your husband would call small pikin, you are fine. The baby’s wail pierced the air from the bedroom, and she hurried to pick it up while showing them to the couch.

“What is your name?” she asked as she returned, her eyes surreptitiously scanning the lady’s sillhouette and this time noticing pink toenails peeking out from pink gladiator sandals. This must have been to match the pink beret, Mrs Effiong thought.

“Monica, Monique for short”, she replied all the time twirling her shoulder length braids. Bits of pink could be seen highlighted in the thick mass of charcoal black braids. She was very conscious of fashion, thought Mrs Effiong. Just then a loud disco tune rent the air. “I go call you later, I dey interview”, Monica said into a phone pulled out from her jeans pocket. Mrs Effiong couldn’t help but notice that it was a well used blackberry.

After a series of questions such as how old she was which was twenty-four and her level of education which she replied, “School Cert” and an expert inquisition into her background, which was directed to Mr Akpan, who all the while had been quiet, a faint look of amusement on his face; keenly observing the exchange between ‘Madam’ and applicant; a verdict was reached. You fit start tomorrow? asked Mrs Effiong, her baby nodding off to sleep again in her arms.

Monica arrived the next morning at 7.00am just when Mr Effiong was preparing to leave for the construction site where he was head foreman. He clutched yesterday’s Punch newspaper in his left hand and a little basket in his right. The basket contained a meal of boiled plantains and fresh fish stew, which Mrs Effiong had woken up at 5.00am to prepare; fleeing not once , but twice to breastfeed her baby, who wailed just when he could no longer feel the warmth of his mother against his skin. At each point, she swore under her breath, cursing the last girl who had just left and simultaneously willing Monica to hurry up.

So it was with great anticipation that Monica was expected. Mr Effiong stopped in his tracks when he saw her at the door. What he saw, can best be described as the sight of a plate of jollof rice and chicken to his hungry labourers. Monica was dressed in a red knee length pencil skirt and black blouuse, breasts straining for prominence under a black blouse, with a black beret substituting for the pink beret of the day before. “Did she have them in all the colours?”, Mrs Effiong thought as she came out of her room, when she heard the door open.

“Honey, this is the girl, she said to her husband, who mumbled “this one no be small pikin”, and hurried out to his grey 1996 Datsun to begin the one hour crawl to the site at Apapa.

“Good morning, Ma", said Monica lugging her fifty pound travelling bag over to the center of the sitting room. Mrs Effiong eyed the bag from the corner of her eye. “You have load oh”, she said intending the question as a rhetorical one to which Monica mumbled something inaudible. Just then the baby cried out and Mrs Effiong hurried away, with Monica following closely at her heels.

His diaper was wet, and when Monica, showing great prowess in the process of diaper change, lifting up the baby’s buttocks with care and massaging Vaseline on it with the practised air of someone who had done this before. Not once , but a lot of times, Mrs Effiong was excited , but she kept it to herself. She had made a good choice afterall, and the days of woe as she insisted on calling these times would be behind her for good. “No small pikin and their stupidity” was her private mantra.

The days and the weeks passed with no casualties between Mrs Effiong and her housegirl, the house looking like one with no ‘small pikin’ housegirl, clean, orderly and above all without the familiar wailings and quick dashes to the backyard of a young girl accompanied by Mrs Effiong, hot on her heels, wrapper around her breasts, brandishing a gari stick. It was peaceful, because afterall there was no small pikin. The last girl couldn’t even hold the baby, for her hands shook and her face blanched and bore a resemblance to that of the baby. Of course the baby cried much more when it was carried by Ekaete, for that was her name; seeing that it was being held by one of its kind, howbeit a bigger version.

One day Mrs Effiong returned home after a trip to the market to discover that the money she had set aside for the baby’s christening dress was short. Of one thousand naira. She had a hard time reconciling her accounts, and she later, after exhaustive but unproductive brain wracking concluded that she must have used the money somehow, maybe in buying some things. It didn’t matter that there were no things!

Monica was up at night typing on her phone. Mrs Effiong found out because in the middle of the night when she got up to use the bathroom, and she had to pass by Monica’s room, she heard the familiar sound she usually heard from the phone of her neighbour upstairs. She restrained the urge to barge into the room, in a characteristic Mrs Effiong style and demand that Monica go to bed. That why was she wasting her light and a host of other questions. Dealing with an apparently non- stupid housegirl did that: dulled your instincts and Mrs Effiong’s instincts were almost becoming non- existent.
Sometimes when they were preparing for church on Sunday mornings, Mrs Effiong will not find her pink lipstick or the gold one her sister bought her from Dubai or the costume jewellery she bought at Balogun the month before. But Mr Effiong was always in a hurry to get to his Sunday School kids, and since they spent at least one hour preparing the baby for church, there simply wasn’t enough time to look for anything. And besides, she had at least ten other lipsticks, each about five years old, two pinks, three reds, three golds, and two silver ones. And lots of chunky, heavy jewellery, the kind available in Balogun for a cheap price. And of course when she came back from church, something always took her attention, and she soon forgot.

Monica remained dutiful, careful not to draw her Madam’s ire. At about 12 noon daily when she finished her chores and the baby was sound asleep, she had time to take her bath and dress up in one of her many clothes. On this day she was wearing a yellow T- shirt on which was printed the words “Big girl, big problem”, with brown leggings under it, when she heard the key turn in the lock. Was Madam back so soon from the shop? She usually returned at 4.00 pm and it was just 12.30pm. Monica was upset. She wanted some time to herself to chat on her phone sprawled on the couch, feet up, and no shouts of “Monica, come quick quick!”

But it was only Mr Effiong, which was strange because at least she had been here two months and he had never come home during the day.

“Gua’fternoon, Sir”, she said.

“ ’Afternoon”, he replied.

“Madam never come back? he asked.

Monica thought it strange that he would ask such a question.

Didn’t he know that she didn’t come back at this time? Hadn’t he called her that he was coming home and to know if she was going to be there too?“No, Sir” , she replied.

“How my pikin?” he asked as he settled on the long couch.
“E dey sleep”, she replied staring at the couch that she should have been on, sprawled, feet up, chatting away. And now this. She wasn’t sure what to say or do. She didn’t exactly deal directly with the husband. It was the wife who acted as intermediary ,saying “Monica go make semo”, while she, the wife carried the semo to him when it was done.
“Just forget about me oh, continue what you’re doing. Sit down if you want. Me, I’m just resting”, he said.

Mr Effiong didn’t forget the initial shock he felt when he saw who his wife had chosen as an alternative to small pikin. He wondered if it was a good idea for such a nubile young lady to be set aloose in his house, but of course he kept such thoughts to himself, bringing them up only in the time of private contemplation just as now. It was the kind of thing he taught his Sunday School kids. FLEE ALL APPEARANCES OF EVIL. Although he wasn’t sure yet just what to call Monica. It was preposterous to call her evil, because she was afterall very good around the house and with his child. But still.

All this pondering though, didn’t help him refuse the urge to spend his breaktime at home today. He had one hour everyday and he never came home, but today he said, “let me go home and rest”. Why he said that, he didn’t know. He wasn’t discerning enough to know just how much influence Monica’s presence in the house had on that apparently mindless decision. And why hadn’t he called his wife?

That rest of his time at home was uneventful. Monica chose to sit at the dining table, scurrying ever now and then to the bedroom to pat the baby.

Mr Effiong made that journey at least three times a week over the next two months: the journey to come home and rest. He told his wife after the second visit, but she thought nothing of it, saying “Ah , honey, you need rest, that work is too stressful”, and occasionally when Monica wasn’t busy and the baby wasn’t wailing, they would gist, Mr Effiong and Monica, tentatively at first, but soon with a burgeoning familiarity.

She would ask if he wanted some fresh fish peppersoup to cool off, or if the semo was the way he liked it. He would ask about her family and if she had boyfriend, to which she would reply, “Oga I be small pikin oh”, laughter crinkling her eyes which seemed to be saying the complete opposite. Monica liked the way he lounged on the couch after eating, his feet up against the head rest, his hairy calf exposed from under his trouser. She revelled in the attention he gave her these days, taking time to dress after her bath at 12.00pm, wondering and hoping he would come home at break time, because of course she couldn’t ask him in the morning and she didn’t want to be taken unawares.

Days and weeks passed. More things got missing. Mrs Effiong asked Monica if she knew about their whereabouts, not once , not twice, but she always responded with an indignant shaking of the head. Mrs Effiong would have slapped her for such impudence if Monica was someone else, but she held herself, for she reasoned ; “when last was my house this peaceful? and my husband even looks happier these days”. She attributed the ruddiness of Mr Effiong’s cheeks to those rests he was taking at home. Mrs Effiong even went in to Monica’s room one evening when she sent her to buy plantain and searched her travel bag for any of her missing things, but she found nothing.

One day, after Monica had been with them six months, Mrs Effiong was stopped on the road as she was walking to the bus stop by her neighbour; the one who shared the ground floor with them. Mrs Effiong and this lady were not exactly friends, in fact they were silent enemies, the kind who passed each other without greeting when they thought the other couldn’t see them, only to burst out in a flurry of insincere platitudes when their eyes met involuntarily.

“Aunty, I wanted to come to your house yesterday, but I say make I see you outside.”, the lady said.
“Wetin?” asked Mrs Effiong, attempting to disguise her haughty look with a cold smile.

“I just wan say, and she lowered her voice and looked over her shoulder to check if anyone was listening; at least anyone of importance, because of course everyone was listening; it was a bus stop! I dey see your husband every day for house for afternoon, I no know wetin dey happen”, the lady said in grave tones.
Mrs Effiong just smiled. A smile of cool condescension. “Nothing dey happen, e dey come rest”, she replied in the indulgent tone a mother would use in responding to her child who asked, “Mummy, who made God?”

The lady didn’t seem satisfied and was on the verge of saying more when Mrs Effiong’s bus came along. On the way to the shop that day, Mrs Effiong’s mind went briefly to what her neighbour had said. She was irked that, that little woman would have the nerve to walk up to her and tell her something like that. The only nagging thought was that the woman said “everyday”; she didn’t know that it was everyday, but maybe the woman had been exaggerating as people are inclined to do when “helping” others see what grave danger they were courting.

A week after this incident, Mrs Effiong returned home to find that her husband home too. He hadn’t called her to say anything and she was upset when she saw his Datsun in the compound. The sight she saw on entering the house was in Mrs Effiong’s opinion just the kind of thing devil used to tempt her in the old days of ‘small pikin’. The sitting room was scattered and Monica was lying on the floor, laughing hard at Mr Effiong who was lounging on the court singing a Sunday School chorus in an affected American accent.

Monica scrambled off the floor with the alacrity of a cat uprighting itself after a fall, tugging at her mini skirt, her eyes darting around the mess in the sitting room in dismay. In that moment of intense provocation, what passed through Mrs Effiong’s mind was that she hadn’t seen that mini skirt before. Mr Effiong wore the look of a child who had been caught with red oil on his hands, after his mother noticed the indentation in the surface layer of the new pot of Egusi soup. It didn’t matter that all he did was play with the palm oil bottle.

Mrs Effiong dragged Monica by the ear and slapped her right cheek first , and then her left. To this Mr Effiong paled, a look of consternation on his face, ”Honey,small small, no kill small pikin”, he said from a safe distance. Mrs Effiong shot him the ‘look’. That day it took a lot of explaining and pacifying for peace to be restored, so much so that he couldn’t return to the site. He had to call to say there was a family emergency. Indeed, there was for Mrs Effiong huffed and puffed, hemmed and hawed, pacing up and down the house, occasionally resuming her tirade of words aimed at Monica who scurried back and forth like a rat, cleaning up places that were already clean.

When her Sunday- only wristwatch got missing the next Sunday, Mrs Effiong’s alarm bells went off and this time they refused to be quietened . She ramsacked the whole house, this was of course after releasing her husband to go off to church alone saying” I must get to the root of this!”.Her husband slunk away in irritation casting a pitying glance at Monica, who would be the verbal punching bag for the day.

The watch was found in between the folds of the long couch by Monica who at this point was tired of the endless upturning of beds, shaking of clothes, and the accompanying rapid fire commentary from the caustic tongue of Mrs Effiong. When Monica presented the watch to her with an excited “I don see am”, Mrs Effiong thought she saw in Monica’s eyes a glint of foreknowledge.
Over the next few weeks as Mrs Effiong would return home in the evening to see Monica dressed up in clothes more suited to attending parties, the whole house reeking of lavender Fantasy body spray, her gait sure and practised like a graceful feline animal, Mrs Effiong became disturbed.
Mr Effiong, seemed more at ease, his face lighting up at the entrance of Monica into the room; it no longer mattered to him that his semo was served by Mrs Effiong; encouraging her to rest for wasn’t Monica up to the task? Mrs Effiong imagined that Monica was looking at her husband strangely, and spent too much time bending over the stool when she served him the semo.

Mrs Effiong spent hours in the evening sometimes on the couch with her chin in the hollow of her palm, the folds of her forehead drawn together in ridge- like furrows. She imagined a lot of other things, and soon became very paranoid. The whole house took on a different look in her eyes; it was still clean and tidy, but she almost felt like an outsider looking in, observing the unspoken communication between these two. It wasn’t suprising that she picked up her phone one Saturday morning; when her husband was out, and called Mr Akpan, the agent, and said, in a meek, weary voice “Come and take this girl away, I want small pikin!”


  1. very intersting. somethng was bound 2 happen sooner or later. lol @ "come n take dis girl away i want small pickin"

  2. @Ifeoma....thanks a lot oh...Yes indeed , something was bound to happen. I'm so glad you read, how are u doing? It's been a long time... Cheers :)

  3. hehehe hehehe hehehe
    somebody help me recover from this laughter o

  4. very nice one...but she will still send the small pikin away!

  5. whao... Nice Piece! totally hillarious!!


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