A Bit On The SIDE

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Chapter 2

What Ifedi witnessed had quickly extinguished her excitement. The time Nene led her into the kitchen and vaguely said, "This is where you will start and finish today", of course she had stood there amazed.

Yesterday when Nene took her to met with her new master, she had seen television as flat as table. It did not have long antennas or antennas at all.

As if to think that that shock had not been enough, today Nene had carried her into a kitchen that had cupboards high up in the walls. She had found herself in confusion trying to understand what it was they were balanced on or what it was they were hanging from. She had thought of glue but it was difficult to think of one that could ever be strong enough.

The other girl only made matters worse. Seeing her open one of them to dump inside it a very big glass jar, it made Ifedi conclude that there was definitely no way Super glue could hold that much weight. The girl had even placed a hand inside and on its base, pulling herself with it in an attempt to stretch and see if her jar had been well positioned.

Back home, they did not have cupboards inside kitchens. Things either hung down from the roof or were left to lie on the floor. Their kitchen was outside. It was not given a room inside their house like this one, otherwise the smoke would kill them, their house would burn whenever they roast meat and Chukwudi whose regular firewood injuries they could easily blame on his callous refusal to wear any slippers at all, would have good enough excuse since nobody else wore theirs while inside.

Nene left her under the supervision of the other girl. She had said, "You will work with Olaedo and she will put you through on what to do." But Olaedo had not shown any interest in her. She just Sashayed to and fro the moment Nene left them. She had only managed to point to a few things for Ifedi to help her fetch. Even when they set the table with master's wife, it was by intuition Ifedi did little bits.

It was not until Olaedo pulled her towards the kitchen door, she had thought that the girl just did not like to interact.

They had themselves sandwiched behind it from where they could not easily be spotted spying on master and his wife. They both had seen him strike her, seen him put something in her mouth.

"This should be like the sixth time I've seen master beat Uju, and I've only been here two years." Olaedo whispered as they cleared the table. Ifedi hated the pout she saw on her lips. She hated that Olaedo had not only called master's wife by her name but had even intently abbreviated it.

"if I didn't work here, I would never believe that in this our time, some men still beat their wives" Olaedo scoffed.
Apparently she had forgotten to make any use of the rag in her hand.

She searched Ifedi's face for a reaction, hoping that the conversation would go both ways but Ifedi said nothing. She busied herself with gathering the dishes and peeling off the table cloth. Olaedo sighed at it. She was at the other end of the table where their Master's wife had sat and had gotten a better view of the vomit. Ifedi had seen it too but the disgust printed on Olaedo's face, she thought was rather florid.

When they went back into the kitchen. She helped Olaedo with the dirty dishes. They did it together now unaware of the days ahead when they would quarrel over who's duty it was to wash.

Nene joined them later just when they were about to put lunch together. She had come to check on Ifedi, to see if she was fitting in well. She instructed them to not set table for anyone as Master himself was not hungry. As for his wife, she was going to take food to her by herself.

Ifedi felt it was odd the way Nene had spoken to them. It suggested that even in her absence, she was very familiar with what had happened. She somehow managed to keep a straight face perhaps because it would be wrong of her to discuss anything with them. Still, Ifedi would have loved to know if Master's wife was alright, what her offence was and why she could not come down for lunch. Only that it was her first day on the job and was not ready to exchange her handsome pay for gossips.

"Ifedi, you can go to the quarters to unpack properly" Nene said. "We would join you there later in the evening. If you need anything, Ada should be there to help you."

Ada had to be the bouncy girl from last night. The one who had locked Ifedi tightly in a very long embrace and had offered to singlehandedly take in all her bags. Ifedi had not seen her well in the dark corridor, she had not seen anyone well. But Ada had an accent that no one else had. She pronounced her "L 's" as "R 's" and her "R 's" as "L 's". When she had asked, "Would you eat rice? It's what we have." Ifedi had understood her perfectly even though she had called it "...lice?" It was obvious she was from a side of Igbo where the dialect deflected a little towards the west. From a place where they spoke "Ara" as "Ala" and oftentimes it affected their English too.

(Ara/Ara - Madness)

Ifedi nodded. she headed towards the door; the one that led to the dinning, from where she would leave through the sitting room, the same way she had come but Olaedo stopped her.

"You can just take the back," she pointed to a wooden door behind them, "you would get to the quarters faster." She smiled.

Olaedo had not lied. From the door she could see the old building in the distance. The rusting zinc roof had it's sheets waving in the dry harmattan breeze.

She made her way beside a kind of garden. It was a big round pitch of green pampered grass carefully barricaded with neatly trimmed dwarf ixora bushes. It's beautiful corymbs of bright red florets clustered mostly on the sides making colourful layers of red-green-red flower fence. Inside it was a network of anca grey pebbles arranged in roads leading to tables and chairs under various thatched umbrellas, and then to themselves leading out. As she passed, she felt the environment change. There was an exaggerated sense if peace and quiet that made her smile. Contrary to the disturbance and busyness of the outside world, the soothing tranquility there felt very supernatural.

When Ifedi entered the quarters, she met Ada sitting almost completely naked on one of the beds. She had her chest bared and a cloth loosely circled her beaded waist. She only pulled it up to cover a better part of her backside when she noticed the faint surprise on Ifedi's face.

"You're back early, I thought you were posted to the kitchen." She said.

Ifedi nodded. She had thrown her eyes to the wall ahead in an attempt to shake the image of Ada's breast off her head. She had not intended to glance at them but her photographic mind held the fresh picture. They were round and wide like disks, with soft looking inward nipples. Everything like hers only smaller. Girls like them did not need braziers to construct their cleavages as their breasts grew very closely to each other.
She walked towards her luggage in the corner and sat still on the next bed close to them, then she said, "Nene gave me the rest of today to sort out my things." The naked girl sighed pitifully, "I didn't even expect her to make you start work today, she should have given you the whole day for this instead." She gestured to the bags.

She moved towards the edge of her bed until she sat nearly opposite Ifedi. She bent over to center one of the bags between her legs trying to help offload. She was still without a shirt but had managed to place a pillow infront of her. She was not beautiful anyhow Ifedi tried to look at her. Her hair was low and had a fading brown tint at the top, it reminded Ifedi of those malnourished looking Biafran children she had once seen in one of her father's album. Her nose was droopy and her big eyes were down-turned. The harmattan had sliced through a corner of her lower lip and the open sore was starting to turn crusty. However she was a type of person that appeared likeable to many.

"How was it today in the kitchen? Hope it wasn't stressful?" She asked as they off-loaded.

"Mba! Despite what happened at the dinning, it wasn't stressful at all."

"Kedu ife mere?!"

(Kedu Ife mere - what happened)

Ifedi recoiled. "Amam? All we heard was a quarrel. I didn't see it well but Olaedo said Master beat his wife." She had said it like that because she did not want the gossip linked to her, after all, she had not worked long enough to afford getting fired.

(Amam? - do I know?)

"Ewooo!" Ada snapped. "Hmm! Now why won't people keep running away from their jobs here?" She turned to the window in thoughts.

(Ewo - an Igbo exclamation)

"Running away? Why?"

"Nne m don't worry, you would soon see how strangely master behaves. That man scarce everybody." She paused then faced Ifedi.

"Blessing, the girl you're here to replace. He asked her to kneel outside facing the sun."

Ifedi shrugged, she was about to ask what her predecessor had done but Ada continued.

"Only Nene has been working here for as long as I can remember, but you see me?" She pointed to herself as the pillow fell, "I would leave this place as soon as I save up enough money to travel to Lagos. My sister is there and is making arrangements for me to join her and her friends to Italy." She said proudly. "Even Olaedo has plans to leave this August. She should have left earlier but her mother came down with stroke and she needs the money to pay for her treatment."
Ifedi felt an underlying pressure to respond as Ada's gaze cut through her.

"I-I am just here to make some money to further my education. I was the best student in my community and I have a scholarship." She smiled. "But it won't cover all my fees at Nsukka."

"You got admission into Nsukka?" Ada asked in surprise.

"Mba! Not yet. But I'm smart, I know I would be accepted." Ada gave have her a playful slap on the knee,

(Mba - No)

"Nsukka buro easy oh nne m, hope you have a second choice?" She laughed contemptuously.

(Buro - is not)

(Nne m- my mother (translation is in word for word but is used for a lady to say my dear)

Later that evening when they all sat at the back together listening to the soughing of the wind in the canopy of branches in a distance, Ifedi was brief on their lives there in the quarters. Nene had told her that the right side of the apartment in the small bungalow was out of bound to all females as the gardeners and gatemen as well as master's main cook had that wing. Nene also had a room for herself unlike the rest of them. She had a big bed and a very loud radio set, a dress table with a chair and rack full of expensive looking ceramics. She also didn't exactly explain that she was executive but Ifedi could see how differently she was treated, even her maid's uniform had no circular collars at the top.
While master had given them a place to stay, they were however responsible for their own feeding and Nene had thought it wise to remove a small portion of their salaries to stock food up for all them every month. That did not settle well with Ifedi as she had plans for her money. She was ready to exempt herself immediately Nene said it was not compulsory but had stopped when they all offered to feed her for that month until she is able to contribute as well.
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