The other day I came back home only to find the house help gone. She was a good house help. The kids liked her.This was a surprise as there had been no signs that she was troubled or anything.
But I didn’t bother to ask if she had been asked to step aside or had just gone to take lighter duties. Neither was I interested in knowing if she had eloped with one the water vendors that had been calling her a few minutes to midnight every day for the past one month. His calling habits had nothing to do Safaricom’s annoying tendency to award storo bonus when most people in your contact list are asleep but they were determined by his wife’s sleeping patterns- if the wife went to bed early then the call would come a bit earlier. She could have made a transfer day deadline swap to our neighbors for all I care-it was end month after all and people have money to poach your house help during end month.
I was just happy she was gone. And not because she was louder than Matsanga and covered my forehead with bits of food because whatever she wanted to say couldn’t wait until she swallowed her food. It had to be said there and then! My forehead crinkled in happiness that the days of being treated like a kitchen sink was over. My happiness had less to do with more food in the fridge or less noise in the house (did I say that already?). I could withstand the afro cinema on TV with the volume of an open air crusade and the hyena laughter that accompanied it. The fact that that voice that should be declared a threat to national security was gone wasn’t it either.
The house smelled fresh in almost 4 months. The air was pure and unadulterated. Uncontaminated. For the first time in months, the sea breeze didn’t assault my nose. It was safe to breathe again. The living room was bereft of the odour of human hair. Sweaty human hair covered in a weave. Have you ever up late into the night then you are suddenly struck by a fear you quite can’t wrap your fingers around? Or thought jinis are watching you? The smell that inspired the fear of jinis was gone. I am no researcher but the kids no longer have nightmares since she left. And visitors don’t question if we poisoned rats anymore. Heck, we even have more visitors now.
She came in October and her first month was fine. She acclimatized quickly and couldeven resist the urge to prepare sukuma wiki with soup within weeks. She had natural hair which she washed almost daily. The air freshener filled the house with the scent of lavender and the children slept soundly and peacefully.
Dung however hit the fan (or overcame the air freshener) when she received her first salary. First, she acquired a coastal accent, or at least thought she had one and retrieved it from where she had kept it. If you think Bifwoli Wakoli speaks funny, then you should listen to a luhya from Navakholo struggle with the coastal accent. Next, she formed a caucus of house helps. They’d sit along the pavements to shoot breeze, gossip and more importantly, strategically position themselves to catch the eyes of water vendors.
She quickly rose through the ranks and became the unofficial leader of the House Helps Union. In her position, their daily meetings would be determined by the time she completed her chores. If she was free at 10 A.M then the meeting would be at 10. If she was engaged until the afternoon, then the caucus would be in the afternoon. She had climbed to the top of her career ladder. She had become a diva. And to crown her diva status, she decided to get a weave. I could have jumped off the balcony when I saw her walk through the door with that monstrosity on her head had it not been for the bout of severe dehydration I was suffering from. This was the burning bush Moses was afraid of. It added six inches to her head. I wondered what she must have said to the hair stylist to get that thing sewn on her head. I wondered if it hurt her neck, or affected her balance. It was like a grass thatched house had walked into the house, because even grass thatched houses feel safer in bigger houses.
Thing is, weaves lack ventilation ducts for aeration and proper drainage systems to take care of the sweating. This oversight by the manufacturers is particularly worsened by the prevailing weather conditions in Mombasa. Mombasa is generally a hot place and it gets even hotter between the months of October and March. Mombasa is not a place for weaves, especially the cheap ones which do not allow your scalp breathing space. So after a week, your head starts emitting some unpleasant smell like some sort of defense mechanism against predators and friends. This is what befell our house help.
A week after installing that bush on a skull, a strange smell started following her. You felt a bit dizzy when she passed near you. The children began having nightmares and visitors asked if we had poisoned rats because asking if we were hiding a corpse would have seemed rude. The lavender scent was gone. In fact, air fresheners seemed to make it worse. Air fresheners are like a jealous girlfriend, they don’t like sharing their glory or mixing with weave odours. Also, because chemistry don’t like weaves either. Not being one kusimama maovu yakitawala,I called her out on it. Turns out, it was a big mistake-never talk ill of women’s hair, natural or not. Yes, even if they resemble a grass thatched house. Or the burning bush. And smell like burnt offerings.
As several studies indicate, women with big weaves live longer than men who talk ill of the said weaves. I learnt this the hard way.
My clothes came from the laundry with more stains that they initially had. Pocket change which I normally place on the bedside started growing legs. And no matter how tight I tied my pair of socks together, one piece always went missing. Sometimes, I couldn’t find one side of my sandals. I am certain she taken a blood oath to avenge the perceived injustice I had committed against her hair. This reminded me of the time my girlfriend had also put on a weave and asked me how she looked and I told her she looked like she was wearing a helmet made of synthetic fibre. Okay, I didn’t tell her that exactly but I wrote it in my drafts. Then told her she was looking fine even though she looked liked she was wearing a fibre helmet.
She got rid of the weave after over a month (the house help, not my girlfriend you goat) and put on another one which was as equally bushy but a different colour, and the vicious cycle of air degradation continued until she left last week.
When a woman spends a whole day in the salon, you shouldn’t throw shade on her new look however much it makes you scream in your sleep at night and during naps. It’s better to have nightmares than risk pillow asphyxiation in your sleep. Also, to have those things put on their head is more elaborate than installing a DSTV dish, so be silent if you can’t be kind with your words. If there is a lesson to be learnt in this story, it should be that weaves stink in hot weather and more so, if you sweat like a rugby prop and that house helps are domestic terrorists.
Anyway, I’m just glad she left and the children are sleeping well again. The house smells fresh again and neighbours don’t whisper that we are operating an illegal fish business anymore. And I don’t have to worry that she may have sneezed on my plate anymore.
But with freedom comes responsibility, and I can see the utensils waving Hi from the sink.