10.30pm. I should be getting ready for bed. Gong is still sound asleep in her spot on the couch, where we’ve taken our evening naps every day since we brought her home from hospital. My Lover is next to her, snoring softly, with the occasional really loud one rattling his throat and jarring him awake. It’s funny, his snoring used to wake me up; to Gong it’s more of white noise that doesn’t interrupt her.
I get up to fill my water glass. I’m walking towards the kitchen when I turn back. Five minutes later I sigh with satisfaction from where I am, ass up against my curtains with my fingers caressing the tassels on my rug. Those tassels have been bugging me since I walked into the sitting room in the afternoon and found them facing every direction apart from the one they’re supposed to.
Once I’m done with the rug I rearrange the candles and porcelain hen on my TV stand, straighten the curtains in the dining area, go back to the sitting room and rearrange the wicker baskets so they’re properly aligned with the furniture, pull the brass bucket forward and turn it so that the “champagne” engraved on it can be seen. Then I get the water.
I’ve accepted that I have (mild) OCD. I like things a certain way. I appreciate symmetry, order. You can see it when you walk into my home. It’s in the black and white, the gold and grey, the knick-knacks and bookcase, and it’s coming soon to my closet. I like the way I am; I wouldn’t change it because it helps me control the things I want to control, and I like to control things.
That’s why I wait for my nanny to go to bed or leave the room before I proceed to rearrange and straighten up everything she touched while cleaning. I wouldn’t do it while she’s in the room because I equate it to non-verbal condescension, but I keep hoping she’ll walk into the room one day and find things looking neater and realize that it’s not the work of Rumpelstiltskin.
A lot of women in my position would just tell her how to do everything so they don’t have to do it themselves, because that’s why she’s been hired right? But I kind of like doing things for myself, and I hired her to take care of my child more than anything else. The fact that she cleans regularly and (almost) thoroughly, and throws down better than average meals, is a plus in my book.
You should meet her. She’s short, with a stocky build that tells you her body was built to work, not lounge and wait for her zaddy. Her eyes sparkle with mischief when she laughs, and she has a way of moving around the house very silently so you don’t know where she is. Until her phone rings and she begins to rap in Kao, and she fires off whatever she’s saying so rapidly and loudly that you can’t tell whether she’s bitching at the person on the other end or professing her love, because all her conversations sound the same.
This is a woman who has consistently overfed me since I gave birth; a woman who serves me portions that would make a Lunje guy for mjengo blush and insists I must eat if my baby is to eat. This is a woman who laughs at my inability to tell the difference between terere and managu (I put this down to a cognitive disability), and keeps offering to teach me how to make chapos so my mom will stop mocking me. Her mayai na ugali combo is everything!
She sees me practically naked almost every morning and doesn’t bat an eyelid. Maybe it’s because nakedness becomes nothing when you’ve had four kids; or maybe it’s because she doesn’t even see it because she’s besotted with Gong, who has taken to smiling and jerking with glee every time she sees her.
This is a woman who can handle my baby in ways I can’t. Her hands are the magic that makes Gong sleep without putting up too much of a fight, while to Gong, my hands are there for the sole purpose of holding her up to my boobs.
This is a woman who introduced me to steamed lettuce (delicious by the way), has been relentless in her pursuits to get me to take uji everyday and is therefore an accomplice to the thief of joy that visits me each time I’m weighed; a woman who turned my minced meat into stew and got away with it because I can’t be mad at her when she’s so good with Gong.
I know that as women, our mothers and aunts warn us about the relationships we forge with the help; sowing seeds of distrust that ensure the line between master and servant is drawn indelibly such that it becomes impossible to build a friendship. You’ve heard the stories, from the bizarre (such as the one who cooked us a gecko when we were kids), to the downright horrific (remember the video of the Ugandan monster beating up the kid) to those of help who seduce husbands and sons.
But I’d like to think that my nanny and I will have some sort of friendship one day: one of mutual respect and acceptance that we need each other to be better and do better. Which is why I didn’t bat an eyelid when she walked into my room and asked me to put some “network” on her phone so that she could access Facebook and Whatsapp. I mean, what’s a little WiFi shared with the woman who replaces the water in the dispenser with such ease, therefore sparing My Lover a chore he hates to his core?
So I will let her use the WiFi, eat as much as she’d like, greet my husband when he comes home, take the day off and not have to cook when she returns in the evening, and treat her like a fellow human being.
I know that by now some of you are itching to warn me about the risks of creating such a relationship with her but here’s the thing: this is a woman who is helping me raise my kid, while her own kids are being raised in shags by their grandmother, aunts and uncles. It’s not lost on me that she would love to be there with her kids, so I will do everything possible to make her enjoy being here with us, because I owe a big chunk of my sanity to her – a chunk that shrinks every Sunday when she takes her day off. I honestly credit her with helping me hold my shit together those first few weeks postpartum, because depression is real and just having there to help me while My Lover was at work helped keep me sane.
So here’s to my nanny: may we grow together in friendship and respect, and when the time comes to part ways, may it not be because you pissed me off. If it is, I’ll just come back here, sit my humble ass down and read all the “I told you so’s”.