To get a better understanding of Nigerian life, we started a series called ‘Compatriots’, detailing the everyday life of the average Nigerian. As a weekly column, a new instalment will drop every Tuesday, exploring some other aspect of the Nigerian landscape.
This week, a young woman shares with us, her history of abuse in the hands of a maid brought in to care for her home. This experience marred her childhood and perhaps life for good.
When I was three going on four, I was the size of a kitten somehow cursed with the curiosity of 9 cats. What I lacked in centimetres, I made up for in the sheer volume of questions I produced: what was holding the sky up? Did she swallow her baby? How come you get to tell me what to do? I had an excess of inquiries and a minimum of tact. Proportions which served me right until it came time to question why the maid, under whose care I was carefully placed, was just as carefully inserting appendages slick with Vaseline, into parts of me I was warned were not for outside viewing.
I never once queried her directive that no one be told of our ‘games’. And while 3, going on 4-year old me knew it was weird, it never crossed my lips to question why she only seemed to play these ‘games’ when no one else was around.
It’s funny how guarded parents are when it comes to interactions between their children and known family and acquaintances. Show me a Nigerian child who wasn’t warned via eye movements alone to avoid an Uncle’s gifts or that aunt’s embrace and I’ll show you a miracle. Yet somehow, when it comes to near-strangers, these same guard rails are shifted to the side, to make for easier access to unsuspecting children — picking them from school, making their meals, sharing their rooms.
From what I recall, *Gladis was a Benenoise national given to torrents of rapid French when her limited English couldn’t pass a message across. She was to look after my two older siblings and I (all yet to reach adolescence), and keep our house in order, to ease the load off our civil-servant parents. A perfect stranger, I imagine her presence in our home was made possible through the greasing of some palms and the wringing of others — family and friends sad to see her go.
Perhaps as punishment for separation from her family, Gladys thought to ruin mine, starting with the smallest member she could literally get her hands on – me. And while time and the sheer will to forget have taken the worst of my memories of abuse from me, some experiences linger – being made to sit astride her while she appeared to playfully bounce me — movements which was anything but innocent. Inappropriate touching while she undressed me fresh from primary school, sometimes making me play the games on her instead.
But perhaps her most wicked act was stealing the innocence of my childhood. At 3, I was Incapable of computing hundreds tens and units, but already I was fluent in the well language of excuses and silence that are usual markers of abuse victims. I’m not too sure how long I was a mark for her, a year, perhaps more. But it has been decades and decades since I’ve had the torment of seeing her face and yet, I still hold on to that silence.