THIS IS THE LAST PART OF FOUR POSTS ON A VERY COMPELLING NARRATIVE!
Emerald green reigns the being,
Capable being all living green.
To scavengers’ bin cometh sin,
To prey lean the unwary being.
The maid unfolded her wrapper once more and wiped her shiny perspiring face with the edge of the wrapper, and then she let it fall off over her right hip, letting it hang there.
“She didn’t know I knew about the money. I wanted the money. Oh how I wanted that money. No one deserved the money as much as I did. No one! The Pastor came around mostly during the day. He stayed around to talk, preach, pray and he brought her loads of books too. Often he will give her the Holy Communion feast. She joked that even the Holy Communion wine was a sort of medicine because it tasted like cough syrup. I almost never saw the Pastor but for my pay days, when I had to go over to the church to collect it.”
The maid sipped some more of the water. She looked down in the faint light and paused before replacing the cup on the ground. She now had two moist cup imprints ringed on the floor beside her stool. She ignored the fresh one, retraced the older almost dried one with the cup and carefully sets it down again.
“I knew I had to be careful. Yes, she was old and very ill. She was a dead body with some life still loitering about in it. Her body became stiffer as the months dragged. The smell grew worse. I was sure something was spoilt and rotten inside her. ‘She will die any day now,’ I told myself. But what if she got worse and is taken to the hospital and she dies there. I would have no reason to be in her house after that.”
She sat back and looked away briefly.
“I knew the Doctor still visits her and could have taken her back to his clinic anytime he considered it necessary. I wanted no one to see me when I carried the money away. Since no one knew about the money, I wanted it to remain so. I planned to go to work…her place, with a very big bag. She must be dead before I move a single note from where she hid the money. I had worked it all out and planned it carefully.”
She picked up the cup beside her and drank up all the water left in the cup. She didn’t return the cup to the ground immediately. She just held on to it, like her slow story.
“There was the Yoruba lady and the two elderly men from the Mosque to consider. I had to plan it well. I could have poisoned her but I had no idea how fast the poison will work. I didn’t want her to die while I was away. If I tried to get the money while she was alive, she could very likely see me because she rarely slept while I was there.”
With two swift simultaneous movements of both her chubby arms, she handed over the cup to the person seated closest to her and at the same time folded her wrapper back into its unusually common right-hip place, with her right hand.
“I had to plan it well. I couldn’t stab her of course; maybe strangle her, if I dared. But I will be doing everyone a favour by putting her out of her pains and misery. Her family will be put out of its shame, the church will get the house it can’t wait to get its hands on, while I was to get all that plentiful free and loose money she had stashed away. I deserved that money, no one but me. I worked it out carefully for days. It had to look very real. One early Monday morning I left her house knowing she would be dead in a day or so, and I was so right.”
She leaned forward, this time resting both her elbows and flattened fore-arms on her thighs. She seemed to roll up like she had stomach pains. She merely concentrated in talking.
“When I got to the old woman’s house early that evening, I had my largest bag with me. Her room smelt like someone had brought back the dead rat. She had eased herself on the mat, right there on the floor, where her female tenants must have placed her at her request. She had eased both her bladder and bowel all over her body, completely ignoring the bed pan beside her, in her innocence and helpless disability.
“I was glad they had moved her from the bed, where I had left her before leaving in the morning. Ordinarily I would have complained because I was certain there was a conspiracy amongst the tenants against me. I always struggled alone to put her back into bed, that was why I wasn’t keen on having her put on the mat. They all knew this but persisted. This once though, I was glad they moved her as I cleaned her up and her mess.”
She paused with a hardened expression and a brief silence noticeably passed like a reflex shiver among the small group. Then she half-yawned as she straightened up in her low seat.
“Her senility had reached an advanced stage. She was so stiff she couldn’t move her fingers to hold properly. I wasn’t sorry for what I was about to do. I refused to think of good and God. I just cleaned the floor and the whole room like always did. I gave her her meal and more out of habit than anything else; I mashed and mixed her drugs into the food. She ate all of it. ‘Your last supper,’ I said without even feeling bad about it.”
She exaggeratedly blinked, repeatedly in quick succession. It was all of a sudden as if she couldn’t wait to say it all.
“Late that evening the Yoruba lady came into the room as usual, she did her business and left. Then the old woman started to talk. She told me about her village, her mother, her brothers and all her friends…. I listened patiently without interrupting her. I was so tired. We had scrubbed the entire general hospital’s wards, where I worked mornings. The Doctors had resumed work that same day, after many months on an industrial strike action. There is no telling how many people died as a direct result of that long medical unions’ strike. We had to clean the whole hospital and I was so very tired. I soon dozed off. When I woke up, I could hear someone sweeping in the compound outside. It was morning! Oh God, I had over slept.”
She paused momentarily, not really to quickly look round at her very attentive listeners; which she still did, but to rest her mouth.
“I looked at the old woman on her high old fashioned green metal caged bed, where I had put her back with much difficulty the night before, as usual. Her eyes were shut and she had a smile on her lips. She must have been dreaming. It was too late for me to do anything then, I mused. ‘Tomorrow,’ I thought. I opened the windows and saw that it will be light soon and I must be at work on time. With the Doctors back now, we had to be at our best behaviour. You don’t play with government jobs these days because they don’t come by easily anymore”
She giggled alone at the honest fact she had just made.
“I didn’t even bother to change the clothes I had on. I left her sound asleep, grabbed my big bag and hurriedly left for work. I greeted a tenant as I walked out; it was an Igbo woman sweeping outside and I left the compound. About twenty yards or so from the house, I didn’t even cringe emotionally as I meaningfully said to the old woman in my mind, ‘Tomorrow!’”
For a short moment the sparkle left her eyes and she looked sad. Realizing this she looked away, but not quick enough to hide the fact that her disappointment was all too evident.
“I turned to look at the old woman’s house just before I turned round into the next street. I saw the two elderly men from the Mosque entering the old woman’s compound. I stopped when I realized that they hadn’t seen me. In my haste I forgot to wait for them before leaving and they will wonder where I was. I made to return, and then thought against it. I figured there was no need since they would meet the Igbo woman sweeping on their way in. ‘She will tell them I just left,’ I comforted myself and hurried away to make good time for work.”
As the skies darkened and the buzz of the mosquitoes over head began to faintly usher in their impending foray into the tropical evening outdoor gathering, the mood in the setting was wholly entrapped in that one female voice moulding it.
“The next evening I arrived with my largest bag again. There was no one about in the compound when I entered. All the tenants were in their rooms watching an international soccer match involving our over-hyped up senior national soccer team. The front door to the old woman’s rooms was locked up. My heart skipped a beat. Her door was never locked.”
She shifted in her low seat.
“I knocked on the next tenant’s door with some urgency. The Igbo woman, I left sweeping that morning when I left for work, appeared at the door. She was surprised to see me. ‘Ah! You have come?’ she exclaimed. ‘The old woman died just after you left this morning,’ she said excitedly. My heart missed another beat, this time I felt a slight pain as it metaphorically dropped.”
She shrugged the way only African women do and the latest click that is heard from her conspires to purely accidentally synchronize with the sudden joining in of the early crickets, as they brought in their louder shrill sounds into the tropical evening’s outdoor gathering’s sing-songs for all insects.
“The Igbo woman told me how the two elderly men from the Mosque came to see the old woman just after I left. I didn’t tell her I saw them. She went on to tell me how one of them stayed behind with the old woman while the other one briefly stepped outside the compound, apparently on some errant.”
More crickets legged in and complimented the music of the consciously visible lively breeze of mosquitoes floating over the heads of the gathered people. This left the people no choice but to swing their arms heaven-wards as would conductors of this impromptu tropical orchestra and choir, playing away to the discomfort of the beautiful evening’s outdoor gathering.
“The Igbo woman went on to tell me how she could hear the two of them talking. That is, the elderly man that stayed behind and the old woman. Though she didn’t hear much of the old woman’s weak voice, but she heard the man’s voice clearly. He did most of the talking. She usually would have.”
She chuckled as a short burst of hisses and claps rang round the gathering. This caused a brief lull in the insects’ noise as the tropical orchestra music is forcibly stanza-ed.
“‘Shortly,’ she went on. ‘The other man returned with fruits in a bag, much too big for that purpose. He went straight into the old woman’s rooms. He was away only briefly and I was bathing my son by the tap when he returned. He even gave my child a banana.’ She was adamant that she didn’t see them leave.”
The maid suddenly belched loudly.
“She told me how she had entered the old woman’s rooms to greet her and see if she wanted something. ‘When she didn’t answer my calls from the sitting room, I thought she was asleep so I entered her bedroom and the moment I saw her, I knew she was dead. Her eyes were closed and she had a fixed smile on her face. It looked like she was dreaming.’ She said there was a peeled banana in the old woman’s right palm as it lay lifeless beside her. My heart skipped a third beat, the pain I felt lingered as I went home a sad person that evening. This was my first night at home in months but I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep.”
She looked around at the discerning looks returned at her. She grinned and a glossy white slit showed and split her mouth as her dark lips parted, revealing strong white teeth.
“The very next afternoon, after work I went to see the Pastor at his joint place of work and residence. He excitedly told me how they sent someone to him from the old woman’s house with the news of her death. He didn’t know the loudness in his voice gave away his excitement because he tried to keep a solemn expression on his face. She was buried that same day, like a true Muslim would have been; which she ironically isn’t any more.”
She smiled intelligently; or tried to, like most people try to do when they are pleased with a smart remark they just made. A silly thing we manage to keep repeating always.
“She was summarily buried with a very short grave-side service conducted by the Pastor. He told me this with such pride, as if I should be proud when he should be ashamed he was. He went ahead to thank me for a job well done and gave me two months’ full pay in advance, even though it was only a week into the new month and I had only worked a few days of it.”
She smiled again, in her refreshingly beautiful way.
“I went by the old woman’s house just last weekend. The Mosque has been completed! There is a big thick rug on the smooth ceramic tiled floor. It now has huge glass windows fitted in and four massive wooden doors, a spotlessly white ceiling, lots of ceiling fans and a very loud amplified speakers’ system. I could see all that from the street, since all the doors and windows were wide open. A tenant I met by chance told me the Church had already sold the old woman’s house! It is not yet two months after her death and that house she had been so proud of has been sold out to complete strangers.
She scoffs with contempt.
“I saw the Yoruba lady too. She said the new landlord doesn’t collect any money from her, but simply lets her do her trade undisturbed. Everyone is happy now…. I think. The Church people are happy, the Mosque people are happy, the Yoruba lady and the old woman’s folks are equally happy, the old woman is deadly happy and I am too. Yes! I am! I really am!”
No one argued, but she didn’t look happy and frowns. She laughed her short laugh with her forehead lined up with thought. It said so much for her feelings at that moment.
“You see, I had prayed and thank God for the turn in events. The guilt would have killed me. I am happy because I kept my innocence. But…! Does the old woman get her heaven?”
The late old woman’s maid sat back and shut her eyes. It is obvious that she had finished the story, but no one moved or spoke. The tropical choir continues to moan a low humming tune outside the seated people’s conscious notice, as the night quietly pulls out its dark sleeping blanket overhead.
“That is presumably the ultimately proper destination?”
In the semi-silence ignored by every personal thought in the small gathering seated round her, the old woman’s maid still spoke. Her emotion laden voice sounded as if only to itself, but still quite audible in the hushed attentiveness.
“Do any of us get this heaven?”
Who makes the most noise
And is as dirty in his poise?
Who soils his needs as toys
And spoils all his ego hoist?
History itself nourished,
It might’ve thus been humbled.
In her need she’s again banished
And her steered nurses, all bundled.
Seasons are overlapped famished,
All the shaft and wheat are rumpled.
Her senile stroll is beautifully enriched
And for nothing else, her maids are long rustled.