On Being A Maid in Lagos

September 5, 2019

My mother brought me to Lagos in 2006. I had just turned 10. It was my first time in Lagos, so I was very happy. We were going to visit some family members for a while; that’s what my mother told me. We packed a lot of clothes and left for Lagos on a Friday morning. My younger brother and my dad stayed back in Benin. On my first day in Lagos, we went to Lagos Market, past through the busy markets and the crowded bus stations. I couldn’t stop looking around; at the tall buildings, the old ugly buildings — it was all so different. I developed neck pain that day, but I was insatiable; I wanted to see everything.

We used to go to the Island very often. I didn’t know it was because my mother was a maid for the woman she called our “Aunty”. I knew something was funny because we didn’t chat like we usually did with family at home. She often called my mother or me out of the blue or at odd hours to help with something and that was the end. After about two months, we returned to Benin.

I didn’t think about being an adult when I was younger. I don’t think children can understand what it means to be an adult; how do you want to explain all the things that adults go through to them? All I did as a child was go to school, do housework and play. That trip to Lagos was the first time I was in a place where I had to gauge everything carefully. It was my first adult experience. The next time I went to Lagos after I finished JSS 3, I went to start work. My parents had been talking about getting work; they felt that I had to start earning my keep.

The truth is, I’m not from a wealthy family. My father drives a bus and my mother does anything she can find as long as it brings money.

I initially thought they would ask me to learn a skill like sewing or hairdressing. But when they started talking about going to Lagos, I asked, “What’s happening here?” In response, my mother advised to be a good child. She said I had to face my work and be honest with other people. I thought it was good-natured mother-to-child advice until she told me that I was going to live with one of our big aunties as a househelp.

I didn’t have to think twice before I ran away from home two days. I ran to our pastor’s house and asked him to beg them. With time, I calmed down. They convinced me that we needed the money, so I came to Lagos a second time. The only plan I had was to do exactly what my mother did back then. I thought that if I made enough money, I could just leave after a few months.

I’m still with the same family that I moved in with. I think the day that I collected my first salary of 20,000 naira was the first day I saw myself as an adult. I didn’t spend the money; I gave it to my madam and she helped me send it home to my mother. The other thing that made me mature was loneliness. My madam used to come back from work at around 9 pm. Her children were outside the country for school, so it was just us helpers in the house. In my first year working there, I was almost raped. It was the boy they brought to man the compound gate. It was on one of those nights when my madam and her husband went to church for vigils. I was afraid to tell anybody. And if I had told my mother, she would ask me to come back. I didn’t want to. About two years ago, I got the courage to tell my madam and oga about the almost-rape incident. They had already sent the boy away before this time. In fact, he was sent away not long after he forced himself on me. They were very angry that I did not tell them when it happened. I thought, “Something wey don happen since.” But I understand sha.

The family has been so nice to me from day one. Most people don’t know I work for them, even in the estate. They have two boys and a girl. They’re all older than me. People often assume I’m their niece.

Many things have changed, and I’m not as close to my family. We always talk on the phone, and I travel home twice a year for one week. Benin has become a different place for me. It’s almost a different life. I don’t know how to explain it. Somewhere along the line, I started to make the most of what I had in Lagos.

Since I moved to Lagos, I’ve learned to make hair and fashion design. I’ve also gone to good schools. Currently, I’m getting ready for exams in UNILAG. After this, na final year. Them no dey tell person. My people are okay at home. Things are better and the money from here still helps. I don’t get a salary for housework. My madam has a shop along Ogudu Road. I manage the place. We sell drinks in wholesale, so she pays me from there.

My oga is late now. He passed last year – you know these sicknesses that old people always have. So it’s just me and my madam now. She’s very old, but she’s still stubborn, and I’m the only one that can take care of her. It doesn’t affect school that much, except during exams. She always wants to talk about something. Her children are all abroad; she used to travel there before but not anymore.

Just take every day as it comes.

That’s my big lesson from growing up. See that time I was crying about coming to Lagos? What plan did I have for myself? I just wanted to stay with my family. I’ve been lucky sha. Some girls have come to this same Lagos and the story has been something else entirely. When I tell people who are close to me that I never cooked for the house, they don’t believe. But that’s life. I’m just taking it as it comes. I’m not thinking about what will happen when my madam dies. When we get there, we’ll see what happens.

Segun Akande

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