The Houseboys

Several hours after arriving at their new madam’s home, the twins got to explore the place. Mrs Ijioma’s was a three bedroom flat, located on the uppermost part of the building, and the nicest of course. It was the only flat with its own inbuilt kitchen, toilet and bathroom, and this was expected considering that this was the same flat the late Mr Ijioma lived in prior to his death. The woman had forcefully claimed the flat for her own, arguing that since she was her late husband’s first wife, she was deserving of it. Her co-wife was however unhappy about this, seeing as she had to manage a cramped two bedroom flat with her teenage children.

All of the Ijioma’s lived on the same floor of the building. This was their own way of staying together as much as it was a well devised plan to save costs while renting out the rest of the flats to tenants. Unfortunately, the space was barely enough for all of them. There was Mrs Ijioma with her adult children- her eldest sons Sam and Uchenna who, though very grown, were still living at home. Each of them had a room to themselves, and they didn’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
Cynthia, one of Mrs Ijioma’s daughters, shared her mother’s flat even though she was always traveling in a desperate effort to escape from the bad reputation that trailed her following the mysterious death of her infant bastard son. The rest of Mrs Ijioma’s children were either living outside of the city or married, including Cynthia’s twin sister who had distanced herself from her family as though she was ashamed of them. And of course there was the last child James who lived in a boarding school in Umuahia.

On the other hand was Mrs Ijioma’s co-wife and her children who managed with a two bedroom flat. The woman had four children, the oldest of whom was Ifeanyi. At age seventeen, Ifeanyi was a very lanky, handsome and happy chap. His academic brilliance was equally unrivalled by the rest of his siblings. Sadly, underneath his happy go lucky persona was this frustration about who he was and the family he was born into. He longed for the time he would finally get admitted into the university so he could be away from his family. In the meantime, he lived with his mother and three siblings, all of whom were sharply contrasted to him. There was his immediate younger brother Johnson who had a perpetual frown on his face as though he was constantly angry with the world. Johnson had one of those broody old people’s faces- very knowing and constantly gloomy. He would stare at people with those set of knowing eyes, his demeanour completely unfriendly and very reproachful as though he could tell people’s deepest secrets just by looking at them. His mates were scared to befriend him. And for that, he was a loner.

Ifeanyi’s second sibling was Nkiru, an ugly girl who was undoubtedly the least beautiful of all her siblings. But what was most unflattering about Nkiru was that she had the bad habit of always begging for things. She would beg for anything and most especially something to put in her mouth and eat. The only time she wasn’t begging was when she didn’t see anybody holding something in their hands. Nkiru was indeed very much unlike her immediate younger sister Chika who was very beautiful and beloved by all. And here is the interesting thing about Chika- in spite of all the attention and privileges entitled her, she remained a sweet little girl. She walked gently, spoke softly and wouldn’t hurt a fly. She was the kind of girl who cried whenever a Christmas chicken got killed, even though she would be the first person to eat the chicken legs…
As Nnamdi and Chukwu continued to explore their new home, they soon came upon the general parlour which was located closer to Ifeanyi’s flat. It was a truly massive room which had taken up much of the space on that floor. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite as beautiful as the sitting room in Mrs Ijioma’s villa mansion. Unlike that one, the décor here was archaic. The carpet was old and discolored, and the TV had a huge, box-like back which made it look hideous. The boys stood there for a while, carefully admiring everything in the room from the family portraits hanging on the walls to the old chandelier dangling from the ceiling. And it was as they did that that they were suddenly rattled by someone else’s presence.

“What are you doing here? You are not supposed to be in here!” the girl spoke hastily and sternly. She was the same girl who had sorely served them some bottles of Coca Cola earlier that day at the village. She was a pretty girl, thanks to her exotic facial features which was made possible by an obvious mixture of East Asian and African bloods. Her name was Chinko, a name which had a rather long story behind it. In the meantime, Nnamdi and his brother stood speechless, staring at the girl while feeling guilty.

“Sorry…” Nnamdi muttered. “We didn’t know we are not supposed to be in here.”

“It’s okay” Chinko replied, her voice nicer now. “Sorry for shouting at you. It’s just that cleaning this place takes a lot of work. Moreover, it is meant only for entertaining important guests.”

“We understand…” Chukwu said, just as an awkward moment of silence passed during which the three kids just stared uncomfortably at each other.
“So I am Nnamdi. This is my brother Chukwu.”

“It’s nice to meet you. Are you Mama’s new houseboys?” Chinko asked. She said the word houseboys with such indifference; as though she was used to saying it. This made Nnamdi uncomfortable.

“Yes we are–”

“Do you know what happened to the last help she had?” Chinko asked them.

“No…”

“What happened to him or her?”

Both boys were suddenly curious, edging closer to the girl as if doing so would help them better understand the big reveal.

“She was a good girl” Chinko said. “Very hardworking too. But to mama, she was not good enough. Mama constantly accused Nma of stealing from her. By the way, every servant in this household is always accused of stealing. I just think you should know that!”

Nnamdi felt the urge to ask Chinko whether she too was a servant. But he restrained himself because somehow he could tell that she was. So he asked to know what exactly happened to Nma instead.

“Nma never liked this place” Chinko continued. “She told me that her mother forced her to come here because mama had promised to always send the woman money at the end of every month. Apparently, Nma’s mother had no idea the hell her daughter was about to go through. It was so bad that on several occasions the girl tried to run away. And then all of a sudden she became pregnant!”

Chinko paused at this point as though to let the full implication of what she had just said to fully sink in. She had a dramatic tone to her voice and a uniqueness to her persona which was so captivating. Perhaps it was her mixed race that generally made her features so striking and hard to ignore. She was so exotic that many of the men who watched her in the streets as she went about her daily activities would go home and masturbate at night while thinking about her. Indeed she was captivating, and the twins were enthralled by the story she was telling them.

“Who got Nma pregnant?” Nnamdi asked.

“For a while she refused to tell anyone. Actually, she tried so hard to hide the pregnancy. But mama was quick to notice the signs and so pressurised her to reveal who was responsible. But Nma wouldn’t, even as mama beat and starved her for days. At this point, all Nma wanted was to return home to her mother…”

At this point, Chinko paused yet again, her eyes furrowed as though in angered frustration as she recollected Nma’s ordeal.

“Mama eventually forced Nma to abort the pregnancy!” Chinko said. “It was after this that she sent her back to Igbere. But before she left, she told me that it was mama’s second son who repeatedly raped and impregnated her!”

“That’s horrible” Nnamdi muttered.

“It is horrible” Chukwu agreed. And then Chinko warned them.

“Do not tell anyone about this. I’ve never told anyone about this… I have to go now.”

“But wait…you didn’t tell us your name” Nnamdi pointed out to the girl who was already headed towards the door.

“My name is Chinko” she said and then finally hurried away before the boys could ask her anymore questions.

“Her name is Chinko?” Chukwu said almost to himself. “What kind of name is that?”

“Well she does look Chinkoish; doesn’t she?” Nnamdi replied as they both left the place even as he couldn’t help but think about why the girl had such an unusual name…

Chinko was a fifteen year old girl whom troubles had trailed even before she was born. Her challenges in life began when her village beauty mother became betrothed to a man who was based in the city. The marriage was a fanfare, because not only was Chinko’s mother a village celebrity due to her unrivalled beauty among the maidens, she was also from a relatively well known family background. After the marital rites, the young maiden was brought to Lagos where she began living with her husband. But it wasn’t long afterwards before she was carried away the exciting lifestyle she saw in the city. She liked it when other men began to notice her beauty as she walked in the streets, and then she encouraged the sexual advances that ensued. Soon afterwards, she was sneaking around with the different men that flirted with her. She did this even though it greatly unsettled her neighbours, friends and relatives of the man who married her. Rumour spread like wild fire about her infidelity. But her husband loved her too much to listen to what the people were saying.

Before long she was pregnant. And while people were happy for her, they were also concerned; for they knew of her adulterous ways just as much as they knew of her husband’s constant absence from home. And truth be told, it wasn’t indeed her husband who was responsible for the pregnancy. Instead, it was a Chinese-American business man who had once been in Lagos for work and needed a muse. The married woman was the muse he had for the days he was in Lagos. And it was barely a few weeks afterwards that the woman realised she was pregnant. Nine months later, she gave birth to a baby girl. But the baby looked nothing like the typical African baby. It was at this point that her infidelity became obvious, for her baby had striking Asian features.

The baby and her mother instantly became social outcasts.The disgraced and embittered husband sent his wife away along with her baby. And upon returning to the village, the woman and her Chinko baby were rejected as well. For many years afterwards, the woman remained shunned by her immediate family members who were angry that she brought shame and dishonour to them. As for the baby, the villagers simply called her Chinko; a name which stock after many years and which the teen would later embrace just so nobody would bully her with it…

(Culled from Emmanuel Abara Benson’s forthcoming novel “Shame & Forlorn Gaze”)

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