BY FLORENCE BETT
My nanny split. Two weeks into the New Year, on a Sunday evening, around the time she should have been making her way back home after her day off, she sent me a long text. “Nimeona sitaendelea na kazi…” it began.
I let out a long deflating sigh. What did she mean ‘she didn’t want to carry on with her job’? Did she want a promotion, a rework of her JD? Had she reached a plateau in her career and wanted a challenge, one outside my home? Did she want me to get another baby so she could relive those early days of being needed around the clock? Because I could, it’s really not that difficult to, I could. Was she bored? Did she feel she’d outlived her purpose in our lives? I didn’t understand it. I’d been with her for a year and three months – she’d moved in to our house in late October 2015, two weeks before Muna was born. As far as nannies go, she was all I knew. She was all Muna knew.
Her text went on to say that she’d apply for her ID card (she’d been pick pocketed in the bus to Busia over Christmas) then look for work elsewhere. She signed off with a plan to settle her debt, “nitaanza kukulipa immediately nikiingia kazi.”
She didn’t say goodbye.
This sucked. This bloody sucked. It wasn’t how I’d imagined our day would end. Muna, GB and I had had a great day as a family: we’d made it early to church that morning, Muna had snacked on mangoes and squealed around the pulpit as the preacher wielded his Bible to the flock. (She reminded me of that Emmanuel kid from the Old Testament.) After church we went for brunch then had an afternoon swim.
It was also a fun day of firsts: the first time as an Anglican family to church, the first time I’d breastfed Muna while wearing a dress, the first time I’d styled her hair into three scattered buns, the first time she and I swam together, the first time I’d rocked a two-piece since giving birth, the first time I had to threaten GB with punishment if he didn’t get out of the pool (it’s the heated water he couldn’t get enough of).
It had been a glorious day on all accounts.
(By the way, I later saw the swimming photos and they told a different story. Muna looked undeniably unhappy in my arms. When she wasn’t choking on the chlorine water she’d swallowed, she was crying because she was terrified; she didn’t seem to understand why there was so much water around her and what we were doing in it in the first place. As for me and my two-piece, hhmm. In my head, I looked a certain kind of sexy, the kind you get from being comfortable and accepting of what your body has become since pregnancy then childbirth. Truth is, I didn’t look as sexy as I felt. Bouncing around in that pool with Muna, I looked like a sponge that had sucked in too much water.)
I needed to calm down, so I waited an hour before doing anything about her, my nanny’s, sudden departure. When we got home, I went to her room and checked her wardrobe. She had cleared it. Cleared it like a form four clearing his locker from a boarding school he hated. I let out another deflating sigh. Jesus. I picked up the phone and called her.
Let me be clear about this: I wasn’t calling to ask her to return. Ah ah. That storo was already done and dusted. I was calling to ask her why: why she’d thrown me under the bus and left without giving me notice; why she didn’t want the tears and hugs of proper goodbyes; why she’d left with my basket from Nanyuki, the one I’d told her she could have just because. Couldn’t she have left the bloody basket behind, surely?
Most importantly, I wanted to ask her why she hadn’t given me a chance to say asante. She had been a great help, after all – attentive to mine and Muna’s needs, patient to my shortcomings as a new mum, thoughtful, disciplined with the cleaning and cooking (her chapos were to die for, and she stewed her cabbage with only garlic), prayerful, an engaging conversationalist, playful, silly. There was never a dull moment when hanging out with her.
And to top it up, quite the lovely bird – she had youthful dark and elastic skin, fleshy earlobes with gold earrings studded in, healthy ankles and a forehead that fit in her my cupped palm. I don’t want to sound like I’d fallen in love with her – which I may have – but she had this flirty twinkle in her eyes when she laughed. That beautiful beautiful laugh; it crowned her sunny personality. She was… perfect.
I’d always been aware of how impermanent our relationship would be though. I was under no illusion that her loyalty would run until Muna and all her unborn brothers and sisters went to high school, as she’d promised me time and again. I knew she would leave someday sooner than she knew it. Just not on that day.
On phone, I only told her to come over Monday we chat. She said OK. Monday, she was no show. She ignored my calls and texts all day. I was beginning to feel like a jilted lover. Tuesday, I sent her an angry text to reel her in. She responded. I sent a longer and angrier text in response. She responded. Back and forth until she finally said it, “I’m sorry, Mama Muna.”
I let out one last deflating sigh, smiled to myself then called the bureau to send me her replacement.
I’d found my closure. She was now an ex.
The bureau is run my pal Grace, it’s called Aunty Ann Agency. Aunty Ann trains domestic workers – nannies, house helps, cooks, cleaners – for hire and placement. They used to be based in Westy but now they’re on Thika Road. I’d interviewed Grace for a magazine feature some years back and we were now in that delicate place of our relationship where she felt obliged to do something in return for the mileage my story had given her business. I asked her to get me the best nanny she could find. I told her I wanted a Lunje because they are hard workers who know how to put in value per the hour, and preferably someone that had lived in, and in a house that had kids.
“I’ll get you someone very good, Bett,” she said on phone. In her voice, I heard the conviction of knowing she had this pool of trained resources that were waiting for her to cherry pick. She sounded like the boss bitch, and that gave me immense comfort.
Grace sent me someone at 4PM that same Tuesday.
This new ‘someone’ was a Lunje, yes, and was tall and red-eyed. Her hair was styled into cornrows that reminded me of Jua Cali. She walked as if she were a ghost floating around a haunted house. She spoke softly and looked down at her feet while she did, had little eye contact. She came with only a small paper bag of clothes, told me she’d collect the rest from her sister’s place on Saturday.
I oriented her around the digs with Muna on my hip then we went into the kitchen to discuss salo and jobo specific to Muna. I cracked a few bad jokes but she didn’t laugh. This unsettled me; where was her sense of humour? Also, why hadn’t she asked any questions about anything or tried to make friends with Muna? Why wasn’t she excited about this new opportunity? Was I the only one embracing change?
The next day, on Wednesday, I stayed in to work at home because I wanted to see how she’d do with Muna. But Muna just couldn’t stop crying or stop banging on my bedroom door where I’d set up my laptop. At one point, I had to let her in then tie her on my back and bend over my desk so I could send some emails.
I went to jobo the next day but I swear I could still hear Muna crying from wherever I was.
The thing with this new nanny is that the house where she’d worked before, in Langata, had three kids under ten that were all going to school. So I suppose she was used to doing housework at her pace and time, chilling around the digs all day catching TV and dancing around in her underwear (heehe). Now here she was with a toddler on a strict routine, one which had to be followed by the hour. A toddler who demanded attention throughout the day – who needed to be read to and sang to – and wouldn’t let you sit idle for more than 30 minutes without whining that you take her outside to play. Plus a mum, a mum who called in two times a day to ask such banal questions as ‘Amekula?’ ‘Amelala?’ ‘Amecheza?’ ‘Ame poopoo? Hiyo poopoo inakaa aje?’ ‘Aliacha kulia?’
Thursday afternoon, I texted Grace and told her to get me someone else. “I’m just not feeling this new girl,” I said.
“Give her time to learn how to do things your way,” Grace texted back reassuringly.
“She’s really good with the cooking and the cleaning,” I texted, “but she’s not good with the baby. And that’s the most important thing right now. I need her to be good with the baby.”
Grace got me someone else Friday. I asked Grace to send her to my office so we could do a quick interview.
Nanny Viv was a puny dark chick with great hair, and a sharp mouth and sharper voice. She walked in small quick steps, so it always appeared that she was in a hurry to go somewhere. Nanny Viv told me she had three kids of her own – a boy-girl set of twins in kindergarten and another boy in class three; they were living with her mum in Kitale. I asked her why she’d left her last place of work and she shrugged and said, Hivyo tu. Later, when we became pals, she confided that Baba wa Nyumba had become this lecherous lurker who had the idiotic manners of retired pimp (my words, not hers). He made it unbearable to work there anymore, which was a real pity because Mama wa Nyumba was the best employer ever (Nanny Viv would someday say those same words to me) and she’d grown really close with the four kids because she’d seen them since birth to primary school.
I asked her if she was available to come work immediately and she said she was ready in that instant. I cracked a joke about it and she laughed.
I liked that.
Saturday morning, I fired the old nanny. I told her that my mum-in-law was sending me someone from their home in Murang’a. It was a lie I didn’t think through because who gets Kuyo housies, anyway? She balanced her tears as she re-packed her few items back into her paper bag. I paid her for the three days she’d been with me plus a little extra to buy a new skirt because the one she’d come with had been stolen from the hanging lines on the rooftop.
Nanny Viv arrived at noon. She came with a bulging suitcase plus a large hiking bag that looked like it would tip her little frame over. She’d clearly come home to stay.
I had Muna on my hip when I let her through my front door. I welcomed her and her camping gear in then she turned to Muna and said cheerily, “Hi, Muna! Come to Aunty, Muna. Come. Come. Come to Aunty.”
Muna shyly hid her face in my shoulder then turned to look at me then to Nanny Viv then back to me again. She chuckled then slid into Nanny Viv’s arms.
I’d found myself a new lover.
An edited version of this story first run in the March-2017 issue of True Love Magazine