Annoyance simmered underneath Miriam’s blank façade. How she stood there and listened to the rest of her aunt’s rant – I mean correction—was something she deemed superhuman.
“I keep telling you, pay attention when you carry out house chores. How could you slice a fresh tuber without using what was left in the basket? This was how you left your bed unmade this morning and left for work; you didn’t even flush the toilet. What is wrong with you?”
Miriam took deep breaths to keep from exploding and pouring out her thoughts. First off, she had not seen the tiny tuber leftover until she was returning the remaining tuber of yam that she had cut up and prepared for breakfast in the plastic basket stand that held onions at the upper layer and the leftover at the lower.
Secondly, it still unnerved her that the room she was given in her aunt’s house didn’t offer privacy. Her aunt banned her from locking the door and would often waltz in at unexpected times to see how well she kept the room. The unmade bed her aunt spoke of was technically made but not stretched out and that was because she was in a hurry to get to work; she had been unusually sluggish in her dressing-up that morning. She hated coming back to the house – I mean home, as her aunt insisted, was right to say – only to discover that clothes were moved from where she left them, her shampoo was removed from the bathroom, her laundry was tampered with, etc. It was maddening.
Lastly, about that toilet, she came from a place that didn’t have water. Back at her parent’s home, they managed water and when she was at her lodgings at the university, it was even worse. So, it had become a part of her to pee up to two or three times before flushing except she was using a restroom outside of her home.
Miriam had been in Abuja for four weeks and it was not a totally different life than the one she knew and was familiar with. She was at the supposed heart of Abuja, Asokoro and while a lot of things there were better off—electric light, water supply, roads, order—a lot there still reminded her she was in Nigeria. The light still went out without warning, the traffic lights had not been installed with pedestrians in mind so she had to jaywalk when the traffic light was red and at the place where she worked, they frequently had whites and wealthy men as customers, and there was the occasional bank disrupted network that prevented paying with the POS; there was also the talk about how expensive transport can tend to be because of the greedy and unchecked Keke and taxi drivers. It was the same everywhere in the country that she has been to; well it was better in some places than it was in others.
Miriam was on holiday. She didn't want to stay at home without doing anything. So, she had opted for this instead. Abuja had available work options for her that her uncle had found and as it was, she took one. Miriam liked her uncle. He was laid back and easygoing; she liked to go to his parlour in the evenings and have a chat with him. Although in his sixties, he was perceptive and open about many things. Must be because he grew up abroad, Miriam reasoned. However, the one thing about him that Miriam noticed was that he liked when people worked hard and did their best. He had not made it being a slob.
She loved him. However, it irked Miriam that often, her parents would compare their generation—parent’s own—to that of her own.
“Children of this generation do not have respect,” her aunt would start, “I don’t know how they train you people, you cannot take something from me if you see me going to wash it baa. You are not domesticated, you cannot do anything.” Miriam was initially hurt by her aunt’s words and manner of instruction in her first week, but when her younger cousin and two female relatives visited the following week, Miriam ceased to feel bad. She did things because they were right and she had strength for it not because she was scared of rebuke.
“You know, anywhere I go, I am a superstar. I can adapt and I work very hard even if it takes me waking up at two in the morning to start working.” Miriam cast her father a dubious glance when he said this. She didn’t doubt her father was a hard worker but he was her dad and she knew his flaws. To her, he was far from perfect but still her dad. He grew up in a time where farming was the norm of the day and school children between the ages of ten to fourteen had to go fetch firewood, and water and assist in farm work after school on an almost daily basis.
His mother, her grandmother, had been quite strict with them whenever they shirked their duties and ran off to play. She would wait with a cane in the sitting room. They would run away on seeing her and her favourite comeback, “I gbacha oso, o foo una. When you have finished running, we will see where you will sleep this night.” Mama would say this with her chest heaving, whether it is from exertion or anger, it was unverified.
Now, their training in their time was what suited the times and what their parents instilled in them, Miriam believed. ‘In our time, wouldn’t it be their fault that we turn out how we do? After all, they are our parents.’ Miriam pondered. Also, she was getting sick of working part-time when she should be resting during her holidays.
Aunt finished ranting—not ranting, just her I-want-you-to-get-better speech—soon and went to the living room to watch TV. Miriam went up to her room that’s not hers—only borrowed for a time—and flopped onto the warmth and softness of the bed. She knew she was supposed to go down soon and start getting dinner ready but she had no strength left in her to even pretend to try. She hated how such a huge deal was made out of one doing house chores. Most millionaires and billionaires of today didn’t attain their fortune trying to be poured into the mould—obeying their parents in everything, trying to get a degree in a field of studies like everyone else, sticking to comfortable options like working jobs they didn’t even like all because society deemed it worthy. She should be taking part in webinars and getting better at the whole blogging thing not working boring shifts at the neighbourhood mall.
When Miriam was young, about ten years old, she wanted to be exactly like her parents. They worked under the federal government and had respectable positions. They were also popular among their colleagues and lived in a nice home. All that changed as Miriam got older.
The internet happened when she saw children her age or younger living their dreams and she was nowhere. The ambition was born in her early and she knew instinctively that she would go far. Her mother’s leaving, her damaging her father’s laptop a day before an audition causing him to cancel her participation, getting enrolled in a science class because she was uncertain at the time and merely following her parent's wishes slowed her down.
At nineteen and with no notable achievement, Miriam was growing disillusioned. Could it be that she had been deceiving herself all these years? Staring up at the brown flattened planks that made up the ceiling, Miriam tampered down her disappointment. Was this the point she stopped fighting the way things have been and heed all that everybody was saying -- science is the surest way that keeps you fed in Nigeria, work to feed if not live, get domesticated and helpful especially towards your elders so that they will favour you and her favourite one, pray for a good husband?
They were not bad things but they were not things that made her heart race either. She knew people enjoyed her art posts because they have said so and she wanted to grow based on it.
A few months later and being back at school, she learned that flushing the toilet after peeing could be feasible even in a place without water like Nsukka. She met people like Sammy and Rafael who taught her that work hours count. Sammy was an undergraduate sound producer while Rafael recently opened a successful gaming house with two guys. It had taken both years of persistent vision and steady daily steps to make it. Who was she who only began her journey months ago to end now? At times like that, being less than a dot in a vast universe made her feel good. Since nothing was expected of her, she had the element of surprise.