“I dey go my village tomorrow,” Rashida says as she leaves my apartment.
“You dey come back?” I ask her. I don’t know why I asked that instead of, “When you dey come back?”
“No,” she replies. My heart drops and I become sad instantly.
“Why nau?” I ask her. She laughs shyly like she always does, hugging the wall of the corridor like she wants to hide in it. “My parent say make I come.”
“So you dey go North tomorrow be that?”
“Ehn?” She looks at me, confused.
“Shey you be Hausa, no be North you dey go?”
“Oh! No o. I be Hausa, Ghana. No be Nigeria.”
“Okay,” I say. “I go come see you for evening.”
She walks away. I shut the door of my now spick and span apartment and let out a heavy sigh. I have no idea why I am so sad. It is not necessarily for the fact that there would be no one to help clean my apartment and do my laundry when I am feeling lazy. No. Last Saturday was the first, and apparently the last time Rashida worked for me. But she has been helping my friend, Bouqui, and other neighbours with their domestic work, for a fee of course.
The thing is, I have always ‘known’ Rashida. I often see her with the woman that I recently came to know as her mother-in-law on the balcony of an abandoned building opposite mine. She is with mama in the morning when I head out to work, assisting in the puff puff frying and selling business. She is with mama in the evening when I return from work. No one is frying anything; they are both just in each other’s company. It is always her and her two daughters with mama on that balcony. Occasionally, mama sits there alone but you will never find Rashida there alone without mama.
As a norm, I always say hello to mama, nothing much, just the regular “good morning ma, good afternoon ma, good evening ma.” Sometimes, mama says hello to me first, “Welcome o!” she would say as I arrive from wherever I had been to. Or “Bye bye o!” she would say on my way out. But Rashida, Rashida never says hello, neither does she return my greeting. She wears a frown when she sees me, or so I thought. So I stopped saying hello to her. Yes, I am that person. I would greet mama and move along, and not in the least way acknowledge that someone else was there. I did not think she cared anyway. After all, na you no wan answer my greeting. And so it was until one day when I met her in my friend’s apartment. She smiled and greeted me but I did not acknowledge it. I was confused. I wasn’t sure what to do, say or react. So I just ignored her. I did what I was there to do and left.
A couple of days later, as I arrived home from work, there she was with mama per usual. “Good evening ma,” I greeted mama. “Welcome o,” mama replied. “Welcome ma,” another voice followed. Huh? Is she really greeting me? “Thank you,” I answered quickly in between long strides to the gate of my compound. She became a regular at my friend’s apartment, washing, scrubbing, and cleaning every other weekend. And we began to exchange greetings more often. Once this started to happen, the first thing I notice about Rashida is that she has an incredible smile and is also painfully shy. She barely looks one in the eye during a conversation. She often just casts a quick glance at you and then her eyes are darting everywhere else but at you. But her smile is constant.
“I would like to speak with her,” I said to my friend, Bouqui, one evening as Rashida leaves her apartment.
“You want to write about her,” my friend asks.
“Yes,” I say. “She seems pretty young and pleasant.”
Bouqui concurs, adding that she is hard working and humble. Another day I was complaining about how untidy my apartment was and how lazy I was feeling about doing chores. “Call that lady to help you na,” Bouqui had said, referring to Rashida. But I refused, “You know how I feel about my space … I don’t just let people in. I’ll clean up when I’m done feeling lazy” I had replied. But I didn’t stop feeling lazy, and then I fell ill. Almost the entire first week of this month, I was home, bedridden. What initially started as mere cold became pretty severe. I was too weak to stand at my kitchen counter to fry eggs, let alone scrub my bathroom or take care of my piling laundry. Once I started to feel better, I contemplated expending the meagre amount of energy I had on cleaning my apartment and doing laundry, both my brain and body disagreed. You will not come and go and die, Hadassah. So I asked Rashida to come over. She did. And after about an hour work, my apartment was spick and span. I can be quite finicky when it comes to cleaning (except say I no mean the work) but Rashida impressed me. I pay her, and as she leaves, she tells me, “I dey go my village tomorrow.”
Rashida is the second of four children; she has an older sister, who is a tailor, a younger sister who is a nurse and brother who is in school. She is 26 and a mother of two daughters, Zehila, age five and Sefiya, age one. She is from Yendi, near Tamale in Ghana. She dropped out of school to learn tailoring and got married once she turned eighteen. She followed her mother-in-law to Nigeria eight years ago and occasionally visits her family in Ghana. Her husband lived here for a while and then returned to Ghana. But she stayed back with mama. He too is a tailor. Rashida tells me he has a shop in Yendi and that she will join him there when she goes back. She tells me that Mama too will be returning to Ghana permanently, just not yet. When I ask if her husband has another wife as is typical of Hausa Muslim men, she says no. And we get into a conversation about how “Hausa, Ghana” is different from “Hausa, Nigeria.” According to her, “Hausa Nigeria” marries more than one wife and keeps them at home, not letting them work, but “Hausa Ghana” marries one wife and let’s her work. All of this, she tells me in broken English, in about 20 minutes when she returned to my place for a chat on Saturday evening.
Rashida also tells me that her daughters would go to school despite the fact that she did not. When I ask why she dropped out and opted for tailoring instead, she said she did not like school. “I no want. I say na taiLER (that’s how she pronounces ‘tailor’, in typical Ghanaian accent) I wan do.” To prove that it was her choice to drop out, she mentioned her younger sister who has turned out as a nurse and her younger brother who is currently in school. We talk briefly about Yendi, which she describes as a “village, but not village village.” I guess it is her way of saying Yendi is a town, larger than a village but smaller than a city. I Google “Yendi in Ghana” and show her the images that come up. “Is this Yendi?” I ask her. She smiles and replies, “Yes. Where you get am?” “From the Internet,” I say, grinning at my small achievement of being able to show her a picture of her town, and blushing at my silly answer at the same time because clearly, Rashida knows nothing about the Internet. I give her a small gift (I’m not telling what it is) and bid her goodnight. I tell her to come see me before she leaves for Ghana on Sunday. I tell her that I will miss her and that I miss her already. I don’t know if she understands but she just responds with that beautiful smile of hers.
Rashida did not leave on Sunday; she had to go make her hair and draw on some henna on her hands and toes. She did not leave on Monday either; she had to wait for her sister to arrive from Sokoto so that they would travel together. Rashida left this morning :( Her knock on my door at exactly 7:24am was what woke me up today. I opened my door to see her standing there with her baby, Sefiya. “You don dey go, Rashida?” I ask her. “Yes, I don dey go,” she replies smiling. We proceed outside to take photos, but Rashida will not step outside the compound. She will rather take pictures inside the compound, as she is too shy. Once we were done with our brief photo shoot, I send all the photos to her phone via Bluetooth. I tell her to call mama once she arrives Yendi and gets a new number so that I can get it from mama. She says that she will. I tell her that I will visit her in Yendi, someday. And she laughs in obvious disbelief. But I actually intend to. I already Googled “Hotels in Yendi,” and some really nice deals came up on Jumia Travel. We stroll over to Bouqui’s apartment where she was given a small farewell token, and we all stroll back out bidding her farewell for the umpteenth time.