I furtively open the trap door to prevent it from creaking and jut out my head to see if my mother is in the compound. I see her in her usual posture, sweeping. She’s wearing her favourite black blouse which is too tight for her chubby arms and a faded white and green lappa which she wears too often, tied around her waist. She is as usual, singing in her shrill voice as the dust from the ground whirls around her. I tip-toed out of the room with my shoes in my hand and used the back gate so she wouldn’t catch a glimpse of me. After a few metres away from the house and certain that my mother didn’t see me, I hastily wear my shoes which are so tight that I limp anytime I walk in them. I despise the way my mother petulantly screams and claps her hands anytime I refuse to do the house chores.

I know she would be angry because I sneaked out. I would buy something to cajole her with. Maybe I will buy her favourite guava drink. She always smiles anytime I buy it on my way from work. I check my watch and it is two minutes past nine. I begin to walk briskly hoping and praying I get to work before my boss does. I walk in between the cluster of houses and my face occasionally brushes the wet clothes that are hung on washing lines. I finally get to the main road and wait for what seems like an eternity till a rickety taxi screechs to a halt. I hastily hop in with no regard to its broken handle and tattered seats which smell of sweat. I know I have to compromise, it is my only option since I can’t walk sixty miles to work.

A few minutes into the journey, I see an elderly woman hailing the taxi. The taxi driver drives past her though I am the only passenger in the back seat apart from the man in the front passenger seat. For a moment, I thought the taxi driver hadn’t noticed the woman, but then I see him stepping furiously on the brakes till the taxi decreases in speed and slowly comes to a halt. The driver pokes his head out of his window and gestures to the woman, to hurry. From the rear-view mirror, I can see her agitatedly throwing her hands in the air and probably raining insults and curses. She still comes forward anyway. I suspect that just like me, this taxi is her only option.

Of all the four doors the taxi has, this woman decides to open the one I am sitting close to and asks me to shift further. I glare at her for some seconds, ready to rebel but my mother’s advice which was more of a plea, rings in my head like a bell. I remember her words vividly, “ Abena, even if you have no regard for me or anyone in this world, which I know you don’t, please respect the elderly at least”. She had said this on her knees after I deliberately poured a bucket of cold water on an elderly man who mistook our house for another and came asking for directions. It wasn’t my fault though; I thought he was a thief.

 I’m still glaring at the woman, contemplating whether or not to heed my mother’s advice for once. I feel my body move against my will but my mind remains stagnant. The woman sits in before I realise and I find myself on the other seat right behind the driver. I’m now staring at his long occiput and thinking of how proud my mother will be if she hears I paid heed to her advice for the first time in my life.

Cane is the first person I spot, immediately I step foot into the restaurant. His eyes meet mine and instead of the usual smile he gives any time he sees me, he looks at me in askance and resumes writing in his waiter pad. My eyes dart past him and I see our potbellied manager, staring at me intensely. I instantly tear my eyes from his gaze and glance at my watch. It is 9:50 a.m. and the restaurant is already occupied by twenty customers. I hastily walk into the staff changing room and slip into my white short-sleeved shirt which has my name tag on its chest pocket and my tight red skirt which the manager has been chasing me for months to discard and replace with a loose one. If only he knew it was one of the reasons the restaurant was always full, he would have begged me to get a closet of them.

I walk to a table and take an order and on my way to the kitchen, Cane pulls me aside and whispers to me, “ What is wrong with you Abena? Why do you keep reporting late to work? You better stop this habit o, because there is a rumour circulating that the manager intends to fire you”, I stare at him unblinking and unperturbed. He looks more worried than I am. He is oblivious to the fact that it isn’t just a rumour, but the manager has personally told me, only that I think it’s an empty threat. Cane is in his usual shorts, I’m sure he has been told by some prophet that he will die if he ever wears trousers. I look at his bony legs and I remember why I call him Cane, it’s not as though it’s his birth name. His legs always remind me of a particular slender cane, used by my junior high school maths teacher, anytime we failed a test.

At first, he abhorred the name even though he didn’t know the reason behind it. But one day, he asked me why I call him by that name and I told him he reminded me of the American wrestler, Kane. I saw the sheepish smile on his face and I thought of how he was such a dullard to believe me. Fortunately, that was the first and last time I was ever interrogated about the name “Cane”.

Cane is called by a customer, so he leaves me and attends to him. I see Emefa, stealing glances at me while taking an order from a customer. I know she feels inferior to me. Why wouldn’t she? My beauty is inimitable and my curves have been gifted to me in abundance. My black resplendent skin is flawless and glows more each time I  smear the shea butter made by my mother. There is no single man who leaves here without asking for my name,  phone number, or where I live. I barely spend a penny on transportation because I always get a free ride home and I can bet the tips I get each week are more than my monthly salary.

Emefa is the other girl I usually run shifts with aside Cane. I secretly call her “ Forever Young” because she has been twenty- four years old for the past three years. I’m still surprised that there are people in the twenty-first century who don’t know their birth dates. Well Emefa doesn’t like me and apparently, she’s one of the few people aware of my infamy, but I care less.  I sometimes feel she can read my mind and even if she does, no one will ever believe a word she says. She’s beautiful. I hate to say this, but she is. Her beauty would have probably surpassed mine hadn’t it been for the huge scar on her left cheek and the way her mouth twists to the right anytime she spoke.  I’m sure that’s why she speaks less and stares more with her round big eyes.

The day flies like a peregrine falcon and before I know it, it’s night and time to close. All three of us are wrapping up to leave when the manager calls me into his office. Cane bids me goodbye, as he is late for a date and can’t wait. Emefa takes the lead without uttering a word. Now, I’m left alone with the manager and I sluggishly follow him into his office. He slams into his chair and slaps a white envelope on the table. I look at the envelope and stare at him questioningly.

“ That’s your termination letter, you’re fired”, he says in a sing-song tone which causes me to snigger. He looks at me with an arched eyebrow and creased forehead. His astonishment is visible and slowly transforms into anger.

“ What is funny here? I just said you’re fired. And all you can do is laugh?”

“ I’m sorry sir, please reconsider your decision, I promise to change. I will be the first person to report to work henceforth. Please”, I plead, but my demeanour is more rebellious than apologetic. He shakes his head and wiggles a finger, “  You have used up all your chances. This is the last straw. I’m not firing you because of your lateness, but rather your terrible character. You’re pugnacious and rude to customers. See what happened last week. You mercilessly beat up a customer. A whole V.I.P. guest. I just can’t stand you anymore, pick the letter and leave”, the manager says. I stare at his deformed left eye which is slightly closed and try to remember which guest exactly he was referring to because I had beaten up three women last week.

I go down on my knees and begin to beg him. I have only done this twice in my life. The first time was when my father was leaving us for another woman and now, right in front of my silly manager. He gets up from his seat, takes his briefcase, and heads to the door. I grab his right leg tightly and refuse to let go even though he shouts and kicks.

“ I say leave me alone you…”, there is a pause after he says those words. I look up and I see him coughing uncontrollably. I slowly release his leg and he begins to wheeze. He drops his briefcase and hysterically rummages through its contents. He finally brings out an inhaler but his hand keeps quivering. He falls to the ground and the inhaler slips from his hand and rolls away. I freeze for some seconds before it dawns on me that he’s having an asthmatic attack. He crawls on his belly while stretching his hand to reach it. I hastily walk to the inhaler and make to pick it up for him but something strikes my mind. Nobody knows of the termination letter aside the two of us. So if he dies, it will remain a secret and I will get to keep my job. After drawing this excellent conclusion, I stand up slowly and kick the inhaler away. I see the terror in his eyes, it was the same look my twin sister had when life was on the verge of leaving her, the only difference is that she didn’t die of an asthmatic attack but something else. I stare at the manger as he suffers and yearns for breath, the same way I stared and did nothing to help my sister when I actually could, till life was smuggled out of her.

 The manager is lying motionless on his side now, with his eyes shut and mouth open. I lift his arm and it falls effortlessly on his hip. He is gone and now I get to keep my job. I didn’t sleep with the previous manager to get this job, only to be fired by some self-righteous baboon. I smile, take the termination letter, and tear it into pieces. I put it in my bag and will surely burn it when I get home. I furtively leave his office and walk out of the restaurant. Fortunately for me, the security man is absent. I hurry through the gate and hail a taxi home.


Written by : Nasreen Zankawah


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