All week, Pam had looked forward to Sunday. To be honest, it had been months. Months since her exam results had come out and she had had to pretend to not see the disappointment on her father’s face every time he looked at her, before he could catch himself and hide it. She had not attained the minimum grade to go to the university. Not even a technical institution for a vocational course. Nothing. All those years of schooling, the fees her father had paid through the nose term after term. Every time she was sent home for unpaid fees, he sacrificed a little more each day to put away enough to send her back. This education thing, they said it was the key to a brighter future. He believed them. They said one should educate girls as well as boys. So he gave a deaf ear to all marriage proposals for his daughters and took them all to school.
Pam was the first born.
He had wanted so much more for her.
A month after sending word to relatives in the city that they should be on the look out for any house girl openings that may be suitable, something is found. Word is sent.
She is to report within a week. A bus ticket is booked and date of travel set. She will leave on Saturday, spend the night at her aunt’s house in Kawangware and be taken to her new place of work on Sunday. Pam will work for a young family with two boys. Two years old and five years old.
“The family, they are good people,” she is told.
They will pay her 15,000 shillings every month and she can have Sundays off. It is as good an offer as any. Better than most actually.
Jessica, who was a year ahead of Pam in school, had come home last Christmas with tales that whetted Pam’s appetite for city life. Stories that now made her long for her first Sunday off. Sure, her father had wanted more for her, she had tried her best and this was her lot. This is what 12 years of school had dealt her and she was intent on making the most of it. She wanted to work hard and support her family but she also wanted this for herself. You only live once and she wanted to make it count. To live her life, uninhibited by this failure label that now hang over her head.
Jessica told of a clean slate.
Freedom from the encumberment of village life, of a community so small it was impossible to go anywhere and not meet several people who know you, who went to primary school with your father, who fellowship with your mother, who frequent the salon run by your neighbour. Social circles so tightly wound they could be a rubber band ball.
Freedom that comes of discovering who you are when there are no eyes whipping you into a mould you are ‘meant’ to fit.
Sure, Mondays to Saturdays were wholly occupied by work, keeping someone’s house, but Sundays, Sundays were for frolicking. Going out on the town. Discovering. Exploring.
That is what she was so eagerly waiting for. Sunday. Sundays!
The first week came and went by. Sunday. She managed to get to church following a combination of directions given by her madam, what matatu to take to town, and Jessica, how to get to the church. Unfortunately, Jessica was unwell. Not knowing anyone else, Pam attended mass and loitered about for a while. The timid, lone wolf wandering aimlessly among packs, wanting so badly to belong but not belonging. The congregation eventually thinned out and she made her way back home.
Second week, another Sunday. This time Jessica made it to church.
‘Tukutane hapo karibu na fountain baada ya misa.’ A text message from Jessica reassured her just as the celebrant was making his way towards the altar to begin the celebration.
After mass, as instructed, she waited by the fountain.
The two squealed and embraced, the excitement heightened by the fact that this meeting was talking place so far away from home.
They walked to a nearby kiosk, bought some sodas and sat under a tree shade, catching up.
“What is your Madame like?”
“Are the kids a handful?“
“Are they good to you?”
“Do they let you watch the TV?”
“Do you have to wear a uniform?”
“Is the house big and tiresome to wash?”
“Does your madame give you her underwear to wash? What about her husbands?”
They compare notes, Jessica approving of some of the information and gravely shaking her head at discovering other things. She, the expert at navigating life in the city as a house girl, Pam, the new kid on the block.
They are joined by some of Jessica’s friends. Salome, Wekesa and Oriedo. Salome is also a house girl. Her family residing in Westlands, not far from Lavington where Pam is. Oriedo and Wekesa, hustlers, casual labourers. They rent a house together and each morning trek two to four hours to a construction site where they hope to be given work for the day.
The afternoon was spent lazing under a tree. Not the exciting adventures Jessica had serenaded Pam with when she came home but the seasoned assured the new that this was only the case when the month happened to last longer than their money. Pam did not mind, she was glad to have found a pack of her own, no longer a lone wolf.
These chill Sunday vibes were the order of the day the following week as well.
The one after brought with it a new month! A new month came with a fresh salary. Responsibilities were taken care of first. Pam put most of her money in an envelope and addressed it to her father. Now the rest could guiltlessly be put towards her pleasures.
After church, as was their custom, they met up under the tree by the kiosk. They then walked to Uhuru Park and ate some street food. Giant samosas that were sometimes filled with more air than meat, smokie pasuas, with a healthy helping of kachumbari, ketchup and mustard down the centre and ice cream cones that melted fast in the Nairobi heat. With their bellies full, a debate ensued about what club to spend the afternoon in. It was a choice between a place called Midlands and another called Mwenda’s. Mwenda’s won.
“I will show you a good time at last,” Jessica reassured Pam. “You will have the time of your life!”
The club was small and dingy, filled with the smell of a mixture of cigarettes, dust and cheap liquor. They arrived when most spots were relatively unoccupied and picked a place close to a window, close to the bar and with a good and clear view of the whole space. Several paces away was the dance floor. Perfect spot.
Someone came and took their order. Beers for the guys, flavoured ciders for the girls, lemon for Pam and apple for Jessica, two for everyone as they discussed what mzinga to angusha that day. A bottle of McDowell was settled upon, whiskey. One of the favourites at the joint. Affordable, not too bad smelling, bearable after effects, meaning the hangover was not too bad. It was a popular choice among revelers, especially those on a budget.
Being a small group of friends, they began with shots for everyone, loudly raising their glasses to every and any thing.
To the newcomers.
The new friendships.
The new month and it’s tidings.
To experiencing life.
To their continued health and employment and ability to afford life’s pleasures!
Two shots in, Jessica advices Pam to take sips of her cider immediately after each shot, it is the best way to stomach these things. Soon Pam’s head is afloat, swimming, thoughts tumbling in and out. She now speaks more freely. Really connects with Wekesa as he tells her how he too feels he has been a disappointment to his father, his family. How he was keen to make something of himself despite it all. How he wanted to be able to support his parents. How he hopes to start his own business when the time is right. They are not too different from each other after all.
After the first bottle, a second is brought fourth. Now the club is filled up, it has come alive. Outside, the sun is fast approaching the horizon, as on the clock face, the shortest hand made its way closer and closer to the bottom-most point, the girls ‘curfew’ time.
The music brings people to their feet. Music from home and other tunes Pam has not heard before. Soon she too finds her way to the dance floor. She gauges by the mood of the room how popular a song is and apes moves from several individuals on the floor.
Jessica and Oriedo start to get cosy. The more Pam’s senses are hazed, the more the two cease to be individuals and morph into one. Touching, exploring each other with their fingers, hands and eventually even lips. Pam and Jessica’s eyes meet and Jessica, guilty, offers an explanation, mouthed over the loud music, ‘My boyfriend, he wants to meet my father and marry me.’ Pam smiles, nods. Takes another sip of her drink.
Soon it is late. Too late for her to get home in good time, by 6 o’clock. Jessica is nowhere in sight. Wekesa sees the panic on her face when Pam realises Jessica is gone and assures her that he will get her home. With her mind still hazy, she is unsure she can make her way from where they are to the stage where she gets matatus from.
Soon enough she is home-bound, abuzz with emotion. Excitement at the exhilarating afternoon and fear at the thought of her madam angry at her late return. Sundays.