The Housegirl by  Nigerian Okey Chigbo is another short story from the Anthology of Contemporary African Short Stories edited by Chinua Achebe and C L Innes.

The Housegirl is an enjoyable 16 page expose of the happenings in the lives of the individual members of a wealthy Nigerian family. The story is told through sixteen- year-old Comfort, the Senior housegirl whose caustic, frank and sometimes hilarious narration reveals the inequalities inherent in the strata of society. Comfort’s mistress whom she calls Madam, refuses to pay her monthly wages.  The amount, 10 Naira, is paid to Comfort’s father at the end of very month and she gets 3 Naira from her father who keeps the rest. This has been stopped for two years after Comfort’s father’s death. The mistress also discriminates against Comfort even when it comes to sharing of gifts and items.

“…….Did I tell you that madam has returned from Lagos? You should see the things she brought back. She gave Obiageli a beautiful gown  with enough wonderful colours to shame all the pretty flowers in the vilalge…..As usal, there was nothing for me. You know how it goes. Selina gets everything just because she is from madame’s hometown. My seniority as a number one housegirl does not mean anything. to madam.” P 1489

Comfort however, approaches her work with enthusiasm, preparing the meals with great skill. Master often asks for her delicious egusi soup (P 149). Occasionally, she lords it over the younger housegirls who are her mistress’ favourites.

The Housegirl is not your ordinary story of a girl forced through circumstances to be a housegril in a rich home where she is maltreated. The story of Comfort is not a sop story. The story of Comfort is only a microcosm of a macrocosm. Through her gossipy yet dignified narratives which is reflected by short episodic sentences, the reader is made aware of the selfishness of man towards his fellow-man. The bane of African governments, nepotism is also highlighted when madam only gives gifts to the housegirls from her hometown. In the larger macroscopic world, posh government and political positions are given out based on tribal and ‘old boy’ sentiments. Through Comfort, the reader is again made to confront salient issues like economic exploitation of the poor; adultery; (Master fathers a child outside his marriage) irresponsible behaviour of the youth; (the philandering of the only son of the family, Callistus, who drops out of school and makes one of the housegirls pregnant); greed and avariciousness of society that has milked out human kindness.

Madam on the other hand resembles a dry fish we use to make soup…..she is getting thinner everyday despite her succesful business because her wooden heart  is sucking out all the kindness in her  body. (p 154)

I will recommend this short story and indeed, the whole Anthology of Contemporary African Short Stories for lovers of African literature.

About the Author: Born in Enugu Nigeria in 1955, Chigbo Okey attended secondary school in that city. He moved to Canada in 1976 and gained a BA in Economics from Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. His articles have been published in West Africa, New African, African Events, Class, Black Enterprise and The Business Journal.