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Sunday, 9 August 2020

A Nanny From Hell.

             “A.B.C.”

“Repeat.”

“A.B.C.”

“Repeat.”

This went on and on. Over and over again. My eyes rolled in their sockets. As we went through a painful exercise of rote learning. We had done this so many times. It became seared in my memory. The kids were bored, the teachers fared no better. And at five years old, I learned to let my mind wander, as my mouth repeated the chatter.

Routine was critical in kindergarten. We would be in class from eight in the morning, take a break at ten to play in the dirt with tires, rolling in the playground. Then a quick lesson that got us to lunch, a nap, and be picked by our minders by 2 pm. It all felt wrong, and I was utterly disgruntled with the routine. Yet, what did a five-year-old know?

My nanny then, I vaguely remember, was a sweet young woman, caring and gentle who held my hand as we walked the dusty road to the nursery gates. The school was a good kilometre away, in an estate of bungalows with five-feet high picket fences. She would wait until I got into the class and then turn and leave. Truth be told, I had a couple of nannies growing up, but they were warm and caring folk. So maybe this is a memory of them all.

My mother was a busy woman with a busy schedule and could smell crap from a mile away. My grown-up deduction for why she hired and fired them in quick succession. My five-year-old self was confused about why they never really stayed long enough.  

It was a Friday. I remember because the school would feed us on bananas, a small way to celebrate; they didn’t have to have us on Saturday. As mothers and nannies came to pick their children, I noticed mine wasn’t coming. I knew the route well. My friends and I used the same road to go to God-forsaken destinations at times. I had a premonition my latest nicest nanny was gone. The two teachers were busy, cajoling with the parents. Happy it was Friday, they smiled and interacted with the parents and nannies with no care in the world. I shook my head and crept out of the nursery gates, not daring to look back. I turned left onto the street and ran. Once I was out of sight, I slowed down and started dragging my feet in the dirt. I enjoyed this pastime. So refreshing.  

“Mama, there was no one to get me at the school,” I said, preempting any questions that would lead to a fight. Silence

“Mom, are you listening?”

“Yeah! Edwin, I hear you,” she sighed.

I was of the hook. My mom was distracted.    

“Your nanny ran away,” she said. My mouth fell open, I felt cheated. But the emotion passed as quickly. I sighed, mimicking my mother.

“You will get another one, I know,” I said reassuringly, hoping to get a more genuine nanny, who would stick around. Mom nodded and walked into the kitchen to prepare a meal. 

As mother made to leave, a neighbor came by to watch over me, and my younger sister for a few hours. I could see mom was worried, but she kept a brave face cracking a joke with the neighbor, who went on with her life as soon as my mother was out of the house.  Completely ignoring me, but feeding my younger sister, when she needed to. How rude! Yet I was the kid with the oversupply of adrenaline.

The afternoon was dull. The last nanny had been fun. Inventing games, and keeping me busy for hours on end. I missed her already. So too Uncle Ben, the young man who would turn up as soon as my mother left after lunch. Uncle Ben had a funny smile,  brown teeth, and a strong scent. It reminded me of the bar soap my nanny used to wash our clothes. Even so, Uncle Ben was fun, and my nanny grew wings when he was around. They would play the mother and father with my younger sister and me. Uncle Ben never came during the weekend. And the nanny bribed me with sweets, all through not to say a thing about him.  

“She left in the morning and left some of her things. Can you imagine she called me at the hospital and said she was getting married to some guy she met called Ben? She asked me to come back home because she was leaving. When I got here, she was gone. She left the baby alone,” I heard mom saying on the phone. She was angry and venting. I also wondered why she said, baby. “Clearly, I was old enough to fend for myself,” I thought, and got offended.   

“Yes, I know she is barely old enough to make such a decision, but she was adamant. I now have to tell her parents in the village their daughter eloped,” she dropped the call and make another call.

“I need a nanny, my days are long at the hospital, and I have exhausted my leave days. Can you get me one?”

“Ok! Thank you so much, Gina.”

She placed the dial phone back on the receiver and walked away. Yes! We had a dial phone in the 80s in our house. And it had a lock on it to prevent us from calling out. She left me staring at it, already wondering how I could break that lock. The lock was necessary. My elder sister was now a teenager, and she had friends with house phones. And recently, the bill was doing a hockey stick and going up, with no one claiming responsibility. The lock settled that. 

The same evening, a knock at the gate and two women walked in. One was familiar, wearing the same nurse uniform my mother wore, escorted by a short older woman with a grey knee-length dress. The older woman had a beefy face, two muscular sets of legs and arms, that will forever be engraved in my memory. She was rough and unsmiling. The interview was not an interview. My mom was desperate, the would-be-nanny knew it, I knew it, and Gina knew it.

 “How much do you want for the job per month?” Asked my mother frustrated.

“Anything you give me madam, I will take,” the nanny replied with a rocky smile, chipped out of stone, then stared at me. I looked away quickly, the stare burning into my skull.

“Have you taken care of children before,” asked my mother.

“What! What kind of question is that! She clearly was wrestling with bulls on a farm before she came here.”  I thought.

“Yes, madam, I know how to take care of children and even discipline them,” said the nanny, and I cringed.

“Well, its good to know,” my mother said, eyeing me and sensing my reaction.

“You will not need to punish him, isn’t that so, Edwin?” I nodded profusely, nearly snapping a neck muscle in the process.

 “The job requires you to cook and clean and also watch over her,” mother pointed to my small sister, and then she remembered. “And him,” she said, pointing towards me.   

“That is understood,” said the nanny.  

My mother walked her friend Gina out and left me with the nanny; she was staring at me. I felt uncomfortable and walked over to the dining table and sat looking away. My younger sister was too young to understand what was happening and played animatedly on the floor. I sighed like my mother. I stole a look at the nanny,  and could see a dark cloud forming over her head.

The nanny was up early and prepared me for school on a weekday. We were out of the house in good time. Her true colors seemed to appear as we walked. She was always three steps ahead hissing I walk faster. I tried, my small legs could not compare. When I reached out to hold her hand, she slapped my hand away.  I pulled them back into my pockets, annoyed. As soon as we got to the nursery gates, she turned back and was off. And yes! She was at the gate promptly when my class ended. I believe it was the fastest walk back home. I was not able to drag my feet in the dirt.  

The afternoon wasn’t so easy for my small sister and me.

“I want you two to sit down here, very still. And if you move, I will pinch you,” the nanny said.  

I thought she was bluffing and made a dash for the floor. Her reaction was immediate and unexpected, she caught me midair, and flipped me back on the couch and then clamped two fingers on the flesh in my inner thigh. I was too shocked for the pain to register. How fast was this woman?  I let out a yell and ran to one side of the room.

“Get back here and sit down on this couch,” she demanded. I found myself sitting on the couch beside my younger sister, who lacked the mental latitude to be cheeky. And that is where we sat for the next two hours as she ironed clothes in silence.

That was the worst day ever. I found myself repeatedly breaking this one rule, and being pinched until my inner thigh turned red. No one was going to control me. Eventually, I grew past the pinch, and she introduced the slipper that would land on the mark half the time. Did I mention while all this was happening, my younger sister was quietly withdrawn to the situation. 

The nanny stayed for a few days, and grew bolder. The straw that broke the camel's back was an incident where she was caning me, just as my mother was getting home from work. I believe she was trying to exorcise a demon, because she got carried away, sweating and panting, as my mother stood quietly outside listening.

“What demon is in you little devil, you are foolish and think you can misbehave,” she was shouting, and I was screaming.  “I will teach you a lesson you will never forget,” she howled.

As the slipper made contact and pain went through my body.

We hadn’t seen my mother, as she came in and shouted. “Stop,” and the nanny, like a possessed woman, who had just been exorcised herself, came back to her senses, embarrassed and confused.

She left the same day, leaving me with a memory that stuck with me for the rest of my life. Mom also added a few more questions to her vetting questionnaire, namely, “how do you punish the children under your care?”

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