Violet had been married for ten years. She got married a few months after she completed her tertiary education at the College Of Education. A certificate that was relegated to the bottom of the box of books that followed her to her husband’s home as she became a full-time housewife, a job that required no complicated certificate or period of study. In the space of five years, she had gone from a well-fit young lady to a heavy-weighted mother of three. Being a housewife was not an easy job, it included hours spent preparing meals, waking up early to get the children ready for school, picking them up from school and having to satisfy both husband and children. But it also included long hours spent in the hair salon a few blocks from her house with other women like her gossiping and munching on chin-chin and drinking bottle after bottle of coke and pepsi, and sitting in front of the TV in the parlour watching episodes of Indian and Mexican series.
Years later, she would often muse on her journey to and fro the secondary school where she now taught Social Studies to junior secondary students, how she had felt comfortable living that sort of life was now a topic of wonder for her. She who hated to feel idle had spent hours watching Zee-world. She joked about it now, when she spoke with the younger female teachers in the staff-room but it had not always been a joking matter.
She got pregnant two months after getting married. The issue of getting a job was postponed until she gave birth. She spent the first year of her marriage nursing a large appetite, stuffing herself full until she was two times her size before her wedding. When she gave birth to her first daughter, Sochi the most suitable option was to stay at home and take care of her until she was old enough. How old enough, she didn’t know. Her husband was always quick to shut her down when the word ‘job’ came out of her mouth. She acquiesced easily since her husband readily provided the money she needed both for her personal upkeep and for housekeeping as well.
She gave birth to the twins when Sochi was two years old. The arrival of the twins meant they had gotten the initial three children that they planned to have. But the twins were quite a handful. Her mother’s presence in the first four months after they came was of great relief to her, but as soon as her mother left, she could hardly cope with all the stress. The topic of getting a job was once again thrown out of the window.
Violet placed all her focus on her children, giving them the best training she could. She fell into the routine that when the children started going to school, she was left with hours on her hand and nothing to do. She had employed a cleaner to aid her in keeping the house in order. She soon found comfort in the company of women faced with similar plights as her. After they dropped their children at school, sometimes taking turns in taking all the children to school, they would gather in the hair salon owned by a much younger and unmarried woman and while away their time, watching the re-aired episodes of telenovelas or movies when there was light or talking about the newest addition to the neighbourhood or the couple that had a loud quarrel the night before. She settled quickly into the routine, grateful when the children returned to the house to fill the empty house with their noise. Once again, she had something important to do.
“Wow, ten years. How did you survive?” was the question Violet often got when she related her experience to other women who never lived the life she did, women who remained in the working class even after they got married, women she met only after she had rejoined the ranks of the working class married women.
It was difficult to say what pushed her decision to stand up from the comfortable sofa in the parlour that was indented in the places where she had sat for too long. She just knew that one day, she was tired of the repetitive series, tired of the silence that plagued the house when the children went to school and the sickness she got felt from being idle almost every week.
The first step of course, had been to lose weight. She had it all planned out, she would first lose weight, get her smashing body and then find a job in a reputable school. It seemed easy. Only that the she gave up the first week after hours of panting and sweating. The next time she tried exercising, she did her research, compiling and designing an exercise schedule that she felt suited her. Two months later, she gave up again when she noticed that the exercise routine wasn’t as effective as she’d expected. She picked up again some months later, combining it with dieting. For two years, she struggled to fit into the “fit-fam” to no avail. Many times in between, she almost gave up, but when she returned to that dented couch and set her eyes on a telenovela series, she found herself back on her phone, browsing “fast ways to lose weight”.
She had come across a site that was targeted at Nigerians who wanted to lose weight. It was what she had been looking for. Trying all the foreign diet plans had given her a load of trouble, especially incorporating it into her and her family’s life. With the new plan, she could also involve her family in her diet plans or “living healthy” as she told her husband anytime he complained of why the stew tasted different from the usual ones or why the potatoes were boiled not fried. It took some time for the family to get used to her new cooking. They got used to tomato stew that wasn’t fried, heaps of vegetables that covered half of the plate. It took a long time, a very long time before she started seeing changes. She avoided the scale at all costs, hiding one she had bought for the purpose of tracking her weight in the storeroom to prevent herself from going crazy. Those periods, she had been filled with fear. Fear that she wouldn’t succeed, that her weight would only increase. On many days, she exercised long and hard. On fewer days, she laid on her bed trying to convince herself and her tired muscles to get up from the bed but failing in the end.
It was after two years that she finally got it. Her stomach flattened, her thighs reduced. The excess fat around her waist finally disappeared. She didn’t go back to how she was before she got married. The signs of childbirth were still there—the stretchmarks that decorated her belly, her breasts that always needed the support of padded bras. But she was happy with what she got. Months later, she fished out her certificate from where it was hidden, thick with the smell of abandonment and applied for a job at three schools. By the next year, she became the teacher she’d trained for.
She had a happy family, a seemingly smooth marriage and a good job. Her life seemed perfect. What more could she ask for?
“Good morning, Mrs. Violet,” a group of students greeted her as she walked through the gate.
She nodded at them with a smile. “How are you?” A female student walked up to her and reached for her bag. Violet gave her a grateful smile as she slid the heavy bag from her shoulders and handed it to her. The girl walked ahead of her walking with a pridefilled gait. Some students made it a duty to carry the bags of teachers as they stepped foot into blue gate that covered St. Andrew’s college from the cars held in traffic usual at that time of the morning. On several occasions, Violet had had three students rushing towards her then halting midstride as another person reached her, hands already stretching towards her bag. They would shuffle uncomfortably with a pout as they greeted her. If they were lucky, she would have more than a bag or come with books piled on one hand.
Some teachers, especially Mrs. Hannah was not comfortable with this. Three times, she had launched a ‘Don’t allow students carry bags of teachers’ campaign and all three times, the campaign had been shut down by the likes of Violet who enjoyed seeing the students going out of their way to be friendly to teachers. She had heard that it was because her money had been stolen during one of these unsolicited help so she was extra-suspicious with students who tried to take her bag. Once or twice, a student unaware of her policies had approached her to help her take her bag to the staff-room and was faced with a lashing that left them almost in tears as she rather directly referred to them as dishonest criminals.
Violet was also cautious about it. It had happened once since she started teaching in the school. A student had stolen some naira notes from the side pocket of the bag of one of the teachers. The culprit was not difficult to find but it made a few teachers apprehensive of the process too. Violet allowed very few students to take her bag, Nnenna from Js2 and Lota from Ss1 were her favorite. She knew their mothers and could vouch for their honesty.
The staff-room was still empty. The familiar smell of detergent filled the large room. Violet imagined that the cleaner enjoyed dragging foam-filled mop across the floor and she often forgot to mop it with cleaner water leaving the smell of detergent still strong in the air.
“Good morning,” she greeted the teachers in the staff-room, most of which were clearing their table, pulling assignment books from their bags and placing food flasks in the bottom drawer of the table. Violet thanked the student as she dropped her bag on the table and sighed with relief when her buttocks found the soft padding of the chair. Yet another new day, she smiled, pushing back the bunch of hair that fell over her eyes.
She looked around the staff-room once again as she usually did, and her eyes stopped on the board behind the room.
“Did they make a new duty roster?” She stood up and asked the closest person, Mr. Nweke the maths teacher.
He nodded, following behind her to look at the roster. “Two new teachers were employed so their names were included.”
“Two teachers?” She frowned. “Which subject?”
“Both for the senior secondary classes.” Another voice put in. Violet looked back to see her friend, Mrs. Chinwedu come up behind her. She gave her a side hug.
“Good morning. How was your weekend?”
Chiwedu replied, giving a brief greeting to Mr. Nweke who nodded. “They finally found a teacher to teach History and the other teacher is for Geography.”
“Finally!” Violet muttered. “I was beginning to think they wouldn’t find a teacher for history.”
“It’s a new course. For now, just three students in Ss1 said they want to offer it. The other students say when they have three to four classes, they will make their decision.”
Mr. Nweke grunted. “I don’t know why Mr. Joshua insisted on adding History to the curriculum. With Government, I don’t see how History as an individual subject will work.”
“No one knows how they will change the combination yet. At least the Ss1 students have not made their choice. It is still the first term, after this term they can decide which subjects they want to offer.” Chiwendu’s voice was harsh.
Mr. Nweke shrugged and went back to his desk.
“I don’t know why all these people like feeling as if they know everything,” Chiwendu clucked her tongue. “I’m sure he just doesn’t want new teachers. Ever since Mr. Matthew came the man has been angry with everybody.”
Violet laughed. “I don’t know how he was before Mr. Matthew came, but I understand that he is feeling quite threatened. Mr. Matthew now takes Ss3 students, you should imagine how he feels.”
Chiwendu’s voice lowered to a whisper. “Many students prefer Matthew to him. Forget that he is much younger and really knows how to relate with the students on another level, but he teaches really well.”
“Of course,” Violet nodded her head. “He is really good at his work.”
“Ehen, forget that one first. That recipe that Nafisah gave me was really good.” She unlocked her phone and made a few swipes before she handed the phone to Violet.
“Wow!” Violet zoomed in on the picture. “I want to try it too. This looks like what Sochi will like.”
“I will send it for you.”
The sharp gong of the bell speared through the staff-room.
“Time for assembly,” Violet said handing Chinwendu the phone. “Let’s hurry up. I don’t want to stand at the back again. Last week I could barely see what was going on.” She was already rushing to her seat. She pulled out her purse from her bag and adjusted the around her waist. She joined the light stream of teachers moving out of the staff-room, greeting some of the other staff as they walked to the assembly hall.