On graduation day from Squeakyclean school of housekeeping, Sapphire received a fancy certificate, a letter of recommendation signed by the principal and a uniform with SCH designed in black silk on the pocket of the white apron. She also had the money she had earned tucked into the purse mama have given her. She boarded a bus home. When she arrived in the village, she went straight to the only large house in the village and asked to speak with the owner since they need a maid.
When Carolina Martin came into the office in the house, sapphire took an immediate, instinctive dislike to the woman as she looked down at sapphire with disdain.” You asked to see me, sapphire?
Sapphire handed over her documents. The woman put on wire spectacles to read them.”you will have to do……….” She handed the documents back to sapphire. “You can start right away.”
“What pay do you offer?”
Carolina Martin looked affronted. She took off her spectacles and tucked them into a small case on a chain around her neck.
“Four thousand naira.”
Sapphire forgot all the lessons she was taught on diplomacy. “An untrained dishwasher is paid more than four thousand naira a month!”
Carolina Martin harrumphed. ” Everyone understands what a great honor it is to work in this house of mine, Sapphire!”
“I wasn’t trained that cheap.” She tucked her documents back unto her backpack. “No wonder the position is still open. Who but a fool would take it!”
When Sapphire arrived home, before Mama could reach her, Jane let out a cry of pleasure and flee into her arms. As Sapphire held Jane, she saw changes that had occurred in Mama during the six months she had been in Warri. Dismayed, she set Jane aside, Mama patted her cheek rather than embrace Sapphire, who took her hand and kisses it.
Papa barely raised his head form the garment he led through his sewing machine. “When do you plan to apply for that job at the large house? You should go now or it’ll be gone.”
Sapphire looked over her shoulder. “You could welcome me home, Papa.”
He raised his head and gave her a cold stare.
“I went to the house before coming here. I turned down their offer.”
His face reddened. “You did what?”
“I assume you sent me to school so that I can earn more than four thousand naira per month, Papa.”
“Four thousand naira!” He looked taken aback. “That’s all the big house pays?”
“Carolina Martin looked like Mrs Arabor’s twin sister. She seemed to think the great honor of working there is worth the lesser pay.”
Papa shook his head and pumped the sewing machine pedals. “The sooner you find work, the sooner you can repay the money you owe me.”
She’d hoped he might congratulate her on her graduation, that he may feel some pleasure in having his elder daughter home. She should have known better. “I’ll start looking first thing tomorrow morning, Papa.” He’d get his tuition and book money, thou there had been no books! How she wished she could tell him he’d been duped, but he’d only take it out on her. Nor did she dare take the satisfaction of telling him she’d earned back twice what he paid those scoundrels by demanding a fair wage.
Mama looked tired, but happy. “Its good to have you home.” She coughed. Unable to stop, she sank into her chair, covering her mouth with a soiled rag. When the spasm finally ended, she looked drained and gray.
Jane looked at sapphire. “Its been worse since last month.”
“What did the doctor say?”
“She doesn’t go to the doctor.” Papa pulled the garment carefully from the machine.”Doctors cost money.”
Sapphire got up early the next morning and prepared yam and fried pepper so Mama wouldn’t have to do it.
Mama came into the kitchen looking drawn and pale. “You’re up so early.”
“I wanted to talk with you before I go out.” She took mama’s hand and folded the money she earned into it.
Mama gasped. “How did you come by so much money?”
“I made the school uniforms.” She kissed her mother’s cold cheek and whispered. ‘I did spend few cash on chocolate and pastries, Mama. I know what’s wrong.” Mama tried to press the money back into Sapphire’s hand “I have consumption.”
“Oh,Mama.” She started to cry. “Surely he can do something.”
“They said the mountain air helps. You must put away for your future.”
“No! Sapphire tucked them deeply into Mama’s apron pocket. ” see Dr.Afang. Please, Mama”
“And what would Papa say if i went?”
“Papa doesn’t have to know everything. And don’t worry about his money. He’ll get it.” A little at a time.