Admiration is an understatement for what I felt for Madam Yolanda. I adored the lady. She was like a goddess to me,beautiful,enchanting and commanding. She would catch me several times mooning over her and smile sweetly at me. I would grin shyly and look away only to stare at her again dotingly.
I was in secondary school but with a dream. A dream to be a wealthy and intimidating businesswoman like Madam Yolanda. There was an air of control around her that unnerved even men. One would have concluded that she was the one who wore the trousers in her marriage.
Yolanda also had great knowledge in handling her businesses. Indeed the business knack was evident from the flourishes they exhibited.
One such business was a big hotel that always had hungry customers teeming ceaselessly to grab a bite. My mother had arranged that at the end of the term,on closing day, I should wait for her at Yolanda’s hotel as she finished her shift at work. I would take my corner and take out my books to complete my holiday assignment.
I watched Yolanda behind the raised hotel counter. She was up there, seated on a chair that resembled a throne, looking on her customers ensuring they were satisfied to their fill. The waiters and waitresses would go up to her and hand over the payments to her and she would pass orders on how table this and that needed some serviette or something else.
Sometimes a steward would serve me an unordered for meatpie, sometimes a piece of pizza or a samosa and my mother would come later and meet me devouring the last bite. She would take out her purse to pay my bill.
“No Ellen, you will not pay this one. It’s my treat.” Madam Yolanda would say yet mum would insist but her pleas would fall on deaf ears. For this magnanimity, I held her with more esteem.
“Beginning this Sunday, I have a business trip to make for two weeks. You will stay with Madam Yolanda’s family while I am away.” My mother said. I was over the moon! I did not believe that I would share the same roof with my Oprah, drink her water and use her toilet. I would know her better and train to be like her.
So when the day came, I could not wait to move in to Yolanda’s home. I loved mother but her quick departure at that time made my heart gladder.
“I am starting to think Yolanda will take my place.” Mother beguiled. I realized the envy in her voice and embraced her strongly assuring her of my love to her.
Yolanda welcomed me to her magnificent home.
“Mama Komo! Please bring my guest some juice!” She called out to the househelp who promptly obeyed her employer’s orders. She still had the demeaning aura and authority around her. I watched her as she worked around her house with a scarf round her head, a loose t-shirt that revealed that she had no bra and a lesso tied round her waist. I marvelled at her diligence both at home and work. Her husband must be so proud of her, I thought to myself.
Her three sons were studying in far-away universities so it was just her and her husband in the home.
When Madam Yolanda husband’s car roared in the compounds of their home, I noticed something surprising with Yolanda. She started to bite her nails nervously. She suddenly remembered that her head was tied and pulled out her scarf out quickly. She took a mirror under the coffee table and had a quick peek. When the tall muscular man came in, one could cut the thick tension in the room with a plastic knife. He mumbled something I did not catch and sat on a sofa that Yolanda had earlier spent more than enough time arranging.
“Why are you flaunting the old falling towers of Babylon?” He asked , a cynical smile on his face. Yolanda cast a quick glimpse at her breasts then at me and I was swift to pretend to focus on the TV. I was embarrassed on her behalf. I was also stunned at her husband’s curt behaviour. He leered at her and then broke the air with a diabolical laugh. She feigned a smile too.
Yolanda rushed to the kitchen and brought a full tray of tea and meal dishes. He looked on keenly as she stirred the sugar in the tea. Yolanda’s hands had a slight tremble.
“So who is she?” He asked referring to me. I thought it was impolite but I was already scared of this man who frightened Madam Yolanda. She explained why mother had to leave me at their home.
“How kind of you to help a friend Mother Theresa!” Her husband sarcastically commented then laughed again demonically. Yolanda made a silent sniff and went to sit down.
“How much did you make today?” He asked.
“Fifty” Yolanda said. Her husband opened her palm to her. She almost ran to the purse on top of the TV table. She took a bundle of cash and brought it to her husband. He stopped to eat and spit on his fingers then proceeded to count note by note. Satisfied, he went on to split it into half, put one half in his pocket and gave back the other to Yolanda who meekly took it. He continued to have his dinner.
The next two weeks revealed to me another side of Madam Yolanda that I never would have imagined existed. She squirmed at her husband’s cynical remarks. She obeyed his orders like a faithful dog. Even when her husband commented within my earshot, that I had overstepped my stay at his house, Yolanda only nodded.
“I am sorry about my husband’s rudeness yesterday.” She was in my bedroom. I had watched from my window as she hastily opened the gate for his car and him driving off in unnecessary speed splashing specks of dirt from his car’s tyres at her.
“Madam, you don’t have to be.” I paused and gathered courage to ask, “Madam, does he beat you?” She studied me for a minute as I regretted why I had quizzed her on her personal life. But not for long.
“Curtis has never laid a hand on me.” She said as if in a trance, “but I tell you my daughter, it has been hell living with this man. He will never acknowledge what I do and say. He says the most disparaging utterances to me and expects me to laugh at his stupid abusive jokes. It hurts so much. I am now taking drugs for ulcers and hypertension!” Madam Yolanda was saying, her voice weak and her back on me.
“Madam, you do not know this but I adore you. I want to be like you when I grow up. You are so beautiful and ambitious. But I have never imagined that anyone could ever cow you. The Madam Yolanda out there is a lioness, in here she is a cub.” She was looking at me now, listening intently.
“Submission. I like to submit to my husband. That is what marriage is all about.” She feebly uttered words that she seemed not to believe too.
“Madam, I am sorry to say this but you give marriage a bad taste. If this is what defines marriage than I’d rather stay single like mum. I would want a marriage where my husband respects and loves me and I submit to him out of love not fear.” I stopped when I thought I had said too much.
She went to the window and was silent as if lost in thoughts. Then she turned to me.
“One day you will get married and realize that marriage defines a woman in society. And no home is perfect, women are battling worse troubles. ” She said.
“Madam Yolanda, with all due respect, my mother is single and I think she and I are much happier in our home than you are. I thought I will love it here but honestly, I miss my home. Mother calls our home our little heaven because that is where she rests her head when she has had a long day. She often says ‘Better no marriage than a bad marriage.’ Madam Yolanda, I wish you would chose your happiness first than your reputation.” When I finished uttering those words, she walked out quickly.
I had annoyed her. I had to leave. I packed and sneaked out of the humongous house without anyone’s notice. I met mother unlocking the house, her luggage next to her. She had just arrived. I hugged her lovingly much to her elation.
“Someone missed their mother, I see. You could not wait for me to come pick you?” She asked.
“Hope you brought me something.” I said to her.
“Yes I did. I brought fatigue, a two-week sleep debt and hunger.” We burst out laughing at her reply. It was this freedom and joy that I knew mother cherished. I started to see my mother in a different light. She had left my father when I was four when he became violent towards her, the first and last day he slapped her. She had the courage that many like Madam Yolanda did not.
“You will not believe this!” Mother came home one evening, astonished at the news she was about to reveal to me.
“Madam Yolanda has left her home. She is not even interested in their businesses. She is the talk of the town. She has rented a bedsitter at the corner of the town. I went to see her and asked her why, this is what she told me.”
‘For years I have cried myself to sleep at scathing comments from my husband. I have rented this bedsitter for a month now and it feels like paradise. I feel at peace and I even sleep like a log. My blood pressure reads normal! I will built an empire even at 55 years of age. Let the people laugh at me but I don’t need to put a face anymore, thanks to the advice of a young woman I met. She is only eighteen but I have never been so inspired by someone’s talk like I did with her.’
I smiled and was amazed that Madam Yolanda, my mentor had changed her life because of me. I admired her courage to start all over again. No one deserved to be treated like she had. She now knew how much her happiness mattered above all things.
“I think marriage is a good thing but if there is toxin in it, it just ends up killing you slowly by slowly.” Mother said and sighed, “But what to say, better no marriage than a bad marriage.”