Matilda rushed to her madam’s room in answer to the bell. It had been two days since her madam had taken ill, an illness which restricted her, for the time being, to the confines of her bed. She knocked on the door.
“Come in,” was the answer. She opened to find her madam, a woman aging gracefully with unmade but neatly combed-back black hair with few visible strands of white sitting up in bed, a fashion magazine in her hands.
“Its 9:00 a.m., Matilda, time for my morning pills. Please get me a glass of water from the kitchen.”
“Okay ma.” Matilda rushed off to do as she was told. On getting back to the room, a glass of water held carefully in her hands, she saw Oga Festus, madam’s son, discussing with his mother.
“Mother just take things easy, okay? Its just one of these minor illnesses. You’ll get well before long by God’s grace.”
“Amen, my son. Yes Matilda, drop it there,” she said as Matilda gingerly dropped the water on the bedside table and took her leave.
“Fly safe o, and don’t forget to call when you land in the U.S., okay?”
“No problem, mummy.” He glanced at his watch. “Let me get going now, my flight will be due in an hour. Don’t worry mum, I won’t be long,” he quickly added as tears welled up in his mother’s eyes.
“Good bye my son,” his mother sniffed
Festus stepped out of her room. He saw Matilda hurrying toward the kitchen.
“Matilda,” he called, “please look after my mother for me o, and keep her company till I come back, understand?”
“Yes sir,” she replied.
“And have this,” he said, handing her some crisp 500 naira notes. “Use it to buy anything you need.”
“Thank you sir,” she said bending her knees slightly. “God bless you sir.” She was all smiles.
“Don’t mention,” he said, and then, “I’m off.” He went out of the house.
Matilda went back to her chores in the kitchen, whistling merrily to herself. She faintly heard him calling to Musa the gateman to open the gate. She smiled. This money would buy her a lot. That was why she liked working for these rich people. One was always sure of some cash besides their regular salary.
At 3:00 pm, she carried some food and a glass of water on a tray into her madam’s room. She placed them on the bed.
“Thank you Matilda,” her madam said, glancing up from the Bible she was reading. She took the glass and swallowed her afternoon dosage.
“Matilda, do not bring me dinner, I’m okay for today. And you don’t need to come in, except when I call for you with the bell. Aside from that, you are free for the rest of the day.”
“Okay, madam,” Matilda said and went out.
At eight o’clock in the night, Matilda locked all the doors in the house, turned off all the lights, and went into her room. She knelt down beside her bed and said a prayer. Then she got into bed and slept off.
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Matilda woke up with a start. She turned on the light and checked the time. 3:50 a.m. What was that sound? Ah yes, the bell. Madam needed something. She put on her slippers and went out of her room. She got to her madam’s room and knocked. No answer. She knocked again and again. Still no answer.
“Was it not her that pressed the bell just now?” Matilda mused. “She couldn’t have fallen asleep again so soon, abi. . .”
She tried the door handle. It opened. She pushed the door open and switched on the light.
“Madam is there. . .” What she saw stopped her cold. She held her hands to her face and screamed.
On the bed lay her madam, blood flowing freely from a wound on her head. The bedsheets around her head were soaked a deep crimson hue. She was stone-cold dead, her eyes staring wide at the opposite wall, as if she was seeing something she couldn’t believe, her mouth frozen open in a never-uttered scream of agony. Her hands gripped the sheets hard, refusing to relax, even in death.
Matilda, still standing just past the doorway, screamed again. And she fainted.