The JRB presents an excerpt from The Girl with the Louding Voice, the debut novel by Abi Daré.
The Girl with the Louding Voice
Hodder and Stoughton, 2020
Read the excerpt:
Big Madam’s car come to a stop in a space next to another car like it.
Mr Kola put his own car behind, off his car engine, and we climb down. The man driving Big Madam’s car, he climb down too, and run to the other side of the car. I look his fair, smooth skin, the long brown dress he is wearing, the white fila on his head, the three dark marks on the side of his forehead, the white prayer beads in his hand, which he keep holding even as he open the car door, bend his head, and step to one side.
‘Who is he?’ I ask Mr Kola.
‘That is Abu,’ Mr Kola whisper, ‘Big Madam’s driver. He has been with her for years. No more questions.’
The cool air inside the car is escaping with a strong flower smell as somebody is climbing out. First thing I am seeing is feets. Yellow feets, black toes. There is different color paint on all the toesnails: red, green, purple, orange, gold. The smallest of the toes is having gold ring on it. Her whole body is almost filling the whole compound as she is coming out. I am now understanding why they are calling her Big Madam. When she come out, she draw deep breath and her chest, wide like blackboard, is climbing up and down, up and down. It is as if this woman is using her nostrils to be collecting all the heating from the outside and making us to be catching cold. I am standing beside Mr Kola, and his body is shaking like my own. Even the trees in the compound, the yellow, pink, blue flowers in the long flowerpot, all of them too are shaking.
She is wearing a lace bou-bou, which is long up to her feets. The bou-bou is doing shine-shine as if the lace is having eyes everywhere, and blinking the eyes open, close, open, close. She is not having a neck, this woman. Just a round, fat head on top the wide chest with breast that must be reaching near to her knees area. There is one gold gele on her head, and it is looking like she just gum a ceiling fan on a hat and put it on her head.
She take two step near to us, then I am seeing her face well. Her face is looking like one devil-child vex with her and paint it with his feets. On top the orange powder on her face, there is a red line on the two both eyesbrows which she is drawing all the way to her ears. Green powder on the eyeslids. Lips with gold lipstick, two cheeks full of red powder.
‘Big Madam,’ Mr Kola say, lying on the floor to greet her. ‘Welcome back.’
When she open her mouth to talk, one of her bottom front teeths is having gold on top it.
‘Agent Kola. How are you?’ she say, her voice deep. ‘That is the girl?’
‘The best, ma,’ he say.
She laugh. Sound like a rumble, a big rock rolling down a mountain.
I kneel down as Mr Kola is rising from the floor. ‘G’afternoon, ma,’ I say. ‘Adunni is the name.’
‘Adunni.’ She look me down, face strong, and then she is asking question upon question. ‘Can you work hard? I have no time for rubbish. Did Mr Kola tell you my expectations? Have you done your health checks? Can you speak English? Write? Basic communication?’
I don’t know too much about this expecta-shun and communica-shun thing, so I am keeping my words to myself.
‘She is hardworking,’ Mr Kola say. ‘She is healthy, I have her test results right here—you know I have never brought you an unhealthy girl. This one understands English and can read simple sentences. She is intelligent, everything you asked for, ma. She will not disappoint. Adunni, get up.’
Big Madam pinch her bou-bou open in the chest area and blow air inside it. ‘Agent Kola. That is what you always say when you want to sell them to me. The last girl you brought, what is that her name? Rebecca? She is still missing till today.’
Which girl was Mr Kola brought before? Why was she missing? I am looking Mr Kola, but I know I cannot be asking him the question now. I turn to Big Madam, thinking to ask her who this girl was, but her face be like a circle of silent thunder, flashing angry and making me to be afraid. Did something bad happen to this Rebecca that make her to be missing? And if something bad happen to Rebecca, will something happen to me here too?
‘Go inside and wait for me there,’ Big Madam say. ‘Let me talk to your agent.’
Mr Kola nod his head yes. ‘Go inside,’ he say. ‘I need to speak to Big Madam. I am coming.’
I stand to my feets and look the compound. At the palm trees on my left and right, at the other cars in the place, at the main door in the afar, which look like the door to heaven with the gold wood handles on it. As I am walking away, I can feel the eyes of Mr Kola and Big Madam entering my back.
When I reach the front door, I look back at the two both of them, head bending close to each other, talking and talking.
The handles on the front door is the gold head of a smiling lion.
It is a statue, but I still check it sure that the lion will not just jump awake before I knock the door. When it open, one short man with skin so smooth, the colour of cooling charcoal, is standing in my front. His cheeks are round, swelling, as if he is keeping air inside of it, with moustaches that curve around his mouth. He is wearing white trouser and shirt with a long white cap on his head. There is a long blue cloth hanging around his neck and in front of his stomach with a writing on it: The Chef.
‘Good afternoon, sah. Big Madam say I should be coming inside,’ I say, pointing behind my head to Big Madam and Mr Kola. ‘Adunni is the name.’
‘Finally, the new housemaid arrives,’ he say.
‘Housemaid?’ Is this the work I will be doing? Mr Kola didn’t say before. All he was asking is if I can be working hard, and I am saying yes.
‘I am Kofi,’ he say, pointing one short finger to the writing on his cloth. ‘The chef. The highly educated chef. If you are here to werk, follow me.’
Why is he talking as if his tongue have a problem? Saying ‘werk’ instead of ‘work’?
‘Why are you talking one kind?’ I ask, looking him close. ‘Are you from the Nigeria?’
‘I’m from Ghana,’ he say, turning around. ‘I have lived in Nigeria for twenty years, but my accent is stubborn.’
‘You have a stubborn accident?’ I ask as I follow him inside, feeling pity. ‘When it happen? It affect your mouth? Hope nobody die?’
He stop walking, look me like I mad. ‘Where does Big Madam find these uneducated beings? I said I speak with an accent. Not an accident. Okay?’
‘Is okay,’ I say, even though it didn’t okay. What he say is just making me more confuse. Maybe he have a accident in his head too.
I look around the room, feel a shiver all over my body. There are gold and black tiles on the floor. The walls are pale red, with pictures of Big Madam and two childrens, a boy and a girl, sitting inside the picture. The boy have a nose like big letter M and the girl have teeths that is sitting on top her bottom lip. The two both childrens are wearing long, black robe, with triangle hat on their head. Big Madam is standing in between them, her hands on their shoulders, left and right. There are two chairs far back in the room with wood handles, and two round cushions on the floor, red and gold and swollen like balloon.
There is a smell of shoe polish, of fish stew, of new money. It feel too cold too, and I peep one white box in the wall where the cold air is climbing out from. I see a line of looking-glass on the wall to my left and right, and a clock with big face and big numbers. At my right side, I see a bowl of green water with blue stone at the bottom of it, and small fish swimming around a light pole inside the green water. The fish are having different colours: red, green, black and white, orange. Different shapes too, and one is even looking like a frog. The light pole is vomiting bubbles, plenty of it, making sound like water boiling too much inside pot.
Kofi point a finger to the fish-bowl. ‘Take a seat over there by the aquarium. I will be in the kitchen preparing dinner. Your job is to take care of the house. Mine is to cook. You stay in your lane; I stay in mine.’
Before I can be asking why he is talking of lane as if I am a motorcar, he enter inside one glass door and close it on my face.
‘Ah-kweh-ri-um,’ I say slowly, looking the fish-bowl, as I sit in the chair next to it and put my belongings on the floor. The seat is soft, the brown rubber of it is smelling like new shoe, the top of it cold on my buttocks. I look the clock. Time is saying fifteen to two.
Have they find Khadija by now? Bury her? What of her childrens, are they wailing cry now because their mother is dead? And me, why am I here, inside this noise-making Lagos, doing housemaid of one Big Madam with too much colour on her face? Why am I not in Ikati, in Morufu’s house, sleeping beside Khadija and talking quiet talk in the night? Or with Mama, if she was not dead, sitting by her feets on her mat, smelling her smell of flour and sugar and milk?
Why am I doing housemaid work, when all I was wanting was to go to school? I don’t know when or how my eyes is wet of tears again, but this time, I cry quick and wipe it quick and tell my mind to be strong as I wait for Big Madam and Mr Kola to come.
About the book
‘A celebration of girls who dare to dream.’—Imbolo Mbue, author of Behold the Dreamers
Meet Adunni, a teenage girl born into a rural Nigerian village.
Aged fourteen, she is a commodity, a wife, a servant.
She is also smart, funny, curious, with a spirit and joy infectious to those around her.
And despite her situation going from bad to worse, she has a plan to escape: she will find her ‘louding voice’ and get her education, so that she can speak up for herself—and all the girls who came before her.
As she turns enemies into friends and superiors into aides, Adunni will take you with her on a heartbreaking but inspiring journey from a small village to the wealthy enclaves of Lagos, and show you that no matter the situation, there is always some joy to be found.
About the author
Abi Daré grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and has lived in the United Kingdom for over eighteen years. She studied law at the University of Wolverhampton and has an MSc in International Project Management from Glasgow Caledonian University. Keen to improve her writing, she completed an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck University of London, achieving a Distinction. Her novel, The Girl with The Louding Voice, won The Bath Novel Award in 2018 and was selected as a finalist in The Literary Consultancy Pen Factor competition in 2018. Daré lives in Essex with her husband and two children.