Mummy had said nobody was allowed to touch her there; that secret place where even she, in spite of her curiosity, was still too ashamed to look. But she guessed daddy wasn’t ‘nobody’. Daddy who was big and tall and hairy; Daddy who when he spoke– which wasn’t very often–always surprised her with his deep, gravelly voice; Daddy with his aloof, preoccupied air and his intimidating collection of huge professors’ books; Daddy who never seemed to notice that she existed.
She was standing before the mirror when Daddy came into her room. Daddy looked at her long and hard. Then Daddy said he wanted to inspect her, make sure she was clean, really clean inside, because the inside was what mattered. Daddy said it was something all Daddies did, and although everybody knew, nobody liked to talk about it. It was the Daddies’ job to ensure that their little girls were always clean. That was what Daddy told her, and she narrowed her eyes, listening with total concentration. After all, Daddy spoke very little, and even less to her. He told her to take off her dress. It was the bright yellow one she loved so much; the one that Mummy said stood out against her very dark skin; the one with the white lace that ran along the hems and the neckline. The one she would wear for her birthday next week. She would be seven. Mummy had warned her not to try it on again before her birthday so she would not soil it, but the dress seemed to call out to her. she could not resist.
She hesitated, but only for a second. Daddies should always be obeyed. Her class teacher said so. She took it off, her pretty yellow dress, and laid it carefully at the corner of her bed. She didn’t want to crease it. Daddy looked at her and nodded slowly in what looked like approval. She beamed. For the first time, she felt like Daddy really saw her, and wasn’t just looking at a vague spot over her head. Daddy said very nice my dear, but we have to make sure you are really clean…inside. Daddy’s voice was strange now, unlike she had ever heard it before. This voice was not the deep rumble she knew; this one had a strange cooing quality to it, like Daddy was whistling ever so softly. She nodded anyway.
Daddy said get on the bed. She hesitated longer this time. For some reason she felt self conscious now. She wanted to grab her yellow dress to her flat chest and run out of her room and never come back. But something in his eyes held her. She got on her bed and sat, awkward and uncertain. She glanced at the door. Like she did most Saturdays, Mummy had gone for her weekend classes, and from there, she would go to the village women’s meeting. She would not be coming back soon. Daddy said lie down face up. She lay down, searching his face, not knowing what she expected to see. His eyes were blank, devoid of emotion, but there was the sheen of oily sweat on his forehead and above his upper lip. Daddy said close your eyes. She closed her eyes and saw Daddy as he was with his professor friends. It was the only time Daddy really talked. Mummy would serve her fragrant peppersoup with cold beer, and the men would drink and laugh and argue with big words. And sometimes they would play loud highlife music and sing along, their voices like thunder. It was the only time Daddy really laughed.
She felt Daddy’s hands on her thigh and her eyes flew open. Daddy said close your eyes in a voice that now sounded like his own. She closed her eyes. She didn’t want to be bad, but it was just natural the way her thighs clamped when Daddy tried to pull her panties down. Daddy said good girls don’t disobey their Daddies. She relaxed and Daddy took them off, her panties. Daddy said let’s see if you are really clean. It was that cooing sound again. Daddy parted her thighs and she pressed her eyelids firmly together. She heard Daddy’s breathing and she thought it odd that he sounded like her friend Aisha when her asthma attacks came. She felt Daddy’s hard fingers push and prod and pinch. She gritted her teeth because she wanted to tell Daddy to stop, but that would be bad. She didn’t know how long the inspection lasted before Daddy said open your eyes, my sweet. It was that cooing voice. Daddy said she was clean, but she must tell nobody, not even Mummy, about their inspection. Daddy said Mummy knew already.
It was something Daddy had to do, now she was a big girl. And she was a good girl too, so she would tell nobody. If she told anybody, something bad would happen. Daddy picked up her yellow dress, the one with the white lace, and Daddy held it out for her. She stepped in and Daddy fastened the button at the back. She turned and looked up at Daddy, searching his face for something she did not know. It was not good, this thing that she and Daddy just did; she didn’t know it, she just felt it. Aunty Kemjika, her class teacher, said Daddies and Mummies were always right. But now Daddy did something Mummy said nobody was allowed to do. Who then was wrong?
She should blame it on the yellow dress. She had always though it too pretty to wear, strange as that might have felt. It must have made Daddy see something, that dress. She would never wear it again, not even on her birthday. Maybe then, Daddy would never see her again.