At first glance I look like a kid. Most people say I look like I have just ended puberty and begun my adolescence. I smile. In a way this is right. I’d say I have just come out of puberty and I am now a teenager spiritually, but I digress. That was just a first glance though, those that have the patience to look at me for a while, see it. Those that have the patience to hear me out, hear it.
My eyes are dirty. I’m an old woman trapped in a teenager’s body maybe, but I have learned to accept my body now. I love it- I think it is perfect. My face may be young but it does not take away from the life I have lived, the things I have done and the person I have become. It is very safe to say God has indeed blessed me.
I grew up in a very local neighborhood in Port Harcourt, tucked somewhere in Rumuomasi. My parents were starting life together and times were trying. My father worked as an engineer in a small local firm, while my mother struggled with raising a child, finishing up university and selling akara on the Uni Port campus- all this, while she was pregnant. I was their first child (still am) and their little light in the face-me-I-face-you compound we lived in.
Often times, my father would work all night and all day the next day, in the hopes of making enough money to pay off the rent, school fees, doctors’ bills and so on for all dependent relatives, including my mother and I. Yet he would still find time to play around with me when he got home. I don’t remember much of that time though, there are pictures however, and I look really happy in them.
When my little sister was born, I remember looking at her curiously. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I was in awe. Then she became this tiny bundle of energy; never afraid to express herself and everyone loved her for that. I felt a sense of proprietorship over her anywhere we went, but as the quieter more obedient and overly respectful child, I began to shrink more and more into the walls.
The louder and more energetic my sister was, the quieter and more timid I became. My father hated this. He had dealt with timidity as a child and still had to fight it sometimes as a grown man, so when he saw that trace in me- he loathed it, with all the hate one can muster up. Unfortunately, he was still unsure of how and where to channel that energy. So often times I would be the scape-goat. With every pain my body endured, my spirit diminished. I felt like nothing, a nobody- my definition of myself began to formulate itself in my mind. I was very certain that I was useless, worthless, no good at anything and created to be used. Not loved. Ofcourse, the lower my spirit got, the more timid I became, and it became a cycle that kept re-emphasizing my opinion of myself.
After my eighth birthday, a new family moved into the house next to ours. These were during the democratic struggles in Nigeria; my uncle was hiding out at our place for a while, until the military search for members of his group had dissolved. There were armed men everywhere on the streets, and people were scared to say anything. I remember an incident where a child started repeating his father’s thoughts on the military control, making sure to use all the expletive words his father had spouted off at home. Unfortunately, as this was happening in mile 1 at the market, and two military soldiers were standing nearby, the boy and his mother never made it home that day.
Amyway, back to the new family that moved into our compound. They had just lost their father to political injustice and the family was downsizing, so it was just the mother, her two daughters and three sons. None of the daughters were mine or my sister’s age, but they were old enough to baby sit, and they loved baby sitting, so my mother let them take us to their house sometimes.
I was an eight year old convinced I was useless; and the only people that loved me where my sister, my uncle and my best friend. Unlike all the other children around me who seemed to be loved by everyone. So when he took an interest in me, I was surprised and excited. He would invite me to play in his room and he would tickle me till I thought I would die. Then he would buy me and my sister ice cream. I really enjoyed being with him. Sometimes, I would go over to their place first thing in the morning and come back home really late just because of him.
One day, my mother took my sister out and left me with one of the daughters in the house, but he was at home too so I didn’t mind. It was just the three of us, and he told his younger sister to go out and do whatever she wanted, or I think that was what he told her, because I don’t know how else he would have made her leave the house. Then when we were alone he asked me to come play in his room and I followed him. He refused every game I wanted to play and said he would rather play a game where we sewed each other’s clothes instead.
“The way it works is” he explained “we take off our clothes and we pretend to sew them”
I didn’t know how that could be fun, but I obliged because I liked him. So I pulled my dress off, while he unbottoned his trousers. Something in me told me this was wrong, very wrong. So I turned away. He laughed and after a while, told me to turn around. I shook my head while looking away and said I wanted to go home.
Instead, he came and carried me from behind, kicking and screaming because I knew something was wrong and it scared me so much. I could feel in the air that something very bad was about to happen, so I struggled to be free. Instead, he clamped a hand over my mouth and dumped me on the bed. I shut my eyes when I saw he was naked, and when he climbed over me my mind went blank.
“Open your eyes” he said. I shook my head.
“I said, open your eyes” he slapped me.
I opened them, out of shock and because in that moment I was torn between respect and self-will. Respect won because I did not know I had any self-will in me, I usually did as I was told.
“Do you know what this is?” He asked me, wielding his manhood, a sardonic grin on his face. I didn’t answer, instead I looked away. His hand over my mouth got heavier as he pushed my face down. Tears began to trail down my eyes and into the mattress, when I felt a sharp pain in my body.
Silently, I endured it till it was over. It didn’t last long, and I passed out shortly after he pulled out. He must have put my clothes back on and taken me home under the pretense that I had fallen asleep. I can’t remember if I bled, but there was a throbbing pain in my body for almost a week, making it hard to pee. I knew I was hurt, I didn’t know how bad, and to what level. I just thought that I probably deserved it somehow and if I told my parents I would be flogged. I never went to play in his house again. My mother thought I was acting like a ‘big girl’.
That experience ignited something in me though and I started to view the world very differently. I now knew what women and men did in private and it made me curious. Knowing where to locate a male’s private part too, gave me an air of mild superiority I did not understand, a knowing that none of my peers had, and the world began to fall into a shade of red that lasted for a very long time with me.