© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
What can a mere woman do? The greatest thing you can ever do is stir up some stupid man. Perhaps, that’s even what you want to do…get an unknowing man to marry you.
Shaking off Asuquo’s words that chased and haunted her, even into her dreams, Eno scrutinized herself in the mirror. Her reflection told her what she already knew; what she had told herself times without number.
She would never marry.
And it wasn’t just because of her homely features. She had no ovaries, couldn’t bear children, and what man would have her?
Her father’s words came to her again, the way Asuquo’s did. What use is a woman who is a man? Eno, no man is ever going to marry you. This is Africa, and a woman is only to be tolerated if she can produce heirs.
Leaving the mirror, she began to ponder her next move.
You are only a woman.
She picked up a piece of paper and a pen and sat down to write.
What can a mere woman do?
She needed to concentrate, block out the taunting voices. She could do something. It might not be great, but it was something nevertheless.
No man is ever going to marry you.
Pushing the writing materials away, she stood and began to pace. Maybe she couldn’t do anything. Perhaps she should accept her fate and settle into life.
Then, the four-year-old girl’s panic-stricken face pulled her heart into a vise.
“Shh. It’s going to be over very soon.”
“I’m scared. Tell her to go away, mommee. Tell her…”
But the mother had said nothing. She’d pulled her face into a grimace and held her daughter’s upper torso as the old midwife and the blunt knife began their work in that hidden part of her.
“Mommee…help me…mommee….” the little girl screamed, weeping not only for the loss of her clitoris but much more for death of a daughter’s affection for her mother, something she would never ever regain.
Eno picked up the paper again. For that young girl, she needed to do something. For all the other young girls being butchered in the name of female circumcision, she needed to do something.
What can you do?
She stopped in her tracks, and found out that two glistening rivers lined her face. Did the past still have enough venom to make her cry? Wiping her tears, she continued to pace, the past swimming incoherently before her face.
She will always walk with a permanent limp. The damage is too great and we have salvaged all we can. The doctors had told her parents when she was five and a half.
The reason why you don’t menstruate is because you don’t produce eggs. I’m sorry Eno, but you can’t ever hope to have a child. Your reproductive organs are too scarred. Her own gynecologist had told her three years ago.
Weeping in earnest now, she flung the paper and pen she held into a far corner of the room. Why did she think she could make the life of other female children better when hers was ruined?
But then, didn’t she owe it to that four-year-old who was now a scarred woman to save others?
As young as she’d been, that day had irrevocably soured her relationship with her parents, particularly her mother. She never looked her in the eyes anymore, never sat close to her again. What kind of mother watched her child ache and didn’t stop it? Her father did try to explain later. They’d circumcised her so that she wouldn’t be promiscuous in her later life, he’d said. But was the loss of her womanhood comparable? Was it a fair enough price?
“Lord, help me. I need to get this story to others. Only then, only then will I believe my life has not been in vain.”
Still weeping, she retrieved her writing materials and made for the desk.
What can a mere woman do?
Biting at the invading thought, she began to write chapter ten of her book.
This story is dedicated to all victims of female genital cutting in Africa and Asia.