Tonight, your mother will draw you into the house by the ear. You will wince in pain as you struggle to set yourself free from her grip but her grip will be too strong. Her hands had seen grief and struggles and have moulded words into daily bread so they’ve become so strong, so hard they rarely set a thing free without leaving markings. You will imagine your ear detach from your head, and blood spilling down your face and her hands to the floor so you try to suck in all the pain her tight grip induces.
“How many times will I warn you to stop hanging around those bad boys? Eh! Those boys are bad omens, Iferika. They are not your type! Why do you keep disobeying me you this child?”
You will watch her mouth move and her hands making gestures; one on her waist, standing akimbo, the other pulling her ear to lay emphasis on her words. But you do not hear a word she is saying. You are still wincing in pain. You will caress your face and feel the weight of her palm indentured into your tender face. Your eyes see stars and there is a whirring sound in your head. Several times, she’d warned you to stop seeing the boys at the Buka. They weren’t good boys. They smoked wee-wee and stole from the kiosks of market women. “Shameless lots” she calls them, those boys. You know all this, but you hang around them, still.
You do not do all these bad things with them. Your mother tries to make you see reasons but you don’t find any in her words. She says girls are not meant to behave in the manner those boys do. But you will tell her that you are not a girl. She will stare with askance into your face and tell you that you are gradually losing your sanity.
Tomorrow, she will ask you to sit with herself and Mmirimma, your younger sister in the kitchen to prepare nsala for your father but you will argue with her and tell her that “boys don’t cook!” and she will chase you around the hut clutching tightly to her loosened wrapper with a ladle in her right hand, pointing at you as you dash towards the gate, out of the compound. You will turn around and stick out your tongue to her face, holding the lower of your eyes to reveal bulgy eyeballs. This is how you learnt to express your victory, freedom; with mockery to your captor.
And you will go, as usual, to meet the boys at the Buka. And you will have a first taste of wee-wee. You will choke after the first drag, and they will laugh at you and call you JJC. You will feel ashamed and enraged at the same time. And you will snatch the rolled paper with bright yellow flame from Nnam’s hand and shove the lighted end into his ear; a consequence of his laughing too much. You will watch him scream, and scamper around in pain. And you will run away. The boys, they will be too busy rescuing Nnam that they’d forget to give you a hot chase. Away from the boys, you will sit under an Oji tree to catch your breath. You will feel your heart burn, like the smoke has ignited a burning flame in it. You will cough roughly till your eyes turn red and you will begin to cry.
At home, it is a dark night. Your mother will not wait for you to return. You will sneak into the house to see that she’s already deep in sleep and your sister hugging her tightly. You will spread a mat on the floor and cry yourself to sleep.
“Girls are fragile, beautiful creatures. They are meant to be well groomed so when they get to a man’s home, they will be good wives to their husbands and good mothers to their children. If you keep behaving this way, Ife, I’m afraid, no man will ever take you in as his wife.”
One morning, you will wake up before dawn not feeling too well. Queasiness will be a noun too complex to describe how you feel. You will feel a slight, strange pain in your tummy accompanied with an uncomfortable, sticky warmth between your thighs. You will lift the sleeping sheet and retch as the sickening, coppery scent of blood fills your nostrils. Confused, you will close your eyes and reach down to run your fingers between your inner thighs. You will express sheer surprise at the sight of your fingers as they come out wet and red. You will not let your mother know so you will take the sheets to the backyard, alongside the refuse and burn them in the hollow pit.
You will go out in the morning and return, changed. Your mother will tell you to go back into the house and cover your body very, very well before leaving. You will disobey her. And argue with her how you need to let fresh air into your body. She will not know what to say to you, she has grown tired of your reluctance. You will leave the house to the Buka where these boys now drink and puff smoke into the air and you will join them. This time, you will no longer choke. You join in laughing at the boy who chokes and falls off his chair coughing. In the evening, a boy will hold your hands and you will walk with him through dark paths leading home. You are not with your senses anymore. He will slide an arm over your neck and let it hang loosely down your chest. He will slip a finger through the sleeveless blouse you are wearing and his finger will draw circles around your bare chest. You will chuckle. He will retrieve his hand from your neck and you will both stop short as he presses your back hard to a tree. It is a dark, lonely path so he will slowly lift the hem of your blouse and slide his hand upwards to cup your tiny, perky breasts. You will moan softly as his lips moves to brush across your nipples. You will throw your head back and your feet will ache, you will feel aloof. He will tighten your hands in one hand and raise them above your head. The other will wander beneath your thighs. There are no barriers, no underpants. You love to feel fresh air breeze past that nether area when you sit with your legs spread. He will slide two fingers upwards and caress your tightness. A surge runs through your body. This will be the first time you’re ever feeling this way, the first time you notice there actually is a tightness between your legs. He will try to force a finger in, and you will whimper. Slowly, your senses will return to you, your head will become cleared and you will come to a certain kind of realization. You will struggle to get him let you go, but he will hold tight. He will pull down his shorts. And his pants. You will feel feel his hardness rubbing across your tightness, and you will yell and plead with him to stop! He will ask you to keep calm and try to force himself into your body. You will struggle, you will kick him, even. But he will push you to the ground and pin your hands above your head. You will resist but he is a man. And he has more power than you do. But you, too, are not a girl, and you are not weaker. So you will kick him harder, but his strength doubles as he pushes his hardness into you. You will buck your hips in resistance and fear will well up in your insides, alongside anger. You will shut your eyes and let your tears flow. You do not want to absorb this kind of pain. It is worse than your mother’s tight grip on your right ear. You will not relent. He will slap your face and you will bite his arm, deep, so deep you will taste his blood on your tongue. He will let go of your hands and you will kick his towering weight off your body and run. You will not stop running even when you reach home and your mother runs out of the hut with a hand lamp and holds you still. You will hug her tight and let your tears moisten her chocolate skin. She will take your half-naked body into the house, lock the door, hang the lamp on the windowsill and she will hold your head still to her chest, and will pat your back.
“I tried to warn you, but you wouldn’t listen. Those boys are bad omen. They’re poisonous!”
Then you will know. You will understand everything your mother used to tell you. Girls, she always says, are fragile, beautiful creatures. You were one push away from being broken; one force away from losing your beauty. Then, you will truly understand. And from that night, you will see light through your mother’s words. A certain kind of light that teaches you to see men as predators, wild untamed beasts. A kind of light that ignites an awareness in your bones that your body is a zoo where these animals must learn to become tamed. A light that teaches you that fragile things, too,when broken can be mended.
But tonight, tonight you’re still cupping your ear, furrowing your brows as you tell your mother that you’re not a girl, that you do not want to be a girl. She will call you ‘anuohia‘ and whip you with her flip-flops while clutching to her wrapper.