I was a lovely baby. The unkus and aunties came around with everybody else to welcome me into the world. My parents stood proud as congratulations and prayers poured from all sides.
They passed me around when I celebrated my first birthday, with hugs and kisses; watched me while I learnt to walk, to run and to talk. A bundle of joy I was. They bought me gifts, played with me, threw me up in the air and bounced me on their knees. My life started out as an irony.
As I grew older my body changed. Father noticed and shouted at me to not play with boys again. Mother and the aunties told me to be careful. My brothers and I were stopped taking baths together. They warned me not to wear revealing clothes. They said I should close my legs while sitting. They said boys are tough and girls are fragile. They said I shouldn’t disgrace the family and I did not understand why I would do such a thing.
The unkus noticed too. Their hugs got tighter, their touch lingered and their smiles grew wider. And when one of them talked loudly about my small breast and bum-bum the rest laughed along.
They offered me gifts when my parents were not around, and followed me with their eyes as I played. I remember they grabbed their pee-pee a lot. I thought they needed to rub dusting powder to stop the itching down there like mother does for my siblings and I.
Everybody changed. The other day somebody accidentally hit my breast while we were playing. They were like two small udalas at the time. I complained that it hurt and all the other boys and the girls laughed. They said I should stop behaving like a baby. My breast and heart hurt together.
When my hips swayed left to right and my mounds swelled, I started bleeding between my legs. Mother said it was normal. The aunties said that I’ve finally become a woman. I did not feel womanly.
I felt embarrassed every time I bought sanitary pad the unku that ran the chemist. A lot of people were disgusted when I got stained in public. I dreaded leaving the house and most days I didn’t move because of the pain, even with the painkillers, I couldn’t find relief from the pain of my existence.
Some of the boys tried to hold my hands; rubbed against me in tight spaces. I said they should stop. But all they did was laugh. It was a joke. Some threatened to slap me if I did not shut up. They ogled my breast. Some of the girls liked to be touched. They said it was fun and tried to get me to join. They laughed at my reluctance. Mother Mary, na you holy pass they jeered.
I comprehended that they noticed the other girls too. I didn’t know until some of the girls dropped out of school and left their homes, not to feel special because of the attention I received. I didn’t fully understand how months later the others returned with babies squalling on their hips and received scorn. I wondered where the fathers of their babies were.
It stopped being a joke when the unkus pulled me and refused to let go. It was not funny when the clothes I wore didn’t stop them for leering at me. It was not enough that I didn’t stay out late at night.
They tried to convince me when I said no. Bought me more gifts and told me they loved me. They promised me heaven and earth, and whispered sweet nonsense in my ears. They still insulted me when I said no. Ashawo! Your shakara too much.
Now I am much older and normal to me is tolerating the irony of my existence. It is my lot to always look over my shoulders in isolated places. They said I should keep my legs closed. Did they perhaps tell my brothers the same thing? When they called me fragile, was it because the boys were not expected to cry or ask for help? They told me to be careful. Who told the unkus it was okay to wrest consent when none was given?
My body, their rules but still I’m held in contempt for what they choose to do with it. They say rape like it’s a dirty word but only the victims wear the shroud of shame. So, I’m hard pressed to look out for myself. Because in the end they’ll point their fingers at me for not protecting myself against them.
Photo credit: Rigozo
One thought on “Irony: The Reality of The Girl Child”