I grew up recently. I remember the day it happened; it was the kind of day my ten year old self loved. It had just rained when daddy took me and my siblings to our farm; we rushed to the farm’s store and took out head pans. My brother, my little sister and I placed each of our head pans at the top of a slope, sat in it and after the count of three, we yelled ‘bugs away’, propelled ourselves down the muddy slide and crashed into the banana trees while screaming through the ride. The three of us did that until there was more mud than skin on us. My older sister wouldn’t join us no matter how we persuaded and exaggerated how much fun she’d have if she would give it a try at least once. She just wouldn’t; how could she? She was one of them now- the big girls. I had no idea why those ‘big girls’ hated mud or fun so much but it irked me.
The only thing sweeter than the mud slide was the smell. The smell of the parched earth hydrating itself with nature’s juices, the smell of fresh water washing of the scars left on the leaves of trees by the harmattan, the smell of fresh water kissing dry cow dung, the smell that signalled new beginnings: ethereal. That day we harvested lots of cassava and yam and returned home. On our way home, daddy bought garden egg and osogi. Back then, I enjoyed osogi more than I should have because it was the closest substitute of chocolate; to my tongue it was peppery peanut butter, but to my heart, it was chocolate and happiness.
The moment we got home, something changed. The sweet rain smell left, I felt dirty and osogi tasted like osogi. The pain started. I’ll describe it, but I’ll do so using simple words not because the feeling wasn’t deleterious or pernicious, but because using extravagant words like those would still be an understatement. It was as though someone was ripping – not cutting – my guts and that ripping sound kept ringing in my head; my hip bones were stiff and the region below my navel felt like it was undergoing acupuncture with the needles in all the wrong places. I felt so restless, tossing and turning on the cold ground yet so sleepy at the same time. Although dehydrated, I felt the constant urge to pee. My mother in her amateur medical wisdom declared that it was because I had had too much osogi and I believed her.
The pain lasted till the next day only ceasing at intervals. I would have ruled out the osogi theory if I had avoided it and the pain persisted but my long-throat didn’t allow me abstain. I went on thinking osogi had ruined my life until that morning. Still in pain, I went to the bathroom to pee; I pulled down my underwear and sat on the toilet. My eyes strolled to my undies and what I saw myriad emotions through my head. The silence which lasted for some seconds was only broken by the sound of urine hitting the toilet’s water. I spontaneously murmured, “No, no, no, no.” I got up from the toilet seat and sat on the torn plastic rug covering the bathroom floor with my bare buttocks. Like a nosy woman peeping at her neighbour’s window, I peeped between my legs, the sight of thick blood trickling down my inner thigh made me gasp. I touched the blood with my index finger; it didn’t have the same consistency of the normal blood from a cut. I brought it near my nose, I can’t remember how it smelled but I remember I didn’t like the smell. I leaned my head backward and prayed that it was just a cut on my thigh. I took my right middle finger and brushed it against my vagina, I stared at my finger, took a deep breathe, closed my eyes and leaned backward on the wall. After a few seconds, I stuck my hand between my legs again, and again, and then again. I had to be sure. The image played in my head like a glitched video. Thick, crimson, sticky, new. I didn’t even have an idea of what a sanitary pad looked like, to ‘children’ like me, it was the forbidden fruit.
It hurt; not the bleeding, the thought. The thought that I was recovering from my childhood, the thought that I would now have to pretend that I don’t like bathing outside naked with water from a hose, that I don’t like to eat noodles with my bare hands, that I don’t like to sing and dance along with the barney songs on TV, that I don’t like to poop and call for my mother to wipe my buttocks. I have to pretend because, isn’t that what big girls do, pretend they’re not children?
I wore back the bloody undies, went to the kitchen where my mom was and announced: “I have started menstruating.” Mother held my hands and called for my father to break the news. I was lost in the noise, the only line I picked was: “she’s a big girl now.” I’m a big girl now, I thought, well, there goes my happiness.
“I am not a little child anymore”; those are the words I repeat to myself every time it is raining and I have the crippling urge to run outside in my birthday suit and get wet; those are the words I whisper to myself when I’m fiercely contemplating if I really need to wear a bra underneath my shirt; those are the words I calm myself with whenever I feel that a member of the opposite sex is a pervert for making sexual comments about my body; those are the words my mother would throw at me after chiding me to ‘sit like a woman.’
I like to consider these to be on the bright side: I no longer get teased about the manly way I walk- now I am a little ladylike in my glide, I don’t get teased about my board-like buttocks, now I have developed a hatred for the colour pink and all things bright and pop music, now I relish the mysterious beauty of black and the soulful sting of Lana Del Ray. I used to want big, full breasts; I’d stand in front of the mirror and tell my immobile breast, “don’t worry, you’ll grow someday.” Now I wish they’d stop getting bigger. The bigger they are, the more attention I’d be drawing to myself; I really don’t want to be known or remembered for the size of my bossom; I fear that.
A childish soul trapped in a woman’s body, I don’t feel safe. Since the day I grew up, the world no longer excites. Everything and everyone’s just bland. When I stand in front of a mirror, I don’t talk to my breast anymore; now I peer into my reflection and I see traces of the happy person, the hopeless optimist I was lingering in the creases beside my eyes. I see a person who might, under the duress of the moon’s lonesome beauty, question existence. I see a person whose mind might one day take a stroll and never return.
Lydia Durunguma is a writer who’d love to live in a noise-repelling bubble filled with books and red wine.