ODYSSEY – 0
The home in which I grew up was a happy one. Five siblings, strict and loving parents. We were not rich then; my dad was a lecturer and my mom taught in a secondary school but they did the best they could for their six children. We went to the best schools and what we lacked in possessions my mom more than made up for in stories and kisses. The point I am trying to make is that I had a good childhood, I was not maltreated or anything. My parents openly declared their love for each other and although I saw them fight time and time again, I also saw my proud mother kneel and apologize when she was at fault and I saw my dad rub my mother’s back and pinch her cheeks till she smiled; that was his way of apologizing I guess. My home was balanced, my parents weren’t scary. My mom especially was and still is very approachable. Why I chose to keep secrets even as a child I cannot explain.
I was not a child for long. I realized early on in life that not all smiles were genuine. I met my dark side very early. I was the timid child. I would spend minutes behind doors crying when I was told to go and greet the guests in the parlor. Give me a book and I was happy, I did not see the point in relating with anybody that was not my immediate family. I did not want to be seen or heard. So whenever Uncle Emma came to visit and he lined up my sisters and I and told us to dance for him, you can imagine the buckets of tears I cried. Thinking back, I think that was why he picked me, I was the least sharp and he somehow sensed I would be too scared to tell. Or maybe there was something I did that made him see that I would be the one most likely to hide advances.
In 1997, I was seven and my fourth sister (let’s call her Anita) was about six months then. She was such a troublesome child, all she did was cry. Even then I had a way with kids; I pick up a crying child and dance a little and the child goes to sleep. Babies don’t cry in my arms. I somehow knew how to get Anita to stop crying so I understand why my mother always felt more at peace leaving her at home with me whenever she had to dash to the market. Besides I was too fragile, my immediate younger sister was more useful to her in the market. I don’t know if I have forgiven her for never taking me to the market with her. Every time she had to go to the market, I cried and cried and ran after her blue Volkswagen beetle till I lost sight of it. Then I walked back to my house knowing what was waiting for me. Could she not have sat me down one day and asked why I cried so hard? Why I so badly wanted to go to the market? Maybe then I would have explained that I did not give a damn about where we went, I just could not be in the house with him alone. She thought I was being jealous because my younger sister got to go and I did not.
Uncle Emma was my mom’s step brother. He was studying to be a lawyer then and my mom was putting him through school. He was in my house a lot. In as much as I loved ice cream, nobody understood why I always rejected the Jamil yoghurt he was fond of buying for my siblings and I. Or the biscuits. I knew what awaited me the minute he got me alone. I remember the first time clearly, this brain of mine never forgets. I had just rocked my sister to sleep; I placed her on my mom’s bed and lay down by her side. I was drifting in and out of sleep when I heard my name. I stood up from the bed and went to meet my uncle. He asked what I was doing and I told him I was about to sleep. He said I did not have to sleep beside Anita, that I was spoiling her and she had to learn early to sleep alone. You are not to argue with your elders so I obeyed and went to lie down in the parlor. After about ten minutes he came to sit on the sofa I lay on, he lifted my head and put it on his laps. I knew then that something was wrong. My seven-year old mind knew it was not right. I lay still, maybe I stopped breathing. He reached inside my shirt and rubbed my back. I closed my eyes and shouted for my mother in my head, I prayed that somehow she would feel me or hear me and rush home. For the first time since she was born, Anita slept for two hours without making a sound. I lay down there, my head held in place by one hand, the other hand rubbing my back rhythmically for the longest two hours of my life.
I could feel it; the hardness beneath my head. As he rubbed my back, he made these sounds and pressed my head harder to the hardness. When I squirmed and tried to shake free, he held me in place more firmly. The sounds he made intensified, like he was gasping for breath, then I felt wetness beneath my left ear. His hand on my back stopped moving. After about two minutes he lifted my head off his lap and stood from the chair. He walked away without looking back. It was four pm.
That was just the beginning. It progressed. It was like my silence urged him to do more. I remember him telling me to say I liked it. He would make me say it over and over again. “Uncle, I like it”. I wanted to tell, I practiced how I was going to say it, I wrote countless of letters to my mother. Then I tore them. If I told, he was going to tell them that I enjoyed it then everybody would see how dirty and evil I really was. I just wanted it to stop. I prayed every night, I cried. I prayed to God, when it became clear that God had not answered me then I prayed to Jesus, then to the Holy Spirit, then to Mary. I ran out of options so I started praying to Angel Gabriel, asking him to help me beg God to help me. Help did not come and I was too scared and insipid to help myself.
Rubbing my back progressed to pinching my nipples. I was as flat as a dining table, so I still wonder what he was pinching. From there he graduated to massaging the mound between my legs, then one day his finger went in. this went on for two years. The closest I came to telling was writing “Help me” on the walls of my primary school toilet. I wrote it on the wall every day for two years, every single day.
When I was nine, my mom got a house help (let’s call her Maggi). Maggi was bad in many ways, lazy and what not but in a way she was my super hero. I followed her everywhere. The only time we weren’t together was when I was in school. Heck, when she bathed I cried till she left the door slightly ajar so I could see her and we could talk as she bathed. My uncle hated her. With time I confided in her, told her how Uncle Emma touched me and I did not like it. Maggi told my mom, even after I had expressly told her not to. She did the right thing; she did what I had been too chicken to do for two years. I cannot explain the sense of betrayal I felt and still feel. She had promised not to tell. Things had changed, primary school had ended and I was going to the boarding house the next month; I had this perfect plan in my head that took me away from my uncle forever. The fact my family now knew my dirty little secret made me feel all the more dirty. My mother’s tears and the confusion in her eyes as she asked me “Are you scared of me? I thought we were friends why did you not tell me?” made my head drop closer to my chest. The shouting, anger, tears and then the quiet filled with grief that followed. My parents never looked at me the same after. My sisters never looked at me the same. Maybe it is my overly vivid imagination but I could have sworn the space on the bed between my younger sister and I got wider.
The next day my mother called me to her room. She told me to lie on the bed and pull down my skirt. I knew what was coming next. I do not know what made me cry, the impact the cane had on my bare bum or the fact that my mom cried harder with every stroke of the cane or my confusion. After ten lashes she told me to stand up and go. I looked at her and I asked “Mommy why?” She said “You have to know that what you did was wrong.”
I did not need her to flog me to know what I did was wrong. I knew that already.