On Monday, we were introduced to Portraits (Read it HERE).
Today, we have Ameli’s story, the first instalment in the series.
A M E L I
Do want to know what my biggest problem is?
I woke up this morning and all I could think of was how much freedom I take for granted.
I can see you rolling your eyes and hissing. What does she mean ‘Freedom’. In this same Nigeria where your father can beat you half to death and all everyone will say is ‘sorry’ and help you boil water to press down the welts and swellings? This same Nigeria where your parents decide what you do and who you become?
Yes, this same Nigeria.
This is the same Nigeria where I bought my first cigarette at twelve. I just walked to the aboki’s store down the street, gave him twenty naira and took a cigarette. He didn’t even ask who it was for. I buy about forty cigarettes a day from the aboki now, so he knows it’s for me. And still, he sells them. It might seem a small thing, but with everything I have to go through in my house, being able to buy my cigarettes and smoke them in peace is the definition of freedom.
It’s hard being a girl in this country.
It’s worse when you’re a teenager.
There’s one hundred and twenty four thousand naira hidden among my things in my box. I bought a padlock for it on Monday. That was four days ago. My mother asked why I was returning the beautiful Echolacc box she gave me and taking back my old metal box from secondary school with the back hinges welded to the aluminium so it can’t be pried open by thieves, and I told her, I was tired of my younger brothers using my brassieres as catapults when I go out. That was a lie, obviously. The metal box has a bigger latch and my padlock ensures no one will be checking through my things without my permission. I honestly don’t mind my brothers using my brassieres as toys. My breasts are the size of tangerines but my mother buys bras for girls with C cup breasts. Whenever she brings a new set, I laugh and bury them at the bottom of my box along with all the other things she buys using the eyes of the daughter she expected I would become at 16, all breasts and buttocks and obsessed with housework.
I don’t know what happened to me between my first cigarette and now. I guess I’m compensating for not having breasts.
That’s another thing about Freedom in Nigeria. I’m walking down the street with a packet of cigarettes in my hand to a black Mercedes V-boot 230 with tinted windows. I glance left and right before I open the door and get inside. I lean in and kiss the driver on the cheek. He has a full beard and is easily twice my size, and I have no breasts and look like I’m twelve. Anywhere else, I would be in a juvenile detention centre talking to a therapist and he would be in jail, for ‘seducing’ a minor. That would have happened because some woman would have called the police as she watched us from behind her window, too afraid to leave her house and come humiliate me instead. Here everyone just looks at us and shrugs, thinking ‘I pity for this one mama.’
He drives off, we make small talk. Or if I’m completely honest, he asks me questions, annoying irrelevant questions like ‘How is your mother?’ and ‘hope you didn’t play too much today?’ Some I answer, others I pretend not to hear. We get to the guest house we’re using today; the receptionist is at most two years older than me. She smiles at us as they negotiate, her eyes seeming to twinkle with excitement at the gossip she’ll have to share when she changes shift with the next reception. She probably sees nothing criminally wrong with how publicly I’m being paraded. Its extra-salacious to her, I’m sure, as I can tell that she’s noticed he’s wearing his wedding ring today. I don’t relax till we pass her, still smiling and enter our room, I keep expecting her to call a gaggle of married women to come strip me naked and clap in my face, screaming ‘Ashawo!’ or ‘Husband snatcher!’
He doesn’t really relax until we have sex. The sex is uninteresting. I would stay faithful to him if it wasn’t so. But it is, and as his thighs slap against mine (he doesn’t like anything other than the missionary) I’m think of Chidi and how that one likes me upright so he can hold my waist while we do it. This one doesn’t last long either, and in 5 minutes he’s panting beside me. Its then he really starts to ask questions, the questions even I want answers to. Like why I still sleep with him even though I’ve told him many times that I don’t like men who have pot bellies. Or why I despise my mother so much. He gives me another ten thousand naira in a blue bank cellophane bag and asks if I want a lift home, or I want a taxi.
The baba taxi driver plays Fuji music in the front and I whisper the answers to the questions he asked to myself. Mother is fine.
I didn’t play too much today. I never play. There is the kitchen to be cleaned, after I cook the day’s meals, and my brother’s clothes to wash, along with my father’s before doing it all over again in the afternoon and at night. So no, I don’t play.
I sleep with him even though he has a pot belly because I don’t have breasts or buttocks, and while he can lose weight, making my breasts or buttocks grow is something completely out of my control, I’m not the only almost sixteen year old who would sleep with him for the benefits he gives. He doesn’t kiss me, so my face isn’t really a part of the bargain. He is being swindled. Voluntarily, yes, but still…
I don’t like my mother, because I don’t want to become her. I don’t want to have a sixteen year old and somehow be pregnant with another child. I don’t want to teach so I can have time to raise children because it’s what women do. I don’t want to lose my identity, become Mama Amie- I don’t want to live a life where for weeks on end, no one calls me by my own damn name.
And then, I whisper the questions I want to ask.
Does your wife complain about your potbelly when you lie on top of her?
Why are you with me when she obviously has bigger breasts than me?
Do you even like me?
Photo courtesy of Logor of Africa
Portraits will return on Friday with the next story in the series. Do subscribe and don’t forget to tell your friends to do the same.