April 21st 2001
I am a ten-year-old, seated at one of the corners inside my grandmother’s granary, sacks filled with maize threatening to crash down at me. Breathing in the dust in this hole reminds me of home, a home I have failed to understand until now. A home so hostile I had to seek refuge here. There are small ants slowly gathering at my bare feet, each wanting a bite of my soft foot. Am I scared? I do not know? I am hurt? That, I am used to.
It is the second day since I discovered this safe space. The second day since I have known how to dwell in quiet, even in the midst of all the things designed to shrink my whole body into a fist.
Things like hunger. Midnight cries. Sugarless porridge. Sunset at dawn. Sunrise at dusk. Trouble in the form of human beings; human beings in the name of my cousin who has found his new home in my body.
He pinches where it hurts the most. The inner thighs. Behind the ears. Inside the palms. The belly. The cheeks. He knocks my ankles so hard with anything within his reach. And when I am worn out from all the crying and fighting back, he pushes himself into me.
The first time, it hurt. It hurt so bad I wailed throughout as he kept pounding into me. I did not know what it was he was doing, but the moment I saw the blood, I knew it was something I couldn’t bring up with anyone. I cried so hard I lost my voice for the next couple of days. I cried so hard my grandmother said I would hurt my insides.
Did he stop? No. He told me I was a woman, and no longer a little girl. He said a lot of things I can barely remember all of them. But what stood out for me was the wild look in his eyes any time he did whatever he was doing.
His eyes boiled with something close to rage, occasionally rolling them so that all I could see were his whites. They burned my skin just by staring, and I found myself begging him, for my sake, to let me cover my eyes with his shirt.
I was his prisoner. My body was his to use as he pleased. My skin was his to touch, or hurt as he felt. My mind was his to hurt as he wished. My childhood spirit was his to crush in his palms as hard as he wished.
I remember the pain in my lower body that evening when my grandmother washed my body as usual. I remember the drop of her jaw as she lifted one of my legs so as to get a better view of whatever was happening. I remember the silence in her words when she finally said:
“I asked you to stay away from boys, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you did.”
“Now, who did this to you?”
I stammered, trying to speak out, but at the same time, my cousin’s warning still clear in my head.
“If you talk to anyone about this, then pieces of whatever will be left of you once I am finally done with you, will be found scattered somewhere in the wild.”
It was the first time my grandmother ever hit me. She hit me for not willing to say whoever had done whatever they had done to me. Then hit me harder when I finally mentioned my cousin’s name.
“We do not do that here. You understand? Now, if I hear about this from anyone else, you will have to find another home.”
I know my grandmother didn’t say anything to my cousin because the day after, he came to me with the same strength he usually did. He tied my hand, separated my legs, tied them to the nearby bed, and did whatever he did with me. And when he was done, his father came into the room and pushed himself into me.
I do not remember which hurt more; the hurt from the penetration from the people I considered family, or the silence of my grandmother which caused more harm than good.
That night, I crawled under the bed and wished the universe would, for the first time, listen to me and bring my mother back to life. I wished I had wings, so I could fly to a place where I could hang my head in shame, and no one would bother to ask me why.
It hurts that ten years from now, maybe, I will look back at these days and wish that I did more. Ten years from now, I will look at my body and be ashamed of the very things that I should be proud of. That ten years from now, someone will ask me what life is, and I will not have anything to say. Why? Because I will be an empty body, dry canvas, walking on the face of the earth.
It hurts that someday, I will talk to someone about this, and they will shake their heads in disbelief and perhaps say, “No, that is not true. You must have done something that provoked him.”
It hurts that ten years from now, I might not be here.
(In loving memory of Maribel. You didn’t make it 20, but I am glad you are safe wherever you are.)