It is a Tuesday morning on a normal sunny January. The house is still reeking of newness; new balloons, new clothes, new shoes, new phones, new books. Almost everything is new in my bedroom and the smell is beginning to choke me. I am just thirteen years old but my newly-acquired phone cannot stop ringing. People I know are calling. People I am hearing from for the first time are calling. People I have no idea who they are, are calling. It puzzles me because the callers are so diverse, in different places, but their conversations with me leave the same empty taste in my mouth. Their words in my ears are beginning to cause a headache. All their conversations are the same:
Them: We are so happy and proud to associate with you.
Me: Who is this?
Them: Yaani you don’t remember me? And the way you used to cry whenever I fed you when you were little. Anyway, congratulations.
Then I would sigh. They would go silent for a little bit, then finally say that they will be sending their kids over during the holidays. Why? Because they would also like their kids to score highly in their KCPE. They would hang up, but before I could lay my head to rest, another call would come through and the cycle would repeat. A cycle of me repeating my marks. 409/500. Maths? 75%. English? 85% Kiswahili? 97% Science? 75% Social Studies/CRE? 77%
The empty taste in my mouth after I finish saying these words is driving me insane. I wish people would stop calling, and let me cry in peace. Because I do not understand how I got a 75% in Maths. Me who the least I ever got while in school was a 96%. Me who would finish the exam after 30 minutes, and sit staring, wondering what the rest of the students were struggling with. Because I don’t understand how I got a 75% in Science. Surely. Conditions necessary for germination? A 75%? But it is the way people are. They do not care to ask us what we want/ wanted. They do not care for our dreams. They do not care for our visions. Neither do they pay attention to the fake smiles we keep dishing; they want only that which their heart wants.
It s 11 a.m. and my phone keeps ringing and ringing. I let it ring because I am all alone in the house, so no one is going to force me to answer it. I let it ring and ring because there is a sharp pain at my lower abdomen that is making me clutch, so hard, at my bedsheet. I am struggling to breathe, and my feet keep kicking back and forth. I am in so much pain that even my tears do not come out. The heat from the pain dries them out before they fall off my eyes. I try to think of what I might have eaten that could be causing the upset; nothing comes to mind. Amid the pain, I think of my mother and what she would say if I told her I am having a sudden stomach upset: Nilikuambia uongeleshe hao watu kwa simu vizuri. Ona sasa. Pengine kuna mtu amekuroga.
I want to laugh, but suddenly, nausea gets the better part of me so suddenly that I do not make it to the bathroom.; I spill it right at my bedroom’s floor. I curse loudly as the pain continues to chew at my abdomen, and I suddenly feel the urge to take a dump.
Up to date, I do not kNow how I managed the distance to the bathroom. I only remember pulling down my undies and voila, there was blood everywhere.
No. I did not scream. I did not cry. But I panicked so much the need to take a dump evaporated. The only words which kept ringing in my head were my matron’s back in boarding school; Once you start getting your periods, then you can get pregnant.
I remember ransacking my mother’s bedroom in search of sanitary towels, and with the little knowledge I gathered from school, managed to secure a pad on a clean undie, then went back to bed.
In my head, I kept thinking of Jackie. Jackie who used to sit behind me in class 7. Jackie who used to walk with her back bent so as to hide her growing breasts. Jackie who seemed so restless one day in class and when we went out to play during break, there was a patch of blood on her skirt. Jackie who, towards the end of the year, was sent to pack her belonging in the dormitory. Why? She was pregnant, and the school did not have ‘space’ for her. Jackie who walked away in shame as the rest of us stared at her, wondering how fast things had happened.
Up to date, I still wonder how I never linked the abdominal pains to the period. Why? Because I had never heard of period pains before. So I drank lots of water and hoped the diarrhoea would finally show up and take the pain away.
I still remember the shock on my mother’s face when she came back home and the first words I said were; I do not want to get pregnant. I do not want to leave school. I do not want to give birth. I do not want my blood to stain clothes and seats.
I remember her breaking into fits of laughter, and stopping suddenly upon realizing I was serious. It was not a tantrum I was throwing because I was tired of people calling to say congratulations. I was not being rebellious because I was still wallowing over my ‘failure’.
With love, I remember waking up the next day to packets of sanitary towels on top of my study table, painkillers, and bottles of water. Her words on that day still linger in my mind; You will not get pregnant just because you got your period. That is not how it works. You will only get pregnant if you have sex. And Ithink you are a big girl now; you know what you want and what you do not.And you know whether you want to have sex or not.
To date, whenever anyone asks what I scored in KCPE, I still get that empty taste in my mouth when I remember the unending calls, the gifts, my feeling of failure, and the pain and fear of getting pregnant. But the period has stuck in my mind because it was the closest my mum and I have ever gotten to talking about sex.