But this was not the first time. I had lost count. Not because my memory is failing – at times the mind affords us little and unexpected luxuries called forgetting.
I was in class six when it first happened.
My breasts were visible with stubborn nipples that could not be silenced by the school uniform. Though not big enough to fill a size A brassiere, they were round and firm like stunted guavas. My torso was swelling, soon I would put on a bra. The thought of other girls from our class being jealous of my little girls was enough nourishment for the soul. Hips were starting to ambitiously fill up, and the lower hind was competitively in the race.
In class six and I had perfected the art of amplifying the length of my neck; raised shoulders, chin up in the air – this posture exaggerated my features. I was a pumpkin seed planted in the fertile earth, I could only bloom.
Like my classmates, our class teacher Mr. Kunani was not blind. He saw me. He saw me sprouting. At times, I could see him see me. The blackness of his pupils always assumed a concentrated black whenever he summoned me during games time to teach me Song of Lawino. Music festivals were nigh, and Mr. Kunani said I required continuous practice in readiness for the Zonal competitions. I was marked for a solo performance – reciting the Song of Lawino. And practicing I practiced; Mr. Kunani was thorough.
Then it happened. Not everything but the beginning of the journey. It was raining. Members of the music club were rehearsing in the main hall. Some pupils were running around, already psychologically equipped to be whipped by their mothers for playing in the rain. Others were devising heinous plots against their classmates, plots that entailed sliding on mud and sprained ankles. The staff room was deserted. Mr. Kunani was leaning on his desk as I chewed through the poem; words sliding through my lips as if I was possessed. ‘Sit on my desk, you will get a better perspective,’ Mr. Kunani had said. My vocabulary was not rich enough for the word perspective but it sounded like something I needed.
His left hand is in my tunic uniform dress. The fingers are traveling the short distance between my knees and the meeting of my legs, up and down, cautiously, as if looking for embezzled public funds. The forefinger finds a refuge in the alcove of my thighs, it lingers there, talking to me in a strange language. A language that I ought to understand but I do not. The right hand is hovering on my chest like a full-body scanner at the airport’s checkpoint. Strong waves are breathing in my being. I am feeling things whose name I do not know.
Without a hint, the forefinger plunges into my flesh, I gasp but I do not scream. His attempts to direct the middle finger into my flesh fail. The forefinger is oscillating within me. I am light-headed but I do not want to close my eyes. As Mr. Kunani squeals, his right hand tightens on one of my breasts – I cannot remember which one. His body is a tremor. He then squeals. I am rigid with horror since Mr. Kunani seems to be convulsing, but he does not. He disengages from my body and says something under his breath.
‘You will be a sparkle during the Zonals, and the Districts level will not have enough of you. There is no match for you until, probably, provincials because you are beautiful and intelligent!’ Mr. Kunani mutters. In as much as I can feel a warm sticky liquid dribble on my inner thigh, Mr. Kunani’s words are even warmer. I am thirsty for the music festivals crown. As if sensing my predicament, he whips a white handkerchief and immerses it in between my legs. There are dark-red smudges on the handkerchief. I shudder.
‘You are now a big girl Anna,’ Mr. Kunani mutters. In the midst of attempting a smile, a weak ‘thank you Sir’ eludes my lips. ‘It is important that you do not tell anyone of our special bond. They will be jealous and might make us lose in the Zonals. Do you want us to lose in the Zonals?’ He went on. ‘No sir,’ I responded locking my eyes with Mr. Kunani. And I meant it. No weapon fashioned against my ambitions would deter me, not even the painful sensation.
Once home, I did as guided by my teacher; a bath, and washing of undergarments. My mother was none the wiser as this was my routine every evening.
Music festivals came and went. Drama season came and went. The desks in the staff room knew me, intimately. The engagement between Mr. Kunani’s forefinger and I escalated to inclusion of the middle finger. The need for a handkerchief after communion ceased. Class six. Class seven. Class eight.
It was shortly before the KCPE exams when I graduated. In October.
At times the memories are stifling, enslaving my body in my own body. At times I let tears flow and burrow my head in the pillow to block the voices. At times I loathe myself for the inability to pretend that the past was an artwork of the mind. At times an hour or two before dawn; when evil is retiring to bed and the sun is threatening to invade the earth, I lie in bed and my mind journeys to October.
He did not have a memorable face. You have seen his face on your butcher, Geometry teacher or the weatherman. His face resembles that of a person who asked for directions on a drizzly evening. Almost familiar. There is eternal stubble on his cheeks. At twenty-seven, everyone called him Junior. Not Doc, he was a doctor, but Junior. Junior was urbane and soft-spoken; pretentious habits forcefully acquired from interaction with books and airports. Even in the company of my mother, Junior never laughed, as if laughing was beneath him, something for the country people. But he was my uncle and my mother’s favorite young sibling.
Uncle arrived at the beginning of October, armed with a charm and a suitcase full of clothes. He arrived with short rains and the appetite to sharpen me for exams. And an appetite for many things.
That Monday had no signs of unpredictability. There were no signs that the sun would not rise. I had come home early after exam rehearsals; KCPE was scheduled for the following day. It was a relatively quiet drizzly afternoon but for Junior’s instrumental music. His sister, my mother, was still at the Health Centre where she worked as a resident nurse. A normal day. Nothing could go wrong.
When Junior’s lips landed on mine I was too dazed to move from the couch. The tip of his tongue found its way through my teeth, investigating my mouth for the meals I had taken that day. All of a sudden my mouth was a reservoir-collecting Junior’s saliva. He painted my face with his lips and teeth as he muttered foreign words. He gnawed my earlobes. Though Mr. Kunani had kissed me more than my mind could recollect, he had always been gentle; Junior was ravenous lightning. As he fumbled with his tracksuit and my dress, paralysis eluded my body and I knew I had to do something. My attempts at wriggling, however, bore no fruits as his strong arms contained me. It was only after he lifted his face that my guardian angel served Junior’s upper lip with my forehead. Junior’s guardian angel must have been more angelic than mine since it’s me who seemed in pain; he was chuckling.
The day dragged on. The minute hand of time was enjoying the prevailing status. I closed my eyes and willed myself to hide from reality but Junior would not let me. My resistance only made him more aggressive. My guardian angel returned and transmitted me to the quiet place that I usually went when Mr. Kunani’s fingers were inside me. After an eternity, I felt Junior lift himself up while at the same time cursing.
Like an echo from a faraway place I heard him repeatedly say ‘what have I done?’ I could not bring myself to open my eyes but I could tell he was sniffling. ‘Anna I am so sorry but you cannot tell your mother. I will make this right.’ Junior said faintly. His voice was cracking like someone who was on the verge of a breakdown. My abdomen was on intense fire that the thought of reporting my mother’s young brother had not registered in my mind.
I was horrified. Horrified more of Junior’s fear than his tour of my body. He will kill you if you do not assure him – a thought crossed my mind. ‘I will not,’ I whispered. In order to appear genuine, I added, ‘but I feel pain. I need to lie in bed.’
After cleansing me in a hot shower, he handed me pills and ensured that I had actually swallowed. The last thought when he tucked me in the bedsheets was whether we can tell who people are; the most fragile looking person can suddenly transition into a beast.
I did not dream of lions chasing me. I did not dream of failing KCPE. I did not dream of Junior’s throbbing manhood in me. I did not dream of the water he splashed and flashed between my legs. I did not dream of the discomfort in my waist. I did not dream of the hatred I had developed for my feminine body. I did not dream.
I was woken up by a shouting contest between a sister and his brother. I did not grasp everything but it sounded like they had been at it for a while.
‘I trusted you, how could you break me like that?’ My mother’s voice rose.
‘I gave her painkillers and the pill,’ Junior’s composed voice shot back.
‘She is thirteen Junior, thirteen!’ My mother shouted.
‘I am clean. I am a doctor,’ Junior said.
‘We should have reported you when you touched those girls years ago. We should have had you locked away. How many times Junior?’ My mother retorted.
And the voices dwindled away. I heard a car screech, it must have been Junior’s.
When my mother came to my room, she could not look me in the eye. She sat on the edge of the bed and started sobbing. ‘He has left. He will never hurt you again.’ She looked bereft. I wanted to reach out and hold her hand but I needed the holding more.
‘What did you do?’ My mother asked, suddenly. ‘Do not lie Anna. I am your mother.’ She continued. I did not respond since I had not understood the question. ‘We can never tell anyone of today. We can never.’ She mumbled as she was exiting the room, switching off the lights. I did not mind the darkness as the lights of my existence had already been put off.
I lay still in bed and counted the seconds until the death of the footsteps. That was when I went to my usual place under the bed and lay on the hard, cold floor. The stuffiness massaged my naked body as the cold sunk into my bones. One or two mosquitoes circled my earlobes as they sang dirges, donating malaria, and I let them. Nausea joined me too, but tears did not. Junior had traumatized me into an inability of crying yet it was mother dearest that had planted an unknown seed in me.
October slid by. Time slid by. Fast. Ashamed of October and its history.
Initial years in Ubunifu Girls Schools did not leave a mark. They were years of calm. They were years of finding my voice. I remember these years as one remembers when they outgrew crawling and started to walk. I remember these years as one remembers their father’s embraces. I do not. But for outstanding occurrences. Libraries. Class. Hostels. Dining Hall. Academic Prowess Prizes. As humans, we are programmed to remember poignancy and not happiness. Ubunifu Girls School is not a reminder of poignancy, well, at least not entirely.
By the time I was seventeen and sitting for my form-four exam, KCSE, I was still learning to forget. My mother’s October question was engraved in my thoughts like kitchen and women among our people. But because even on dark nights there are fireflies, I had the courage to romanticize about brighter days sprawled ahead. The universe must have been embarrassed by how its children had injured my will and as atonement, it kept evil at bay. Or so I thought.
A day before the Kiswahili exam was characterized by my classmates and I shuffling between the staff room, class, teachers’ quarters, and the library. Last minute revision is not advisable but it is not prohibited! Ms. Moga could be heard bellowing. And we would laugh in chorus, raucous laughter, not only to announce to the rest of the school that we were a few days to clearing basic education but also that we grasped her message. She meant that she was available to offer eleventh hour tutelage to students with quality gray matter between the ears. Being at the apex of Ms. Moga’s favorites’ for having a fit head filled me with fulfillment.
We revised. And revised. And revised. And Ms. Moga was an ever-present resource, she did not tire.
One of the passages in the Kiswahili exam centred on Gentrix; the seventh daughter in a family of nine. Or ten. Or eleven. No one knew the exact number as custom forbade counting of children. One counted problems; one counted the goose bumps on their thighs during a chilly weather, but not children. Children were blessings. She had a heart, wit, and a face. Still, her charm did not insulate her from being plucked when the gods came knocking. Upon arriving in the clean green coastal City beyond the skies, Gentrix was so devastated for being away from her family.
Agitated, she demanded an explanation from the gods. ‘My child, the scorpions in your lungs were stealing your beautiful person. Your family wanted you to rest!’ Said the gods.
‘I do not want to rest. How are they now? My people?’ Gentrix asked.
‘Look at them,’ the gods answered, beamingly.
Upon seeing her people, Gentrix was pleased. Although her family desired to hear her voice just one more time, they were at peace that she was in peace. Her face lit up, tempted to smile, as she headed for the beach.
My analysis of the passage had been almost wishful and blind. I had argued that Gentrix represented twists of life in terms of free will. That humans do not always possess the ability to choose between light and darkness, to choose how to be treated, to choose what happens to them. But they can try, not even succeed, to overcome the splotches that life leaves on their skins. Even so, other people might not be in a position to understand.
The Ubunifu Girls School Scar (as I later baptized the incident) was born on the last day of school. Following completion of the KCSE exam, my girls and I went around bidding farewell to teachers, the matron, and the teary Form ones. And it was a teary affair for almost all of us. The thought of parting with Ms. Moga milled me into fine ash; I had made a home for her in my heart. That is how the plan to take my last secondary school meal in her house, in the staff quarters, was born.
With our stomachs full, and KCSE fever behind us, we settled down to chess. Looking back, I am convinced Ms. Moga intentionally let me beat her. Not that my chess skills were not skills at all but the Ms. Moga I knew was way too competitive to lose.
‘Call me Linn, Ms. Moga is for students and you are not,’ she said, giggly. ‘Plus I am 26, you are 17, I am not a grandmother,’ Ms. Moga said and we laughed. She always had a way with words.
After the third alarm had wailed in my head, the veil fell. It is only then that we could see each other for who we really were. Linn Moga was a bird flying in the clouds, surveying the forest for a leafy branch to build a nest. I was the branch befitting her taste so she perched.
I knew it was happening when the chiffon blouse flew off her, exposing the shy yet noticeable piece of flesh around her navel. She bent quickly, either from the appetite to reach my body or to hide the prosperity around the umbilicus. Her dreary eyes had lost the sleeping aura, they were awake. Shouting. Shining. Sparkling. Hungry.
All of a sudden, I was that small October girl again, defenselessly lying on the couch with Junior pressed on my body. Too petrified to produce a sound. After all those years, I was in class six all over again as Mr. Kunani’s hands explored the fabric of my undergarments. Only that this time it was neither Mr. Kunani nor Junior, but Ms. Linn Moga, a teacher, twenty-six years under the sun, the darling of students, and the Kiswahili language maestro.
The tips of her nipples were chanting war songs, spitting bullets of light-cream droplets. A salvo of groans was gushing from the openings on her body; pores and others. Linn’s fingers found shelter at the inguinal crease; like a fibrous root, not so deep in the soil but in the soil all the same. Successive waves of warmth shot through my body when the tip of her tongue made contact with my womanhood. And at that moment, her phone had rung. And bellowed. She cursed. ‘I have to take this,’ she said.
‘It is the Principal,’ she whispered.
‘Can you stay over?’ She begged.
‘I will look for you,’ I said.
Days turned into weeks. Months rolled by. Years. I did not look for Linn. Linn did not look for me. At times I was not certain whether I was justified to baptize the episode as an Ubunifu Girls School Scar. Perhaps by Linn not looking for me, she had reduced me into ash, broken me. Many girls did it anyway. It was nothing really. It was a way of getting away.
At times I was convinced that there is a certain scent that attracts them, like a flower and a bee. People who want to own me always find me. I am a door left wide open at night, inviting creatures that find comfort in the cover of darkness. I do not invite them in but they find me, always. And when they leave I dread the questions that will ensue if I dare look in the mirror. What did you do? Why is it only you? Do not hide from yourself, this is who you are – a voice would say.
The Annual Regional Sexual Gender Based Violence Conference is underway. Survivors of violence are present. Human Rights Advocates. People. And a few politicians. I am not here as a survivor of SGBV but the guest speaker – I am someone with a recognizable name and face. Thirty-three years of age, a writing career, an oncology degree that I will never use, no marriage visions: there exist subtle nuances of satiability in my life. These people consider Anna a success.
I have never had an audience for my story; I did not know how. I will start today. No one in the audience knows, not even the organizers.
‘The first time was class six,’ I began.