The first lesson you learn in the school of beauty is how to run. From the hungry gazes of the boys at the shop down the street. From grasping fingers of market men, tactile homage as they pay you lewd compliments. From the pudgy grasps of your father’s friends as they comment on how much you have grown when your father leaves the room.
Everyone wants too much of you, like your beauty will somehow brighten the ugliness in their lives. And with each caressing tug and surreptitious grope, as you served garden egg and ose oji, you feel less of yourself.
‘Nne, just thank God it wasn’t you. Time will heal her. It heals all things.’
The blood drummed in my ears. If only she knew I saw my suffering mirrored in that girl’s blank eyes. If only she knew that not so long ago, I was roughly expelled from my own body and watched as another took it and made it theirs.
I know how it feels to have your body invaded, to have this thing come into you and destroy every stronghold you once called yours. To have will be pried out of your hands, your body pinned to the cold tiles, and your refusals muffled with callused palms, pummelled out of you. I know what it feels like to have tears running into your hairline as this person takes pleasure from your suffering. His caressing fingers, a thousand millipedes creeping down your back as he breathed in your scent. How your breasts, crushed to the cold floor, were nodes of pain. How your limbs flailed as you tried to extricate yourself; how his body was the full weight of judgment pushing you deeper into the unforgiving floor, intoxicated from your helplessness. How the whole house echoed with chafing thrusts and muffled cries. How you were forced to drink continuously from this cup despite praying for it to pass away. Sated, he pulled out, and the cold emptiness you felt from the beginning of this abhorrent act yawns and consumes you. He zipped his trousers with fidgety hands and muttered a dazed ‘I’m sorry’, like a child after breaking his mother’s prized ceramic. His trousers were a crumpled midnight blue. You remember because you ironed them that morning.
Blue, midnight blue, came to signify trauma for you.
Trauma is something I understand personally. I feel it each time a man calls me beautiful or when a friend reveals the well-kept secret that is his love. It is in the way I flinch at sudden touches, at sudden glances and catcalls. In the way, the breath catches in my throat and strangles me each time Chibuzo kisses me. It’s in the way I run at the slightest spark of passion in any man’s eyes or wake up, sweaty and breathless, telling myself it’s not happening again, that it is just a dream
He had a daughter now. You could see the adoring happiness in his wife’s eyes; how, for his daughter, the sun rose and set with him. He held his daughter in that protective way fathers do; a hold that seemed to say, ‘I will protect you from all of life’s evils.’ Evils he introduced into my life. I tasted vinegar, bit it back. Since that day, I have become good at biting things back—feelings, thoughts, and words of affection.
He was one of those uncles you don’t really understand how you were related to; the brother of an uncle’s son’s cousin’s relative.
He touched my thighs under the table as Flavour N’abania’s decadent voice spilled from the speakers.
Gollibe, Gollibe, your mama born you well, Flavour crooned.
My body tensed away.
A lopsided smile as he adjusted the weight of his daughter on his lap. She turned around and smiled into his face.
‘Nne, greet your Aunty.’
The little girl turned to look at me, wide eyes an innocent world of wonder. Smiling shyly, she fiddled with the lilac bow on her beautiful plum gown.
Beautiful things do come from terrible places.
‘I went to his house. We were vibing o, then he started touching me. I said no, and he respected it. We watched a movie, and I left. I was so grateful. I think I am going to say yes. Good men like him are hard to come by.’
Brenda’s chatter was an off-tune drone in the back of my mind. The little girl looked like a little purple flower with her dress billowing around her.
‘Are you listening to me?’
I stopped staring at the little girl twirling herself into a dizzy spell.
‘Yes, Brenda. Date him because you like him. Date him because each moment with him is freedom and unbridled happiness. Don’t date him just because he wasn’t an animal. He didn’t do you a favor. He did what he was meant to do. You don’t get laurels for doing what you are meant to do. None of us gets trophies for being alive because that’s what the living do. Men shouldn’t get trophies for respecting your decisions and boundaries.’
‘True,’ she said, looking down at her fingers. Her nails were jagged from biting. ‘But when abnormal becomes the norm, normal becomes a gift.’
I tried to talk, if anything to rid this weight that threatened to suffocate me. But each time I opened my mouth, nothing came out. Each time I tried to speak, silence gave me a thousand reasons not to. She played their words in my head, words I had heard directed at people that tried to part with silence.
‘Was it really rape? You can never be sure with women o…’
‘Don’t believe any woman that is not your blood. Even your wife can switch up! Stay woke kings.’
‘Why did she go to his house?’
‘You know how girls these days are. They will agree to sex. When things go bad, they cry rape.’
‘Was she a virgin? If she isn’t, then it doesn’t matter.’
‘Why was she out late? This story sha no complete.’
‘Ladies, take a self-defence class. My gender has failed us all. Protect yourself. Ignorance kills. There are many free resources on YouTube. Learn how to make a pepper spray or how to practice basic self-defence. Ignorance is not an excuse.’
‘Yes, girls get raped, but what about those that fake rape? This is a discussion we need to have too.’
‘What was she wearing? You cannot dress indecently and not expect that kind of thing not to happen. We are all women, so let’s be honest with ourselves. Men are visual creatures; if you don’t put it out there, most of them won’t try to take it. Our young ladies should be more careful and modest o. A word is enough for the wise. Calvary greetings!’
‘Why is she coming out now? After all these years. Mtchewww. Women una too like wahala.’
‘He has oil on his head. Don’t invoke God’s wrath. I sell affordable Italian shoes. DM for price.’
‘She was a virgin? Lol na so them dey talk till boyfriend go show give his tribute kasala go come burst.’
I saw others burnt at the stake for being victims. So I learned to wrap my tongue in gauze and bury my struggles. People don’t care. They only validate a struggle when it reaches close to home. They don’t care about your psychological wounds or the physical wounds you got trying to scrub their scent away. Or how you feel like a visitor in your own body, staggering through life. Never really feeling, never really living.
‘Cele baby,’ his voice was mist, sinister, moist with desire. He turned the key, and the door clicked shut. ‘I don’t know how it is possible, but you grew more beautiful.’
Through the mirror, his face was a mask of innocence, scrubbed clean of evil intentions. Innocuous and friendly. But the satin of his voice, his gait crooked with the weight of desire, said more.
‘I’ve missed you,’ he continued, ‘I have missed us.’
A non-existent collective I had been forced into.
That familiar fear airbrushed my heart, laced up my throat. Hot, powerful, choking. Words eluded me. They escaped unsaid with a shuddering exhale, hiding under the bed, behind the wardrobe, and under the sheets.
‘I still think of you and those beautiful breasts of yours. Do you know Chi’s breasts didn’t even grow after having PamPam?’
The interspersing of desire with idiot trivia, a skill, a defect of conscience. His desire was a tent in his trousers, eyes a campfire of want.
I ignored him. There were people in the house. It wasn’t like last time. The house was crawling with guests, their presence a warm comfort, the unconscious protection of a sweater. He, just like I, was a guest. The boundaries of our collective guesthood, a thermostat regulating the tone of his voice and the depth of his desire.
‘I was afraid you would tell Chi about us back then. But she said you left in a hurry. That you stopped picking her calls. She thinks it is her fault. Thank you for keeping our secret.’
When had the guilt for something I had no willing participation in become mine?
‘I have to go,’ I said, shivering. From cold? Fear? No, it wasn’t those.
‘So you want to leave me like this? You won’t even do small something to make me feel better.’ The top of his senator bunched in a large fist, he loosened the knot on his trousers. They pooled to the ground. His erection strained against the check material of his Banana Republic boxers.
Size M boxers.
I had spent enough time washing and pressing clothes to remember certain minutiae of their neat, Lagos Island life, my eighteen-year-old heart longing to impress these benefactors. Benefactors that reached out to help even though the relationship was so far removed and the blood all but diluted.
I thought of his wife many rooms away, small, agbalumo breasts overpowered by a cowl neckline, voice incandescent with happiness as she talked about what a ‘darling’ he was and how he tucked PamPam to bed just like oyibo. I thought of the small girl, PamPam, twirling. A purple dervish, eyes searching for her Da-dee.
‘So you will leave me like this?’ A childish whine to his voice as he pulled down his boxers, a contrast to the light peppering of grey hair on his head. A taproot of veins strained towards the angry tip of his fat penis. He had a low sperm count. My mother had told me, one day, five years ago. That’s why they couldn’t have kids all those years. It had seemed fitting. Back then, I imagined God cooking his sperm, ensuring no child had to suffer for the sins of the father.
I sidestepped him. He pulled me back before I could make it to the door. Eyes wild, features devoid of innocence. ‘Ungrateful bitch! It’s like you’ve forgotten where you came from, bah? Don’t you dare walk out on me while I am talking to you! Mannerless creature.’ He was quite the picture, dick in hand, hair-stippled ass lax and exposed, eyes flickering with want and indignation. He looked vulnerable, older than his forty-eight years.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, his face rearranging back into innocence, like sediments settling at the bottom of a glass. ‘I don’t know what came over me. We’re both adults. It’s not like last time. I saw how you were looking at me before. You know you want it too. Please do it sharp sharp before people start looking for us.’
Back then, my naivety had been my undoing. My acceptance of ‘Don’t call me, Uncle. Call me Ebube.’ The questions about the boys I liked and how boys ruined young girls. In the school of beauty, I learned when men said such things, it was just as much a warning about their intentions. Now, my maturity was my undoing too, each look misconstrued as longing, as unabashed adult desire.
Maybe I did want it too.
Maybe the blue haze of my trauma had compelled me to come here to pee, knowing he would follow. Maybe I wanted it to happen again, just to convince myself I was the reason for it.
The shivers came again. It wasn’t the cold. The day was sweltering even with the AC on. My weave stuck to my neck and arms.
Or was it fear?
Goose pimples drizzled down my arms as he drew me back with both arms when I tried to leave again. A patina of pre-ejaculate left behind where his right hand touched my arm.
Yes, it was fear. He had that same look I had seen long ago when he slapped his wife for talking back at him. Her chest heaved, tiny breasts seeming to shrink from the anger inside her.
‘Do it,’ he said.
I went down on my knees and took him into my mouth. His moans escaped through clenched teeth and played hide and seek with my unspoken words. Words he forced into silence. A silence that made his secret mine. The shivers came again, waves upon waves. Fluxing and flushing, becoming one with his trembles of ecstasy. Teeth met engorged flesh, breaking through the wiry resistance of his veins, turning the salt of his semen to iron. As blunt fingers clawed at my scalp and his shouts turned the air into a living thing, I knew what those shivers were.
A bloody moon bloomed on the front of his baby blue senator. He always had a thing for blue. Today, blue, baby blue, became the color of retribution and redemption.
Image: Cdd20 from Pixabay remixed