Behind my makeup. The thick layers of foundation. The red lipstick (sometimes burgundy). The thin eyeliner. The subtle mascara. Is expected innocence. A delicate flower whose petals fall at the slightest brush of the wind. No one expects the scars. The dark bags under my eyes. Bags heavy from the weight of my own decisions. All my own. I have come to believe that no one makes a decision on your behalf. It’s all on you. You let it happen. I’m waiting for Mark. Another one of my decisions.
At twelve boys and girls were the same. We ran in the field and chased after the ball. We all went to the river and took of our shirts off and jumped in. It was fun. One time I punched Kioko. He was a bully and everyone was afraid of him. But he had held my head down, in the river. My chest burnt. I couldn’t see. I doubt he could hear my screams. When he finally let me up all I had was rage and an insatiable need for air. In one fell swoop I swung my clenched fist. Doof. It landed. I swear I had his tooth crack. Maybe it was my knuckle. But he cried. Men don’t cry so Kioko was just a boy. The others shocked at first started to jeer. I was a hero but my hand was sore. Mother and father laughed. You are strong they said.
Thirteen. My shirt was a little bit lifted. Sometimes my chest hurt. Boys. They were fascinated by it. They knew theirs would never grow. But no one ever touched mine. They all remember my fist. My swing. The cracked tooth and the crying. Boys don’t like crying. So they left me alone. But they teased because I couldn’t swim anymore. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to swim. I didn’t want to do many things. Especially when my stomach hurt. When it first happened, a week after my birthday I was scared. That week I had stolen some fifty shillings. Bought a pack of ground nuts and lollipops. Where I come from stealing is rare. We have witch doctors. People have been found circling houses they’ve stolen from. Others behaving like livestock. Some dead. I was bleeding. From between my thighs. You can understand my fear. So when I cried out my mother’s name and asked for forgiveness she laughed. I wasn’t dying. In fact I was more alive. Becoming a woman.
People will want you to take off your shirt. Remember that. They will want to touch you. They will call you beautiful. They will ask for your name. They will want to buy you gifts. They are dangerous. They want something. They want your womanhood. You must say no. Remember Kioko? When he held your head under water? You fought. You were strong. Has he ever come near you? So be strong. I know you are. Mother’s words were more like a whisper. Like she was afraid the wind would carry them away to the dangerous people. I nodded. I affirmed I would be strong. This was my first decision.
Nineteen. I wore my hair short. My skirt too. I heard had the whispers. That I had beautiful legs. I looked nice in short skirts. My man must be lucky. I liked the last best. I did not have a man. They were all dangerous. True to her word, mother, they came with gifts. They asked for my name. A few were brave enough to try and take my shirt off. I don’t blame them. Here in the city they don’t know about Kioko. They don’t know about my fists. They do not know about the cracked tooth. I kept it that way. I might scare them off I thought. This was my second decision.
My friends all went to parties. The latest clubs. They had a thing they called sponsors. I had heard of bursaries. But they only catered for school. These ones catered for everything including shopping and apartments. It’s the secret to enjoying school. They said amidst giggles when I asked. Should we get you one? They asked. I said I would take a look at the forms. They laughed. Forms? Oh you can be so naïve. They said. You don’t need forms. I liked the idea. I allowed them to find me one. I was ready to show them my transcript. I was smart. I didn’t tell my friends this. They were okay but not so smart. Their grades dismal. But if I showed them to my sponsor, they’d definitely sponsor me. This was my third decision.
Bus rides home are long. The scenery passes you all and it’s a green blur. There’s nothing new about the air. The smell of dust and cow dung isn’t as welcoming. I am used to all of it. But in a car. A big one with the windows rolled down it’s different. The scent of the car is minty and green. Can you smell a color? This would be it. The seats are comfortable and you don’t hear the sound of the engine. Sometimes when the windows are closed and outside is scorching the car gives out cold air. Like it is breathing. I like it. I know he likes it too. Are you too cold? He often asks. He cares this one. I think he doesn’t want my brains freezing. He laughed when he saw my transcripts. Maybe he thinks my grades are a joke. But I promised to work harder. My wife will like you he had said. I didn’t ask if he had any children. But it looked like he did.
The whole way he talked about his wife. Maybe he wanted me to end up like her. Successful. Own my own business. Have a car like hers. He said it was smaller but more expensive. I didn’t get it. Smaller should cost less. But what did I know about cars? She has the roundest eyes you’ve ever seen. Sometimes if you look close enough you will see a spark. Her voice is coaxing. When she speaks it’s poetic. Even if she only says your name. Sometimes it feels like magic. Do you like magic? Anyway. You should meet her. He had said. I nodded. She sounded like a really nice woman. My fourth decision.
Her fingers were around my throat. Her nails dug into my neck. I could not breathe. I could feel my skin give way to her talons. She was as tall as me. But in her heels she stood a couple of inches taller. I felt the warm liquid trickle down my neck. The pain and the warmth reminded me of that day I thought I was cursed. The day I apologized to my mother. The day I had become a woman. She held me by the throat as she commanded orders. Say my name! Say you’re a dirty little whore! Beg me! Ask for more! Do you like it! Her eyes were wild. I looked closely. I did not see a spark. I saw a fire. Raging and wild. She did not ask when she thrust something cold between my thighs. The pain was searing. More than the nails digging into my skin. It was alien. Intrusive. Violating.
That was the first time I had let anything between my thighs. Anything because I haven’t let anyone in yet. She uses things. Plastic things. Some are large and scary. Others shake like my phone. Now sometimes when the pain subsides I feel ripples of pleasure. Sometimes they come in waves together with the pain. He just watches. I won’t say I am not scared. But it’s weird that I like feeling scared. Fear makes me feel things. It goes on well into the wee hours of the morning. I don’t sleep most times. I’m too sore. I have class. Her car, it’s fast. She lets me use it. So I am never late for class. So I am never late to go see her. I go see her every day. Every day I make that decision.
These dangerous men mother spoke of. I have avoided them. She will be happy. I won’t go to her with a swollen tummy. I can explain the swollen eye. I fell. I was sleepy after a night of reading. I dozed off and hit my head on the desk. She will love the car. I will say it’s from work. Did I tell you she gave me a job? Yes. Every weekend people like her. People with a fire in their eyes burning. Come to her house. They want people like me. The nails have gone beyond the neck. They have scratched my face. I’ve had so many things down there. Fingers. Plastic molds. Plastic molds they wear like belts. I’ve been whipped. I’ve been choked. A few times I have lost consciousness. I come to and find myself alone. I don’t know what happened. I just feel the pain. Pain I am used to.
My friends think I’ve become distant. Too occupied with life. Often they’ve caught me aloof. When my mind goes to the pain and my thighs become warm. They’ve introduced me to their friends. This is Mark. He is a student like you. He likes you. But men are dangerous. Especially like Mark. Charming. Buying gifts. I’m happy with the pain I know. I’m happy with her. Her friends. So no to men. My final decision.
“Do you say that to all the girls Mark?”
“No just the ones that are truly are”
“You won’t like it when it all comes off”
“And the makeup”
Curiosity finally got the better of me. Call it a liking for danger. I shed off the clothes. I doubt Mark had seen anything like me. Maybe the scars fascinated him. Did his mother warn him about women? Dangerous women? Like me? My hand went round his throat. I saw the terror in his eyes as my voice left my lips. A voice that sounded familiar. Coaxing. Like hers.