Mama said I would become a woman today. I do not really know what that means but it seems like a big deal. The women in the compound have been up since dawn, I have been exempted from the chores as Mama says the only thing I have to do is look beautiful and to keep smiling.
The women from my betrothed’s compound have also joined in the seemingly endless cooking ceremony, they are all calling me “our wife” more than they usually do and they say it like I am going to win a medal today and I have to appreciate them while receiving the medal. I like the attention I am receiving, they keep bringing one delicacy or the other for me to taste but I am really scared too.
I think the reason they are being overly excited is to make me forget the stories I have heard concerning the day of becoming. The part no one really talks about explicitly but when I see women in small gatherings on that day talking in hushed tones, I know that’s what they are talking about. All I have heard are rumors; none of the older women would deny or confirm them to me.
I see them now, I see the little gatherings and I know the time is drawing near. The time for the ruthless pain I have heard so much, I have heard that an old rusty knife would be used on my most private parts, some other times I hear it’s a piece of broken bottle from the ancient shrine, the rumors seem to agree that there would be a little shedding of blood. Sometimes they say little and sometimes they say it would be like a steady stream. I had never given the rumors much thought; I never thought my day of becoming would come so soon.
The day of becoming is marked for every female child in the village one month after the first flow of blood; the monthly flow. Everyone I know of does not start the monthly flow until they have first developed tiny breasts; the tiny ones that usually look like small guavas. I still look at my very flat chest even now; there appears to be nothing there, not even the size of a customary kola nut. Mama was very surprised; she tried persuading Papa that my day of becoming should be postponed till the next year when I would be eleven years old. Papa remained adamant and Mama accepted my fate and started the customary preparations.
My body looks ridiculous even to me, I imagine my English teacher who dislikes every of our traditions, seeing me now. I cannot help but laugh at how she would react, pushing back her very thick lenses and muttering under her breath. Every inch of my body is covered in red and white painted designs; I look like the markings in an herbalist’s shrine. Mama is tying the white expensive wrapper on my waist the same way she tied the smaller one to my bare chest; too tight. I want to tell her I can’t breathe properly but I can’t; she looks so stern giving two hundred instructions at the same time concerning my comportment, I can’t keep track of everything she is saying because I am trying too hard to ignore the pain in my chest.
Finally, it is time; I walk out of the compound with my head held up high and swaying my waist just like Mama has taught me. I feel shy, it seems like the whole village has come to watch me; the women are singing and dancing but I don’t know why their excitement seems false to me, like they are full of pity for me. Eventually I get to the Becoming huts, this is the closest I have been to the huts, I usually see them from afar where the other villagers stand and wait for the rituals to be over so the ceremony could start.
The old women at the entrance do not look as joyful as the villagers, they look sober and sympathetic, almost like they are about to cry. They scare me more, suddenly I want to run back to Mama’s hut and cling to her wrapper but I do not want to bring dishonor to the family so I straighten my back and follow the women inside the hut. The oldest of the women directs me to the local mat on the bare floor in the hut, she instructs the other women to undress me. I feel very self conscious, they are all examining my body and commenting on my lack of small guavas, the most petite of the old women with a very loud mouth tugs at my nipple in frustration. I do not move, I do not show any expression at all.
Now, I am naked on the mat, the women all gather around me, they nod vigorously as the “mother hen” as I have quickly christened the oldest woman, keep reassuring me that I would become a woman after the ritual and I would feel only a little pain. The way she emphasizes on the “little” assures me it won’t be little at all.
Finally, she brings out the knife, it’s actually an old looking knife, and she says it has been in the village for generations. She brings it closer to my most private parts and suddenly my fear overwhelms me. I start crying and shouting, thrashing on the mat as she orders the women to hold me down, all the while the women kept threatening me with shame on my family. I couldn’t care at that point; I just didn’t want to be marked with the ancient looking knife.
I feel the pain, like a part of me has been chopped off but the pain is not easing like they promised, instead its increasing. Then I see it; the blood is steadily flowing out from between my legs. I can see it on the faces of the women that something had gone wrong; they all become hysterical, blaming one another, one of them runs out of the hut. I can already hear the pandemonium amongst the villagers. I feel very weak, I begin to drift off and on but I know I am not feeling sleepy, yet I feel too weak to keep my eyes open.
Faintly, I can hear Mama’s voice, I can barely see her, she seems to be crying and cursing at the same time. I know the village doctor is around, I hear him barking orders to everyone like he is the commander of a lazy army. I hear Papa whispering in my ears, he is telling me to be strong, to be a strong woman. I can no longer see anyone, I cannot hear them either, and everywhere is dark and deathly silent too. I do not want to die but I think I am dead already.
I wanted to say something to Mama; I wanted to tell her I made her proud, that I became a woman today. I realize something else; I became a dead woman today.