She said, “it sounds like abuse to me.”
“Well,” I said, “it didn’t feel like abuse to me. Particularly because I initiated it.”
“But she was older!”
“Yeah, but not that much older. She must have been 18 or 19.” I said. “I was lingering around teenage.”
“Still,” she insisted, “that was abuse.”
I shrugged nonchalantly. “I didn’t feel abused, to be honest.”
“Of course, you were a child.”
“It was an adventure.” I insisted. “An improper adventure.”
She rolled her eyes and said abuse can’t be an adventure.
She was referring to a story I did here many moons ago about how me – and, really, a generation of boys in the 80s – had a little nookie with the domestic help. That our initiation into sex was most likely with a live-in domestic help. She was horrified by it, made me feel like a victim. I wasn’t, to be honest. I was the aggressor, as aggressive as a 12-year old can be.
She then confessed that she was abused. I said, “Whaat?!” The reason I was shocked was because I foolishly imagined that the abused would somehow wear the scars on them, that they would exhibit tell-tale signs, something to show the effect of the abuse. She seemed well adjusted; driven, well spoken, confident and decisive. The only “odd” thing, if you pressed me to identify, was that she was a serial loner. Those people who go on holidays alone for a week, only carrying a book and sunscreen and not talking to anyone other than to say, “Can I have another mojito, please?” Or those people who can stay in the house for a whole week, not leaving, not talking to anyone, not staring out the window. (Hello, Pat, knock the wall if you are alive). Or people who drink Gin.
The plan was for me to write her story, but then she’s a closeted writer, so I asked her to have a crack at it. It could be therapeutic, I said. “Pour it on paper,” I urged. “Let it stain it.”
This isn’t a sad story. At least because I don’t see it as such. But it’s a story that starts with a penis, an erect penis that I first saw months before my sixth birthday. It was a houseboy’s penis. He catered to a house belonging to Brian, my then friend. My childhood was normal; we played, we threw rocks, we caught bugs, we slept, we ate, we had birthday parties and we spent days convincing each other that one party was bigger than the other. We were kids.
I was closest to Brian, mainly because he lived adjacent to us and thus we spent more time together either in our house or theirs even though my mother was against it. She always insisted that we keep the playing outside and not inside anyone’s house, but I rebelled.
If I could go back and change anything in my life, I’d go back to the morning in question. It was a school holiday and my mum, headed to work, left strict instructions for me not to leave the house as it was raining. After lunch I decided to break the rules and go look for Brian. He was in bed sleeping, their houseboy – let’s call him Mtu – suggested that I stay and wait for him to wake up. Prior to this, Mtu had gone unnoticed. I don’t remember much about him as a person other than he always had sweets on him, particularly Goody Goody, which we all loved and he’d give them out every now and then.
Mtu asked me to join him on the couch where he was seated. Adults scared me, I knew disobedience was grounds for beating and any adult at the time could do it. So when he asked, I did. I don’t remember the particulars of Mtu; if he was blind in one eye, if he had a limp, if he had all his fingers, or if he wore shorts or trousers. All these features belong to a memory lost but what I do remember, is shape, size and colour of his erect penis. Which he held and stroked while I sat next to him.
Though I wasn’t looking at him directly, I could tell what was going on in my periphery. His movements were slow, his breathing was heavy and he kept inching closer to me. I remember it feeling like I was intruding on a private moment and wanting to leave, but I never did. I just sat, quietly.
After a while, there was silence. He had stopped moving and his breathing was normal again. I thought whatever he was doing was over and I was now free to leave. So when I turned to look at him, wanting to ask if I could, I found his eyes on me which was disconcerting. I stood to leave, but he reached for my arm and pulled me to him. To it, and asked me to touch it. I remember hesitating and pulling back but his grip grew tighter.
The mind is mysterious in how it chooses to recall some things and forget others because…I remember him telling me that it’s ok to touch, that Brian did it all time. But despite that information, I was still reluctant. I remember him threatening to tell my mother and I’m not sure why that sounded like something I should be scared of.
I remember holding it, but I don’t know for how long, a minute? Two perhaps? Maybe more? But however long, it was enough for him to move my hand up and down. I remember feeling his other hand on my thigh and his fingers walking up. I remember feeling afraid, apprehensive, teary and confused.
I don’t remember how long it went on for though, or exactly what happened after. Or what made him stop because he suddenly did. Even though I actively tried to never be alone with him after that afternoon, I failed, because I remember it happened a couple more times.
The art of keeping secrets, is it innate or learned? Why are some people good at it and some people really bad at it? Are those that are good, become it, as a result of not wanting to share their lives?
Whatever the case, that was my first secret, among so many others.
My mother and I soon moved from where we were in shags, and into the city. Her for the job opportunities, me to join class one. As soon as I joined school though, I realized that I didn’t like it. It was not for me, there were too many people, too many nosy kids who wanted to know every aspect of my life. When I didn’t satisfy their curiosity, they tormented me by following me around and questioning me incessantly. They kept an intruding eye on me and everything I did or said until I broke down or cried or both.
I couldn’t blame them though because I was that kid; reclusive and defiant and I hated social interactions. I preferred being around adults than my peers and this is what led me to spend quite a lot of time with, The Couple. Since my mum worked late on most days, I was required to stay over at her friend’s house, a neighbour whom she’d gotten close to in our new neighbourhood.
Hellen was a short, light-skinned, Luhya woman who loved to chatter and would do so ceaselessly. She would weave mundane stories and make the experiences exciting. I didn’t mind since we complemented each other due to the fact that I barely spoke. I mostly communicated via head nods and head shakes and occasional chuckles.
Hellen had a boyfriend, Chris, a stout looking Congolese man with a penchant for loud shirts. Many evenings after school, I’d head over to Hellen’s to finish my homework and help her with her chores. She’d regale me with stories of her day. Chris would chime in with stories of his own and they’d banter on and on as though I wasn’t there.
I enjoyed being the third wheel. I still do.
They were quite childlike those two. They liked having fun and would chase each other around the house while giggling. They also spoilt me. Their movie collections included those that I loved to watch, Jumanji, Mary Poppins, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, and Sister Act 1&2. They had plenty of snacks that my mum was against me eating often due to the sugar rush. (One bite of chocolate or a few biscuits later and I would be climbing the wall.)
We often took long walks on Saturdays, sightseeing the town we lived in. They loved listening to Koffi Olomide and would often dance to his tunes, they taught me how to dance Ndombolo, which I’m still quite good at. They spoke French fluently but it was Chris who introduced me to the basics. Hellen taught me how to cook and eat mrenda and matumbo.
Sundays, after church, were reserved for watching movies and gorging on ice cream.
I was happy with them and slowly I could feel myself thaw and let loose. While in school or elsewhere, I would look forward to being nowhere else but in their house and always made sure that I spent as much of my free time as I could with them.
In addition to the fact that they were always together, they also loved touching each other. Whenever I stole glances, I’d either find Chris’ hand in her blouse, or Hellen’s hand on or in his pants. They also didn’t seem to mind going at it on the couch while I sat inches away.
I remember being curious about what they were doing or why listening to them felt arousing ( I didn’t understand that what I felt was arousal until much later).
They never at one point forced anything on me.
They were quite cognizant of the fact that I was uncomfortable when touched. So they made sure that I was pretty comfortable whenever I was around them. And so over time, I’d gotten used to watching them go at it or do their thing and I would simply ignore.
Now, I’m not sure if everything that happened after had been planned from the start, or if things just unfolded as they did. Initially, my only participation in this peculiar triad was my observation, like the philosopher who was sent up to observe and document the Hindu lovers. I was OK with that as long as they didn’t involve me, but all that changed one evening.
It was Chris who called me to the bedroom one evening after school, he had bought me dresses and he wanted me to try them on. (He was always buying me things). He asked If I could change into the new dresses. I hesitated but eventually I took off all my clothes except my undies and began to try on the ones he had. Then, I didn’t have breast for a bra, but they were there.
It was while I was trying on a ridiculous complicated black and lace dress that I felt a finger touch my nipple. I remember feeling jolted at the foreign touch. A bit awkward.He stopped immediately when I stepped back and took off the dress (which was still stuck atop my head) and placed it on the bed he was sitting on.
When I started leaving the bedroom he promised that he wouldn’t do it again. I believed him, and through the trying of the five dresses, he talked about his day and marveled at how nice the dresses looked on me and more talk about his work and he asked me how school was. After, I put my dress back on and we went back to the living room where Hellen was setting up dinner.
Though he kept his word and didn’t touch me that night, I remember being distracted at how nice I felt when he touched my nipple. When I look back to those moments, I realize, their method of, what I later learned as sexual abuse, was a slow burn. Calculated so well that I didn’t feel intruded upon. I felt like I was part of their relationship.
My curiosity after that evening was spiked. I wanted to know what that feeling was and I wanted to know if that is what they did when they touched each other. But, without asking, I sought it. I stopped seating inches to the TV and joined them on the couch.
As time went by, there were many episodes of Chris playing with my breasts while we watched TV. Of Hellen stroking my inner thighs. Of the pressure and pleasure of a finger inside me. Plenty of time, Chris would start touching me but finish off with her.
Then I remember starting to feel envious and wondering why he paid her more attention. I remember wanting more attention. I remember being available and not coiling away when attention was given to me. We spent many evenings and weekends doing these things I knew were wrong because I was not allowed to tell anyone.
Then Chris died. I remember attending his funeral. I remember seeing the adults mourn his death. I mourned him in private, feeling sad, like I lost someone special to me. I mourned him in private because he was another secret I had. By the time I was joining boarding school in class 5 I had retracted into my old shell. Kids around me seemed shallow and simple. I felt I didn’t fit. I was tired of being a child and treated as such.
I remember internally lashing out and pushing wanna be friends and teachers away. I kept to myself. Rarely spoke unless spoken to. Head shakes and head nods became a fluent language of mine. I was quiet and distant and I think because of it, or because I was just a good target, I was bullied quite a lot and in different ways.
All the items I went to school with were stolen. I occasionally found my books missing from my desk. I more than once went to bed only to find my mattress in the bathroom section. I missed Chris and Hellen a lot and I don’t know whether it was their loss or my bullying but I cried myself to sleep most nights. Since my crying was audible, I was taunted for it the next day.
Loneliness and I grew pretty close. I know her better than I know the alternative. I was miserable and hated being alive. I was a coward to do it myself but if anyone offered to off me, I wouldn’t have stopped them. But no one offered. So I lived.
Time passed; past high school, college and now I’m in my 30s. The pain faded but the memories are well hidden under my skin, behind my smiles and under my laughter. I speak in the past tense, not because I am healed, but because in the journey of my healing, I have learnt that life is one big wheel. Half of the wheel is made up of the bad and the other half is good. Just like a wheel, life is much better and less stressful if you don’t hold it but rather let it move.
So would I change my past? No. But Maya Angelou said it best. – You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that, I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.
So instead of wanting to change the past, I would like to use my experiences to inject some positivity to anyone who feels like their past really screwed their present.
Mine will be small. I have two announcements today.
First, all those people sitting on chairs meant for visitors. Please, let’s be hospitable to our visitors and vacate those seats.
Second. Safaricom is sponsoring the next Online Creative Writing Masterclass kicking off for five whole days between 20th – 24th of this month. (Assuming you are reading this in July 2020). To register please email info[email protected]
Lastly, I have taken over the blog section of Fairtrade Africa for the next three months. I will be writing stories about coffee, cocoa and bananas and things. But with people in them…preferably drinking coffee or holding a banana. Or both. But you never know. We are calling it Friday Story Box. Check out the first entry