I would like some water she thought. Too hoarse to shout for some, she banged her fists against the wooden door. Thud! Thud! She squinted to protect her eyes from the harsh glare of the halogen light that would come streaming through the crack when the door opened. Living in the pitch dark was not really an adventure you see. It had been a long time since she was taken to the backyard to stretch and get some sunlight.
There was a weird metallic squeaking noise and a something cold touched her feet. She jumped and knocked the glass of water over. Gathering a towel she mopped it up as best as she could in the dark and wiped her face. On second thought she ran the cool cloth under her breasts and between her legs before pushing it out of a new hinged flap beneath the door. “I will buy a blue EPI light so you don’t fall sick. Meanwhile eat these vitamin supplements” some pills rolled into the room followed by a bottle of water.
Papa has not seen me in ages she thought. Without the freedom of running around all day, I was getting fatter and fatter. What would papa say when he looks at me? Maybe he would open the door today…
Dates and time were alien concepts in this dark room. When it was cold, it was probably night time and the sweltering heat was probably day time. I had reveled in the world outside during her childhood. It was a wondrous place, a cooking room to a sleeping room to a room where I could shower with all the running water I wanted. In the evenings my mamma would join us in our evening walk. Their garden had very high walls and mamma would walk in the sunlight as it crept across the yard. Taking care not to step into the shadows, she would tell me about the world outside the walls. There were more people and of different colours and heights and shapes. There were rivers and mountains. There were offices where you could work on a computer and talk to a person thousands of miles away. Theme parks, cake shops, salons, movie halls… all of which we could not go to anymore. As darkness fell, mamma would go back to her room and I would sit outside her door talking about flowers and bees and worms. It never felt unnatural when papa locked mamma in when he left the next morning for work. Naana who lived two doors down would come to look after me during the day. I begged naana to let me see outside. One day naana opened the big iron gate at the end of our drive way and let me have a peek. There was nothing there except a road and some cats.
One day papa said that Naana couldn’t come see me anymore. But, he would stay home from then on and Mamma would not be locked in all the time. Papa used to spend all his time cleaning guns and set up a small kiosk outside our compound. I was locked in with mamma when I started bleeding. Papa was shocked “She is only 10” he complained. He started to spend all his time at the kiosk until the day that mamma coughed.
Mamma was very sick that day and papa had gone to buy medicine. She kept coughing and coughing. Mamma, whose voice I had hardly heard began to cough rather loudly indeed. I was scared and ran to the door… ‘papa papa!’ I shouted
Suddenly there were loud thuds on the door. Papa had forgotten his key. ‘Papa!’ Thud Thud Thud
The door burst open and many people burst through. They looked nothing like papa or naana. Mamma screamed when they kicked her… My papa once bought a ball that we would kick to each other in the yard. My mamma – they kicked her and they ripped her clothes, she clawed and spat and screamed. They hit her and punched her. She bit and twisted and turned. They caught her arms and legs and stretched them until I thought mamma’s scream would surely make the roof fall off. My mamma had only three pairs of clothes. Now papa would be mad at her for not keeping them safe.
‘Who is this here?’ the voice was gentle and kind like my naana’s but sounded like my papa. Papa would not be mad at me because I had many clothes. Naana made them from papa’s old shirts and dothis. You are a tiny little girl she used to say. I looked around for my naana. Papa said she went to heaven and that was up… But there seemed to be no one up there.
Just that poor little girl who lay beneath me. I wouldn’t have known she was there if not for her two pale hands that stretched out from under the hairy back moving above her. A thin line of blood ran toward the girl from between her mother’s legs. Some hairy hands and wiped at themselves body parts were alien to me. After a pause they bent over mamma who did not scream anymore. I wanted the little girl to stop her alternate whimpering and screaming between muffled sobs from the mother and jeering laughter from the others, it was like… well I had nothing to compare it to.
They lost interest after a minute an hour… two… I cannot tell; and left. My mamma, I do not recognize her anymore, her arms and legs bent at awkward angles, her head turned toward the door as she lay belly down in a pool of blood, broken bottles, splinters and a knife the blade broken… papa might not like that…
The girl was sprawled on her back, her chests like a guava fruit nibbled by squirrels… the mottled flesh had stopped bleeding and between her legs was the color of a shiny hair clip her naana gave me once.
I broke that clip by accident and buried it in the garden. Maybe that is where all broken things should go… The air smelled like old biscuit tins, papa’s sweat and the squirrel that a cat had left in the backyard.
That day papa cried. He took maama outside and brought a doctor to help the girl. He looked an awful lot like the others. The doctor kept repeating that it was the mama’s fault. She must have invited the others, he said. One way or another, she must have flaunted her good looks, shown some skin, made eyes at or just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. She must have been vigilant he said and that papa shouldn’t feel so bad because if mamma had considered the others as her brothers and pleaded with them, they would have let her go.
When papa didn’t reply, the man pressed on saying the others should be punished, but mamma should protect herself and that is the only solution.
“This little girl may live” he said “take her to hospital. They will do a surgery so she can empty her bowels. They will give her lots of injections and tablets. You don’t mind mortuaries do you? They are treating girls there because they can lock the iron door”
“What to do now” the doctor snapped his first aid box shut. “Can I take some pictures of the girl? For academic purpose only; I will give you a discount in the treatment”; That’s when papa shot him in the face.
A low sound rose from the pit of my papa’s stomach “I did everything to keep them safe’ he sobbed. I never took them out of this house; they were covered head to foot. I did everything they told me to” he sobbed.
I wonder what papa would say… when he looks at me, bony hands and a big belly. What would papa say? and whatever happened to that little girl.