"You know I was
born in Nigeria, but I never told you the whole story. You asked me once when you were young, but I couldn't tell
you. I was too
ashamed, too reluctant to share any of my past. I told your sister after Samson died, because I needed
someone to listen, I needed some sympathy, and I knew you hated me too much to
offer anything close to compassion.
But she thinks that you need to know now, so I am going to tell you exactly
what happened all those years ago."
"My mother died giving birth to me," my mother confessed softly. I paused at this, before doing my best to return to my reading. "I never knew her, and so I guess I can say I understand some of what you are feeling, having never known your real father. For a time, I was okay with her absence from my life. But when my father remarried, I began to feel differently. My stepmother was horrible, worse than any stepmother in any fairy tale." .
"My father let her do this, never lifting a finger to help as I was physically beaten, abused, and forced to be a slave to her. I was only three when they married, and by the time I was six, she had given birth to two sons, my half-brothers, who I was also forced to take care of day in and day out. I was never allowed to go to school, always forced to cook, clean, and care for my siblings. I began to hate my mother for dying, for leaving me to be at the mercy of this awful woman. I had no one to confess my anger to, no one who would listen.
"Perhaps the worst thing she did was prevent me from going to school. Most of the other children in my village went to school, at least for a few years. But I didn't. I had to stay home and care for my brothers. She never did much with them, choosing to lounge about all day, taking pleasure ordering me around. I would fetch water at our local river, cook meals for my family, sew our ragged clothing back together, working on my father’s farm raising what few crops we could afford.
"And things only got worse when I turned Ten. My stepmother began talking about marrying me off in a few years, about how I needed to be prepared."
I actually stopped reading and looked up at her. Her quivering voice and her shallow breathing told me that she was intensely uncomfortable. No matter how much I wanted to convince myself that she was still lying to me, I couldn't hide the fact that I knew this part of the story at least was real. She couldn't fake a reaction like that. I could see the tension in her shoulders, the fear and pain in her eyes as she stared blankly forward. I hadn't wanted to hear her story before purely out of spite. Now I didn't want to hear it because I feared what she would say. Whatever happened, it was clearly one of the most traumatic experiences of her life. Even now, almost fifty years later, she still feared it.
"She began talking to my father about a procedure, a way to make me proper for marriage. She said it was normal, and it would keep me pure, clean, and prevent me from being promiscuous. My father hesitated for a bit, but he gave in as he always did, giving her full reign over my life, letting her dictate every move I made, every path my life took. I don't know if he cared enough that he wanted me to live, or if he simply wanted to get her to stop nagging him. But sure enough, a few weeks later, I was scheduled to have the procedure done by a local 'expert.'"
"I was brought to a hut on the edge of our village. I had always feared that place. I had heard the screams from inside many times when I passed to fetch water from the nearby river. I had seen the looks of the girls that were brought out. There were many rumors about the man that lived there, how he was cursed. He had lost both his wives to childbirth, both children dying as well. But I still watched as almost every young girl in the village was brought to him when they were about my age, to undergo this procedure my stepmother spoke of.
"Inside, I was told to climb onto a rickety wooden table. Fearfully, I did as I was told. I could see the dark stains on it, and I felt myself trembling as I sat on the edge, unwilling to move any further towards those stains. I was told to lie down, but when I hesitated, my stepmother forcibly pushed me down; adjusting me until I was laying spread-eagled upon the surface. I was nervous as an elderly woman set a tray of sharp razors on a second table next to me. I wanted it to stop, to escape this horrible place. It only got worse as the man stood at my feet, hitching up my skirt to reveal my private parts. I tried to force my skirt back down, but my stepmother grabbed my hands and held them over my head tightly, squeezing them together painfully. My father grabbed one of my legs; the old woman grabbed the other as the man grabbed a razor."
It was like watching a train wreck and being unable to look away. I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want to listen as my mother recounted this awful experience. But I couldn't stop myself. It just kept going, getting bigger and more traumatic with each word. I wasn't ready to hear it, but I listened intently anyway as my mother continued, her voice shaking fiercely as if she was back in that hut, held down to the blood-stained table, waiting for that razor to sink into her flesh.
"They gave me nothing for the pain. I understood all those screams now, the horrible pain each and every one of those girls before me had experienced to make them scream as they did. It was atrocious, that barbaric ritual. I was but one of millions of Ten year old girls that suffered that procedure under the guise of 'tradition,' but at that moment I was sure no one had ever been in as much pain as I was. That razor cut at the skin between my legs, removing my folds in a bloody mess that quickly explained the stains on the table. It felt like it would never end. I was grateful when I passed out from pain, glad for once at my weakness. But I woke up before it was over, my screams filling the hut once more as he removed the last bit of loose flesh, all in a macabre practice of making a girl supposedly more attractive for marriage, regardless of her own feelings on the matter."