What could be done? The answer lies in that super highway of secrets that every woman carries deep in her heart, the source of every woman’s strength and the elixir of womanhood itself.
Lilian Chidiogo’s sophisticated sensitivity lies in the lyrical beauty with which she renders simple sentences; a masterful blend of passion and creativity. The tone of the text is dreamy yet the subject matter is brutal, a hard knock of reality for more girls than anybody could realize without asking.
Here is an excerpt from her powerful debut.
Far From The End
I’ve been told the stars have names, every single one of them. That some people who did not have problems decided to pass their time by naming them. White people! How is that even possible? There are too many of them and they all look alike, how could the namers tell them apart?
I try to concentrate more as I look at them, to see if I will notice some differences that had earlier eluded me but I see none, the only difference is that some are bigger and brighter. I choose the brightest one I can find and focus all my attention on it. Soon, my world narrows down to just that star. A great pain in my mid-section soon shatters that focus. I stiffen. The star separates into multiple blurry stars as tears pool in my eyes and then converges when the tears snake down my temple. I do not bother to wipe them.
I’m lucky. I’m lucky, I tell myself. With great effort, I shift my attention from the pain and focus on the star once again. Fortunate; that is the name I would give this star if I were to name stars. My head slams against the concrete of the lower step again and again with each thrust my body receives. When I hear the characteristic grunt I prepare to exhale, it’s almost over. Seconds later, the weight leaves my body. I wait minutes after I hear footsteps shuffling up the stairs, minutes spent looking at the sky and wishing my life could be as devoid of human presence as the sky is. When I’m sure he’s far gone I stand and go to mother. She’s under the bridge, waiting for me with a cup of lime and salt. I down it in one gulp, move deeper under the cover of the train terminal overhead and away from the din of traffic, then I squat and push with all my might, stopping only after I feel warm liquid slide down my thighs. “We are lucky, Uloaku. Things are better now than before.” Mother repeats to me. I make a sound in my throat, spread a thread bare wrapper on the floor and lie down on it in such a way that my head is outside the shelter provided by the building above. I do this so I can continue stargazing. Though mother is certain of it, I do not feel things are better now. When we took shelter under the Mile Two bridge, after we were thrown out of our one room home, the bridge and the train terminal had just been completed. As mother and I picked our way over the gravel of the newly built train track and walked toward the stairs leading to a magnificent building suspended on strong concrete pillars, I wondered why anyone would want to build such a big house in the middle of a highway and I voiced my thought to mother. It’s not a house, it’s where people will buy ticket and wait for the train when it starts running. That might take years.
I followed mother, expecting her to climb the stairs and enter the big building which will be our home from now on. My heart swelled at the thought. I have only ever lived in a one room house. I imagined my friends coming to visit. I wouldn’t feel so ashamed having people over anymore. To my disappointment, rather than climb up, mother continued below the building and, choosing a spot, dropped our bags on the floor. The eyes that followed us were numerous and predatory and gave me something else to worry about other than why we were not moving into the big house. They reminded me of the cat in a cartoon I had seen through my neighbour’s window, waiting to pounce on a rat. And they did pounce. At night, when traffic died down and we spread our wrappers to sleep, I felt human presence and opened my eyes to find a group of young men at my feet, looking down at me. Though I was too young to understand the danger I was in, fear dried my throat and I looked up at them, unable to blink. Mother pleaded, told them to take her instead of me. Curiosity at what it was they planned to do with mother was replaced with horror as I watched this interplay of genitals, confused. Why would anyone want to do that, what did they stand to gain from this? Private parts of others were things people found revolting and stayed away from. At only twelve, the sight was haunting. I averted my curious gaze when they met mother’s resigned one and shifted my body so my back was turned to them. That night, I knew a new kind of shame as I listened to the unique grunts of different men, the slapping of flesh against flesh and the total silence of mother a few feet away from me. I closed my eyes and stiffened my entire body to create a buzz in my ear so that I wouldn’t hear anything else, but they were loud and their grunts cut through. I could not look at mother the morning after as we left to go to her spot by the road side where she roasted plantain to sell. We were both silent, we had nothing to say to each other. By the third night, I ran out of luck. Mother was no longer enough, not when they could have me too. I struggled as they held me down. They had divided themselves into two groups; the smaller group went to mother, I did not stand a chance against the larger group of men who surrounded me. Pain tore through my body as it was invaded time and time again. Disgust had me struggling even when I knew it was futile, until I was completely drained of strength and numbness mercifully took over. That night, as the men snored on flattened cartons and I wondered at the possibility of catching them unawares and slitting their throat, mother called me aside, gave me my first mixture of lime and salt and taught me how to force the men’s juice out of my body. It became a routine. Every night, when we return, I will lie down, my legs slightly apart in wait for as many as will come all through the night till morning. Struggling, I knew, was a waste of effort. Afterwards, I will go to wherever mother waited, mixture in hand. Some nights I had the mixture multiple times. But it was not enough for them that they had access to our bodies. They soon began to demand access to our money. Most of the guys who took shelter with us under the bridge were jobless, a few of them were agberos and an even fewer percentage were beggars. While I peeled plantain as mother fanned the flames and positioned the plantains, I would often sight some of them as they navigated the length of the Mile two road, looking for pockets to pick during the day and at night for car windows to smash and grab phones from car owners. It became a habit for them to pass by mother’s table at different times during the day. They would leer at me, select plantain and groundnut, pinch my breast or any other part of my body they fancy, and walk away without paying. Once when I demanded that one of them pay, he called me ashawo, upturned the pan and wire gauze that held the hot charcoal and the plantains. Most of them landed on the floor and a few on mother’s feet, scalding her.