You clock ten and discover every adult’s dirty secret: they all have sex.
I was depressed for a week the month I discovered. It had been days after my birthday when Mai called me to the playground for a serious talk. Then she explained much to my embarrassment, and in bewildering detail, what she had uncovered a day before; this sex of a thing we had only thought to mean male or female.
“Mai,” I whispered, “are you sure?”
“Wallah,” she kissed her index finger before pointing it to the sky.
That noon I ploughed the largest dictionary in my father’s study, which no one entered ever since he left. Mutiu mopped the floors and wiped the shelves once a month. I believed Mummy left it clean incase he decided to come back.
The heavy blue oxford dictionary explained that Mai was not lying. For the next month, I would wash my hands with hot water and Dettol after anyone I considered an adult touched me. My mother could not understand why the teapot whistled all day.
Adults were no longer deserving of a proper greeting. So when they visited our home, I greeted them in a mumble of words that resembled English but meant nothing.
“Awww, Rinrin, she’s shy.” They would tease as I passed by the parlor.
No, I just know your dirty secret! I would sneer within, sulking away their hugs.
Four years later, I was an adult at fourteen. I had become one pure sinner and fell into a void of displeasure with myself for this. But isn’t that the usual problem with sin? It is much easier to live in the ignorance of yours than to quit committing it. I was intoxicated.
I swore it was true love, this intensity of affection I had for him, for Mr. Shaw, my Mathematics teacher. It sort of permitted the shame, for our sin was born from love. And only two of us knew we could understand it this way, at least until I was eighteen and legal to be married.
How would I have ever explained to you Mama,
that I was in sin,
but my sin was true love’s twin?
I wrote this down in a letter I had begun to write my mother. I would give it to her in a couple years, the morning I turned eighteen, our wedding day. If I started writing it now, it would be perfect by then. And hopefully she would show up for the wedding.
I knew the likelihood of Mama attending was 65 % fantasy, 35 % hope. But still, if I started early, I would have spent three years plus, nurturing one letter. At least she would be able to see I had thought things through, I was ready.
I tried to focus in class but failed more often than not. I was always hungry but with little appetite. I could never seem to think straight. I liked to think I thought in circles because my worries made me dizzy, like I was spinning in circles.
Once, I tried to ask my seat mate Lucile if she thought in circles too. She laughed and said she liked the mumu things I said after Math’s class. I didn’t understand her much, but she was my only friend. Mai had moved to London with her Father after primary school. We wrote each other, twice, thrice … then lost contact.
Besides, Mai had been the first to warn me of sin. I was unsure I could tell her all I’d become. Unsure and ashamed, but it was a fitting price for love. True love was painful … just like beauty.
“Always be prepared for plans to change! I have always told you Rinret! Be…”
“Smart and adaptable to situations.” We said this at same time. He was whispering. I was yelling.
“Are you now raising your voice at me because you’re sixteen?”
“No! I’m sorry my love. It’s just that this was not the plan.”
“The plan is real life! Real life is unpredictable. I’ll meet you there soon! Stop calling every three minutes like a scared little girl. It’s childish. Are you a baby?”
“I’m not!” I screamed
“She is now crying.” I heard him mumble to himself in disappointment. He hissed. It stung.
“I have to go now. I’m still at the bank. If I don’t withdraw this money in time, I’m finished. Don’t call Rinret. I’ll call you back.”
I’ll call you back. His husky voice wandered through my head. I was determined to prove I wasn’t childish, wasn’t doubtful. He will call you back. I heard myself say as I packed the most important stuff. I’ll call you back was ringing in my head as I walked out the house for what would be the last time. When I got to the gate, I ran back into the house, my heart pounding.
I brought out the letter from under my jewelry box. It hadn’t been edited in almost a month, since I turned sixteen to be honest. Life got in the way. I proofread it one last time in case of spelling errors, then dropped it on Mum’s bedroom drawer.
I vowed to write another letter explaining why I was leaving earlier than intended—how Principal Jidanke was accusing Mr. Shaw of fraud and bringing police into the matter. A set up! False accusations! One had to know Mr. Jindanke to understand he was the criminal mastermind himself. I would call once things calmed down.
I ran out of the house. Mutiu was at the gate, staring at the bloated bag pack on my shoulders.
“Where are you going?”
“What is your problem Mutiu!”
He withdrew, startled at my brazenness.
“You never mind your business! And that is my problem with you.” I could afford to be rude this one time. Wasn’t like I was coming back.
I sat patient at the bus stop, resisting the urge to call Mr. Shaw. I heard my phone vibrate a couple times, but when I looked the backlight was still off. No missed calls. No messages. Just imagination.
I gave up after three buses loaded before me and called him, first with the intention of pretending it was an error, next with desperation as the operator’s voice repeated in a prudish British accent, “the number you have dialed is switched off.” The stupid bitch wouldn’t shut up. The number you have dialed IS SWITCHED OFF.
It began to drizzle, so I moved to a different Bus Stop with an MTN sponsored roofing. This time, I had a legitimate reason to call. How would he know I had changed stops? Surely, he couldn’t have expected me to wait under the rain. I concluded this was the most mature action.
By 5:30, I’d been waiting a total of four hours. Mr. Shaw’s phone was still off. Mummy’s office closed by 5:15. She would stop at her shop to check the sales for the day and then dismiss Simi. After this, it would be the grocery store for weekend provisions.
The rain had grown heavy. I stared at my screen until six struck. I knew Mum would soon head home. Friday traffic at Ahmadu Bello Way … she’d arrive 6:30-ish. Mutiu would turn on the generator, and I would have been the one to serve us dinner. I would have walked up to the guard room to knock and handed Mutiu his food.
“Ah ah ahhh!” he would have exclaimed, as though he was not expecting it.
I would have smiled, walking back inside while he blessed away my family in between mouthfuls. “Thank you my daughter, God bless una, God bless our mummy…
We would have watched Desperate Housewives together, with two cups of lemon-lime Top Tea. I would have watched MTV base until nine and then changed the channel to watch Newsline before going to my room.
I would have sat by my bed, flashing Mr. Shaw until he called me so we could talk about everything and giggle about nothing, till he ran out of credit. I never went to sleep without checking on Mum. If she’d fallen asleep on the sofa, I would take her glasses off, cover her with the blue tartan shawl…I imagined her alone tonight, in that quiet house.
I turned off my phone then tossed the new sim. One deep breath later I was in the rain. The water was heavy, my weeping heavier. There were no taxis in sight, no Mr. Shaw, no keke, just private cars zooming home.
I didn’t stop running. I didn’t check the time again. I didn’t try to guess anymore. I just ran…till I passed by the junction that led to school, down Ibrahim Taiwo, through Ali Avenue, passed the flower pots and mango trees of our crescent, then banging on our gate with an onslaught of adrenaline.
“Mutiu!” I screamed, “Mutiu!”
She opened the gate drenched in water. Lightening flashed over her red eyes when I looked in them. I knew she had read my letter. Mutiu was standing behind her staring at me, horror, relief, and confusion on his face.
Mum reached to slap me, but she tugged at my collar and shook me instead, making me convulse so strongly that my head pounded. I felt my blouse rip at the neck. I could hear her heaving through the sound of rain.
“Rinret!” She yelled finally. I could hear thunder in the sky roaring curses at me.
“I’m sorry!” I cried.
When she hugged me I realized for the first time, how tall I had grown in these past few months and how little she felt in our embrace. I refused to let go. Her cries quivered. I felt like a mother. I felt like a child.
“I love you Mama.” I begged, hoping she would still love me back come morning.
Post image by Javi via Flickr
Cuba Ukoh is a writer and lover of the arts. In 2012 , her flash fiction piece “The new word”emerged as the first runner up in the Creative Wings Short Story competition. In 2013, her short story, “Esmeralda” was highly commended in Sentinel Nigeria’s All-Africa Short Story Competition. Some of her works have been published on the African Renaissance Theatre (ART) blog.
Currently, she runs her blog of literary musings; cubaukoh.wordpress.com where she explores the beautiful craft of creative writing.