The urge came upon Adanne as randomly as her period. She let it fester, pretending to bandy the idea for a few minutes, yet knowing that she would give in to it. She always did. On the way to her bedroom, it occurred to her to pick up the TV remote control in the living room, and in the excitement to find out what this phallic addition would bring to her new physical pleasures, she forgot to lock the door behind her like she’d always done.

“I… I… was looking for the remote control,” disbelieving his eyes, her father stammered his excuse for barging into her bedroom. His moustache quivered in astonishment, even as he stared harder in an unintelligent effort to make sense of what lay before him. It was immediately clear to the young girl that this was not one of those moments where she played dead after she’d been caught in mischief, and her father would fall into fits of laughter at his little girl, giving her a pass. Perhaps focusing on his receding hairline and wishing he would poof away instead of acknowledging the whereabouts of the highly sought-after remote control was the only logical thing to do. The father, suddenly certain of what exactly he had interrupted, began to scurry away, now just as eager to rid himself of the situation as he had been to decipher it. He retreated, falling over a laundry basket that was suddenly in the way and slammed the door shut. The loud noise knocked him out of stupefaction into the waiting arms of hysteria as he ran into the living room, frantically searching for his mobile phone.

Adanne sat up on the bed, her head in her hands. What to do now? Go give him the remote? He probably didn’t want it anymore. She went to the door and opened it slowly, every creak announcing she was spreading her lascivious aura to other parts of the house. With her hands on the wall, she tiptoed out, inching along the corridor, till the frantic waves of her dad’s whispering voice were as clear as the heartbeat still ricocheting in her chest. “–you have to come home now. I’m telling you. I don’t know how to deal with this.” Her mother was away on a business trip and was not expected until early Saturday morning, three whole days away. Adanne slunk back to her room. She needed to think.

The moral pillar of the family, the one who played bad cop with relish when any of the three kids needed disciplining – her mother – would ‘kill’ her. The memory of her mum brandishing the worn family bible, spitting fire at the brother who had come home from boarding school with textbooks that weren’t his, was as fresh as the mintiest breath. Mother had sworn there were no thieves in her lineage, and she would be damned if she did not kill him first rather than allow him to taint the family name.

Maybe she ought to throw herself at the feet of her father. Not figuratively, but like in the Nollywood movies, hold his feet and cry down there till he pronounced a fitting punishment. She had never touched her father’s feet, at least she didn’t think so. Her mother had been trying to convince him to get a professional pedicure. Did he get one? He used to tickle hers, but they hadn’t done that in a while. She listened with her ear pressed to the door of her bedroom and heard the boisterous re-entry of her older brothers from their basketball game. What had her father said to them about self-pleasuring, if any? Did he think it was wrong, or was it wrong because she was a girl? The boys wanted to watch a game on another channel. Adanne ran back to the bed, completely mortified. What would he tell them about the remote? She refused to come out for her dinner, the boys taking turns to ask her what was wrong through the locked door. The only thing she had decided was that she couldn’t face her father tonight. They could continue this new dance of shame tomorrow. And so, they did ― scarred father and now tainted daughter, edging away from each other, space and distance, new, precious allies. Father and daughter dreading and yet desperately anticipating the culmination that the return of the matriarch would bring.

Saturday morning arrived, and Adanne stayed in bed, awaiting her fate. She listened with a pillow over her head as the house stirred to her mother’s return, the brothers proclaiming that something was up because everyone was acting weird. The father, telling them to keep quiet a tad sharper than he had intended, then offering a nervous laugh in denial of the tension, succeeding only in confusing the boys more. When Adanne heard her mother’s voice, it was too late. “I see you still haven’t learnt to lock your door.” Her mother always went straight for the jugular. She was wearing a business suit, even though it was a Saturday and had caught the first flight out of Abuja.
“Welcome home, mum.”
The mother ignored her daughter’s greeting. The pleats in her black skirt swayed with some aggression as she walked to the bed and sat by her daughter. She took off her pumps, stared long and hard at the girl on the bed, and after letting out a weary sigh, she began, “Adanne, I want to apologise for not talking to you about sex. For taking too long to get to it, I guess most parents try their best to deny the inevitability of their children as sexual creatures.” Adanne was sure she was dreaming. She had probably become so scared that her mind had withdrawn into a parallel universe where her mother was talking to her calmly and had even just apologised. “Are you listening Adanne?”
“Yes… yes I am,” she replied, nodding her head. This had to be a cruel trap of some sort.
“I want to tell you something that’s very important and you have to listen to me okay?”
“Okay, I’m listening.”

Her mother reached out to her and pulled her up by the shoulders so that they were face to face, an unnerving proximity Adanne remedied by willing her eyes to stay locked on to her mother’s as she began a controlled descent back to her pillow. “Sex is important and there are many aspects of it I need to talk to you about. Can you tell me what exactly you know… of sex?” Her mother’s voice was low and soft, Adanne realised she was trying to be reassuring. Unfortunately, she was still reeling from this unforeseen course of events and her face laid bare her real confusion.
“You are not going to punish me for… for what I did?” Adanne asked.
Her mother pried her hands away from her face. “You didn’t do anything wrong. Well, except maybe traumatise your father, but he will live. He already bought a new remote control. The world is already moving on.” She paused here, the hold on her daughter’s fingers suddenly firmer, “May I ask what exactly you were doing with the―”
“I didn’t put it in me I swear, I just squeezed my legs around it.”
“Stop!” she held up her hand to stop the gushing girl, then saw she had frightened her, so she smiled then caressed her arm to reassure her. “That brings me to the things I need to talk to you about. While sex is usually a very private matter, especially from one’s parents, I really want to be the one to talk to you about it so that you do not carry on with wrong information from your friends and the internet. Sex and masturbation are normal. Masturbating is normal. Do you hear me? I want you to say that to yourself,” she waited and Adanne mumbled the words quietly.

“It is a natural way of exploring, of finding yourself, and I think it is terribly important, especially for us… us girls. Everyone does it,” she tried to hold her daughter’s gaze but Adanne’s eyes were shut so tight they hurt. “I want to talk to you specifically about feelings of shame and guilt. Adanne, look at me. I’m sure you already know the mechanics of sex itself.” This was the trap. A casual deception so that she would expose herself and be damned. “You should never be ashamed about what you do with your own body, do you hear me?” her mother asked. Adanne nodded some more; she definitely had no plans to disagree with whatever her mother had to say. “Do you hear me?” her mother asked again.
“Yes. Yes, I hear you.”
“It is unfortunate that your dad came in while you were indulging, but I really do not want you to associate sex with shame or guilt. Do not let anyone define your sexual expectations, behaviour or role. For some reason, a lot of societies are threatened by a woman in charge of her own sexuality, but I want you to know that your body and anything you do with it, is your business.” She was serious. Her mother was serious. This was a real conversation about sex, not an admonition, not a reprimand, and she wasn’t getting punished. Adanne needed to see her mother’s mouth make these words with her own eyes. Her fingers which had been covering her eyes as she attempted to disappear, now slid down her face.

“Do not be told what you should be and how you should be it. That decision is entirely yours. Remember when I said sex is private? I mean so private, there’s no space for God. At this stage where you are uhm… exploring… taking care of things alone, it is entirely your business but when the time comes for–” For the first time, her mother did not pick up where she left off, her face folded into a grimace like she was in pain, she smoothed the furrows on her skirt instead, clearly foraging for the next appropriate words. Adanne watched her mother’s lips begin to move again, and for the first time, she wasn’t listening but seeing. She explored her mother’s face, recognising old traits, learning new lines. She realised that her mother was saying the words with all of the sway of her position, but that her poise was feigned. It was her turn to startle her mother as she sat up in a flash.
“Are you ok?” her mother asked.
“Yes, I am.

Adanne was a little more than okay. In the exposed doubt on her mother’s face, she had just grasped for herself a moment of clarity. She understood implicitly that she had always cowered in response to the certainty with which her mother tackled all the roles she took on. She’d assumed that at some divinely appropriate age, she would become surefooted and would thereafter glide through life. That it would be her turn to leave people in awe of her authority. Just like her mother did.
“You do understand me, right? When the time comes for you to make these decisions, you have to understand the implications.”
“I do, mum.”


The mother stared back at her child. She could make no sense of the change in the girl. She wasn’t sure how much had been communicated, but she could feel her ruminating on something new. Years ago, she’d made a precise plan of the things she would say to her daughter, based on her own experience of ignorance and shame, the oppressive tools of her own parents’ disciplinary methods. But identifying the line where your child becomes conscious of, and then begins to explore a new wave of biological instincts had not been factored in. In the midst of an exacting schedule, the frantic call from her husband had been somewhat amusing. But as soon as she sank into her seat for the plane ride home, she had begun spiralling down the well-travelled, guilt-laden road about her responsibilities as a mother. While her husband’s reaction was somewhat understandable, she wished he could have handled it with some grace. She hadn’t said any of the things in her original speech today, nothing about waiting for the right time, or consenting, or getting pregnant. She picked up her shoes and got off the bed. She was going to have to make a better effort to talk to her kids.


“Please clean up this mess and come out to the living room.” There would be no hugs here to signify closure. Her mother was done. Adanne got off her bed and began picking up as soon as her mother left her room, the smell of fried plantains egging her on. This had been the most illuminating week. She had seen her distinguished father so distressed it would only be funny in another five years or more. She sat on the half-made bed and thought of her grandmother. Mma had died when she was nine, and her mother had told her that grandma was in heaven watching down on all her loved ones on a big screen. This was not quite as reassuring as the mother had thought it would be. But now, there was nothing wrong with sex, her mother had just said so. Except it seemed her mother wasn’t as sure as she portrayed. She was going to have to work out why that was so comforting.

There was nothing wrong with sex. And everyone masturbates, unperturbed by all the hovering watching grandmas. She pulled out the remote control from beneath a pillow. There was no need to return it. It was all hers now.













Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash