BURNING EMBERS (Joshua Omena)
You heard when he called you. You just can’t respond and you don’t know why. You are a broken flute with notes that sounds like clashing cymbals on repeat.
“Where is this girl?” You hear him walk towards the room.
You sit still on the mat at the corner of the room and you can’t explain what you are feeling. Your mind is numb but you hear voices that echoes from that night.
“Leave me alone please”
“Shut up little girl”
You can’t get those voices out of your head. Your voice and theirs. You remember everything and you hate those memories; memories that reek of monsters and tears and blood.
“Please I am only fifteen”
You pleaded that night but they laughed. Like your plea was a joke, like you were acting childish.
Pot bellied with hairs, like a hill having grasses here and there, you remember when he pulled his shirt and licked his lips. You were crying and he was salivating; it all together resembled the picture of a meal and a hungry man.
“No one will hear you”
You looked at the tall one that spoke, his face hidden in the dark. The room was dark and smelt like sand and cement; and cold drifted in from the uncompleted windows.
You can’t remember where this is. You only remembered that you were in the village for Christmas and that you were returning from Ama’s house. It was late but you wanted to return to your grandmother’s. Ama, your childhood friend had insisted you pass the night with her but you did not want to. Or rather you did not want to incur the wrath of mother.
You remember walking fast and wishing there was moonlight, for the footpaths were very narrow. You remember how a hand covered your nose with a piece of cloth that smelt like iodine and something else. How you wanted to scream but another hand covered your lips. You remember how sleep came hurriedly and how your eyes got used to the darkness when you woke in the room.
“Let me go please”
You tried to struggle as they stripped your clothes. One held you like a vice and flattened your immature breast. Another licked your ears and you felt his saliva travel down through your neck to your shoulders and you shuddered.
You remember not looking when the first tore your hymen, your eyes tightly shut and you held back tears; tears that felt hot. You lost your voice and then your will when the second mauled you. Your body kept shaking as you broke into a million parts; a shattered mirror.
You stared at the last one in his face when he was at it. How quickly you changed. You felt nothing anymore. “Maybe that’s how rags feel” you thought.
“This girl strong ohh”
“Na natural ashawo”
You heard them laugh that night but you laid still and did nothing. The tall one lit a cigar after wearing his trousers. It shone in the poorly lit room like burning embers in a cold harmattan morning. They all dressed and left. You sat up and stared.
That was three years ago.
“Don’t you hear me?”
Your father comes into the room with a rage.
“I am tired of your attitudes”
You sit and continue staring, not making any move to acknowledge his presence.
“Your uncle is around and he wants to see you.”
You stand up without urgency and leave the room. You walk through the short corridor of the one room apartment and stare at your mother’s picture sitting on an old frame which dangled on the wall. She died two years ago and it was fibroid. She was the one that had worked as a hospital cleaner and paid your fees. Father does all manner of menial jobs but it is never enough. His bad eyes are a challenge and they limit the jobs he can do. You and your brother do jobs too but that only gave the family its daily bread, not enough for fees. Not enough to live.
You walk into the sitting room that has just one armchair and four stools. The walls feel damp and have a semblance of yellow; something like a used tissue paper and the floor is broken into thin slabs of concrete arranged like a jigsaw. The armchair sits in the middle and the stools gather round like broken children.
Your brother sits on a stool with a half smile; a grin and a straight face. He is in his first class at the junior secondary level and you are in your last class at the senior level. You were in the same class last year but father had no money to pay for the final exams.
Sitting on the armchair is your mother’s brother that had promised to pay your fees. He is visiting for the first time. You walk into the parlour with your father following.
Something broke. You heard it. The sound came from your insides and your eyes widened.
Cigar. Smoke. Burning embers.
“It is nice to finally meet you”
Blood rushes away from your heart. Your face goes white and you feel that familiar numbness.
“No one will hear you” echoes in your head. You remember how you shivered and you shiver again.
It all flows back into your head like water moving on reverse. Every scene from that night plays in your mind. You close your eyes and open them again; standing still like a clay statue and gazing at nothing. Anger, shock nor pain, you feel nothing; your numbness protecting what is left of your sanity.
The tall one sits on the armchair and wonders why you are quiet and staring at his face. He does not remember you.