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A very private experience

Oct 20, 2011, 11:41 AM | Article By: Isatou Dumbuya

Now that our mama has been delivered of her tenth child, my siblings and I are worried sick of where the baby would sleep, what it would eat and the clothes it would wear. We live together with our parents in a single room and share a toilet with hundred other people in our home.

My immediate sibling, Fatima and the youngest girl Binta are the only females in the family. I always remind Fatima that if she grows to be like mama (jobless, dirty and has too many children) I would never talk to her again. She has an aversion to mama and comes home less and less on time as if mama reminds her of too many things we do not have.

Just nine years old, Fatima is the only one I can talk to – with. Perhaps it is her beauty and intelligence that draws me to her. Her smile reveals her perfect set of teeth, and when she does I forget about all our troubles. Her deep-chocolate shy eyes remind me of the first rain drops in May. The musk, damp - beautiful scent of rain and sand that makes me inhale deeply - makes me want to taste it. Her brown skin – is of the Fula woman – feels like milk – feneh. I want to have a wife like her when I grow up like papa.

Sometimes our neighbours look down on us with contempt because we don’t have enough food to eat, and we would always appear uninvited in their homes because we know the lunch hour of each family in the neighborhood. We like roaming about aimlessly picking scraps thrown away by families, we wear tattered clothes and our finger nails are chipped and filled with dirt. Our outfits always speak volumes about us. People look at us with their eyes slit like devious snakes, wishing us bad-luck – wishing that we would disappear from the surface of the earth. They see us as nuisances – a menace - dangerous children who have the power to badly influence their children.

The moment they spot us coming, they would shoo their children into the house and contemptuously look at us - daring us to make a move – open our mouths to mutter our “good mornings,” “good afternoons” and “good evenings”.

“If ever I see you playing with those children, I would skin you alive and feed your carcass to the vultures!” they would threaten their children.

Sometimes my siblings and I would pick lice from each others head and crush them happily with our dirty nails. We would scrabble over lice and say, “This one is mine,” as if they were prized possessions. Their black blood would remain spattered on our hands, and we would not have the slightest inclination to wash them the moment we see food, but Fatima would.

Our mother would dish out food she managed to save some days ago, and we would gather around, eleven in number, munching it like the devil himself is hot on our heels.

When night comes, Papa and Mama would share the bed with the youngest child Binta, but now that mama has a new baby (a small baby like a kitty. This was because mama suffered from malaria and malnutrition during her pregnancy), she, the new baby and papa sleep on the bed. Binta joins us every night on the mat on the cold hard floor. Due to lack of space, being the oldest child, I would make sure that all the others have a place to straighten their ribs on and I would make do with whatever small place remains, even if it is a place that could only allow me to be in a sitting position till the first appearance of light in the sky. There is hardly any space for privacy, not even from the sometimes-prying eyes of the sly fox, Badou Boy.

Imagine the other day, when everybody else was fast  asleep, he silently crept from his side of the sleeping mat and slowly tip-toed to were Fatima was with the intention of raising her lappa to see her nakedness. Suddenly I made a loud snore, which scared him out of his wits and sent him back to where he came from. A few days later when she was putting on her uniform to go to school, (she and I are the only lucky ones to attend school. The others are waiting for a divine intervention to go to school too!) he pretended to be picking a pencil from the floor when his ulterior motive was to have a peek at her knickers.

Then one day I came home and met papa sliding his huge hands up Fatima’s skirt- then up her chest –fingering. She kept looking on with horror whilst a devious grin played around his square face. I ran away with a thumping pain in my chest wanting to believe that it was my eyes playing tricks on me.

But here I am again, dried eyed, pretending to be asleep on our mat – on the cold hard floor, and I see papa slide his huge dry hands again up and down her slim slender body. Mama stirs from her sleep, her eyes opens thrice their size and screams the whole compound up, and my heart stops beating.