I grew up in a small village, in a small country most people don’t know about, but I knew I wasn’t destined to be small.
As far back as I can remember, my mother has always been pushing me to get married. Every order she ever gave me was based on the premise of one day pleasing my future husband.
“A good wife must be able to wash her husband’s clothes properly”
“A good woman must be able to carry a bucket of water on her head, and a child on her back or in her belly without spilling a drop of water.”
Each time, I wondered if the same was demanded of a man by his father – that he must be a good, understanding husband. But I never asked because it would start another fight, and we already fought a lot.
I remember the first time my mother brought home a potential suitor. He wore a shiny suit with a colourfully printed shirt underneath, made of cheap polyester. I had seen the same outfit at the trading centre; my friends and I had mocked it with quiet giggles. The man had worked for the white man and thought he would show off his “Engrish” to my father, who just happened to be an English teacher. My mother fell for every word he spoke, however, father was far from impressed with his sloppy misplacement of l’s and r’s. Mother was very disappointed when my father declined the man’s proposal. As he spoke to the man, I heard the heavens open up and sing in joyous Hallelujah.
My Father was unlike most men in the village, he actually loved all his children equally, yes, even his daughters. When my mother argued for marriage, he stood for education. To calm her down, he would tell her, men nowadays preferred an educated wife. I secretly wondered if he wanted an educated woman, and sadly, I think mom wondered it too.
So after secondary school, I went off to a teacher training college. Having been there a year, I was offered the chance to go study abroad as part of a student exchange programme. Before I left, my mother warned me not to get attached to those Western boys, they’re like snakes, she would say. They will woo you and leave you, much like the colonists had done to many young local girls. Maybe the girls were naïve to hope to find escape from their current situation, by laying claim to some rich European family.
Melissa, her name, she was the one I was to be staying with. She was also studying teaching. She was very welcoming and showed me around the school. I had never seen such an enormous place in person before. My amazement and general awe of her country made her smile, and that was the start of a beautiful friendship.
We were never apart for too long, we studied together, attended class together. In our spare time, she took me out to explore the city. We went to art galleries, theatres that played timeless films, and visited ancient ruins. Some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. She was always so bold, so sure of herself, speaking her mind constantly. She was so different from the girls I knew back home. She wasn’t waiting for her life to begin; she was already living it. I envied her for it, but also happy to be a part of it even for this short time.
The day before I was supposed to leave, she bought me this very journal to write in, and told me to write to her, and I promised I would. These were the happiest days of my life, and I knew I was going to miss her companionship deeply.
We stayed up late that night drinking some fancy wine, reminiscing past adventures and laughing away the tears of the impending separation. I hadn’t had any form of alcohol before this trip. The warm tingling sensation it brought to my mouth was a welcome addition to my experience of this new world.
In that moment, I turned to her and saw her staring back at me. I felt my heart make one loud thump! Then stop. I wanted something I had never imagined before this moment in front of me. I wanted love.
Before I could fully grasp my own desires, her warm, pink lips caressed mine in an unorthodox yet heavenly embrace. Her hands graced my back as though anointing me with love, with a love so true, so passionate and there I was, in love.
But my mind raced; this is wrong. This is that horrible act they taught us about in church. But if it is so horrible why did I like it so much? Why did I want to do it again and again?
When I returned home, I felt like everyone knew what I had done. As though, I carried the weight of my actions on my shoulders. When people flocked to hear the stories of my adventure, I saw suspicious eyes waiting for me to confess my sins. But they couldn’t possibly know, could they.
One day, I got word from my father, informing me he had found a new suitor. Even father thought it was time I marry. My heart sank. The man was a young lawyer and dressed like the lawyers I had run into at art galleries. He engaged in intellectual conversations with father, like those Melissa and I had over philosophies of the world. The lawyer was able to woo my sceptical mother with his poetic vernacular – I wouldn’t want Melissa to woo my mother. Whenever I looked at him, I longed to be back in Mel’s apartment on my last night as she kissed me, undressed me and made me a woman as my mother would say. I could not marry him, I would not and that was my resolve!
When I told my parents, my mother was hysterical, crying that demons were inside me, the priest should come to perform an exorcism. But nothing hurt more than when my father simply walked away from me. With the deepest disappointment in his voice, he whispered, “Leave my house.”
Maybe this happened because of all the times I tried to disobey my mother, so I thought this would be the greatest defiance. Maybe I was born this way, merely attracted to the female form above all else. Or maybe I would have fallen in love with the lawyer if I had met him first; if he had been the one to open my eyes to the world I loved. Maybe then I would have been a normal African girl.
After many years, I learnt that regardless of the cause, we love who we love. I can never imagine anything wrong with that, so I will simply be grateful to wake up next to the woman I love.
No matter what transpired back then, I am still that African girl, raised in a small village, in a small country.