Hi there! Just in case you missed it, this is where we left off.
Most of us go through school, oblivious to the kind of burdens that the girl sitting across the dining table is carrying, oblivious to the fact that one of the boys in our dorm has nightmares every night. Sometimes we do notice it and turn a blind eye to it. After all, it is really none of our business. Today, we hear Akpene’s story- she, like every one of us, has skeletons in her cupboard. It is probably the longest episode yet. Happy reading! And oh, Merry Christmas!! 🙂
Akpene did not like sleeping in the dark.
It triggered memories that she would rather keep buried. Like that night that she and her mother and brother slept in a lotto kiosk with a leaking roof because their landlord had chosen to kick them out. Her brother was scared- the thunder and the sound of the rain pellets hitting the thin aluminum in sheet made it difficult for him to fall asleep. It was a difficult year for them and just the week before, someone had stolen her mother’s life savings. She had sat in one corner of the kiosk, stroking her brother’s back and trying hard to make sure that her mother did not see the silent tears that were rolling down her cheeks. It was that night that she decided to stop crying about things she could not change.
Her mother’s brother, Uncle Koku, offered to give them a room to stay in. He was a truck driver and was often away from home, so the arrangement was that they would sleep there until he got back from his travels. One day, he came back unexpectedly. Akpene instantly became uncomfortable. She could feel his eyes on her when she was going about her chores. Three nights after he had come back, he came to her room and forced himself on her. Her mother had travelled to go and get more tomatoes for the next market day and her brother was sound asleep. She remembered every detail almost as though she had created the memory herself- him covering her mouth so she would not scream, she gasping for breath, the intense pain, the smirk on his face when he was done, the gruff tone with which he asked her to clean up. Just before he left, he turned to her and said, ‘Consider it as one month’s rent. I am a very generous man.’
He came back again the following night and the night after that. When her mother came back, she took one look at her and knew. Her eyes flooded with tears and an unspoken apology. Akpene refused to cry- because of the pledge she had taken not to cry about things she could not change. She could barely sleep at night and anytime she closed her eyes, she could feel Uncle Koku’s rough hands prying her legs open. The next time her mother travelled, she was ready. This time, the dark that she had come to dread was her greatest ally. She waited until he had unbuckled his belt. She went straight for his testicles, squeezing the life out of them like they were a pair of juicy ripe oranges. The pain seemed to temporarily paralyze him. She jumped up and hit him on the head a few times for good measure. Pausing at the door, she looked at him and said, ‘Consider it as rent advance. Shameless idiot!’
She ran away that night. She knew that he would be looking for her to punish her after what she had done to him. She wanted to be with her mother and her brother but she had no intention of going back. She lived on the streets, stopping by her mother’s stall once in a while to take some money and check on her brother. This meant she could no longer go to school but it was better than living with Uncle Koku. Most days, she felt like she was swimming against the tide and that she had to work twice as much to get half as much as everyone else got. There were however days when it felt like God was smiling down at her, like the day she met Auntie Lucy. She was selling canned drinks in the street one day when a woman motioned for her to come over. After a short conversation, Auntie Lucy offered to take her in and help her complete her education.
Auntie Lucy gave her a monthly stipend, most of which she saved and sent back to her mother. One day, Reggie the house boy, smacked her buttocks while she was cleaning out the oven. She hit his hand with the metal spoon she was holding and warned him to stay away from her. The next week, he had framed her for the theft of Auntie Lucy’s gold watch and she was back on the streets. Once again, she refused to cry because crying wouldn’t change anything. It was a week to the BECE, she could not afford to waste her one shot at getting an education over tears. When she finished her exams, she convinced her mother to rent a room somewhere in Chorkor where they could at least live together. Even there, she was an outcast- first because she was an Ewe in the land of Gas, and secondly because all the other girls enjoyed being the object of men’s attention and she, on the other hand, loathed it. A week before she went to school, she heard that Uncle Koku has started looking for her again. It triggered all the memories- and the nightmares. She was glad when the day came for her to go to school.
She liked school- it came with regular meals- hot ones too! Even though she didn’t have any friends, she was grateful for the opportunity to make something of herself. School also protected her from Uncle Koku- at least physically. She still had nightmares about him and anytime it was dark, she panicked.
That would explain why she didn’t like entertainment- pitch darkness, boys too close for comfort and people gyrating like it was the most natural thing in the world. Every Saturday was torture and most of the time, she would sit in a corner with her eyes shut, willing it to be 9pm so that she could go to bed. The boys and girls from the Scripture Union group usually sat not too far away from her, their eyes silently condemning the momentary ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ unfolding before their very eyes. This time, she got there late and the partying had already started. It was Recs Night so they had pushed all the pews out of the hall to make room for all the dancing. Out of nowhere, one of the boys in Form 2, under the cloak of anonymity, pulled her from the back and dragged her to the centre of the dance floor. He started dancing close to her and her body cringed at the thought of another man touching her. She started to move away from him and he touched her waist and tried to turn her back to himself. Shutting her eyes, she silently begged her mind not to play back its favourite movie. The darkness, the pain, the brutality..
She clinched her fist and was getting ready to push him back when someone grabbed her hand and led her away from the hall. Before the light hit her eyes, she already knew who it was.
‘I know you said you could take care of yourself but you looked like you were about to faint if that boy had gotten any closer’
‘Wow, no sharp retort? You must really be touched.’
She sat at the bottom of the stairs and he sat beside her, all the while making sure he did not get too close to her.
‘How did you find me?’
‘Well, it is a secret. Promise not to tell anyone. I am actually Batman. I have inbuilt night vision googles. I am kidding! It is not difficult to miss you in a crowd. Do you want to talk about it?’
‘Why you are afraid of the dark’
‘That’s fine. Just so you know, I am here to listen whenever you decide to talk about it.’
She took in a deep breath and started talking. All the while, her heart was racing because she had never spoken about any of it with anyone before.
K Beck stopped her halfway through the story and said, ‘Akpene, you don’t have to say any more.’
‘I’d rather finish once I have started. I have kept this bottled inside me for so long. I wish I didn’t have this body. All my troubles in life have stemmed from it. Just last week, that Elective Maths teacher told me that if I allowed him to fondle me once a week, I’d never get a B in his class. I feel like a coward for running away and leaving my mother and brother in the hands of that callous man. I feel like it is happening all over again any time it gets dark.’
K Beck offered her his handkerchief. That was when she realized that she had been crying.
‘I wish I was there to beat every one of those people. I could beat the E Math teacher if that would make you feel better, but it would probably bring you more trouble. I am so sorry, Akpene. Nobody deserves to go through something like this.’
Having someone to be this nice to her opened the flood gates. He sat there quietly as she sobbed. When she was done, he helped her up and promised to look out for her from then on. Crying made her feel a lot lighter, and in that moment, with her tears soaking K Beck’s handkerchief, it almost felt like God was smiling at her again.
Adriana was in a bad mood. Curtis had apparently sent a note to another girl, telling her that he thought she was pretty. As if that wasn’t enough, he was sitting at the back of the class making jokes about the bodies of his female classmates. He stood up and drew two big circles on the board and then pointed at one of the busty girls in the class. Then he and his cronies burst into laughter.
When Denise asked her if she had enough shito for both of them to eat the dining hall jollof with, she snapped at her. Denise muttered under her breath, ‘Rather than deal with your boyfriend, you take out your insecurities on other people.’
Adriana, who was used to everything in this world kowtowing at her command, could not stand the fact that Denise was not supporting her almost as much as she could not stand Curtis’ attention shifting to any other girl! Denise looked back at Akpene, who was packing her books, and made a mental note to come with extra clothes the next semester so that she could offer Akpene some.
The commotion from the back drew everyone’s atention there. Curtis and K Beck were engaged in a scuffle, obviously because Curtis had said something inappropriate about Akpene. K Beck was the obvious favourite of the two and most of the girls were chanting his name.
K Beck! K Beck! K Beck!
Akpene stood there, unsure of what to do. Just then, the crowd parted, making way for Mr Hormeku.
‘Welbeck! I knew it! I knew you had trouble written all over you. Only God knows why I left you anywhere near my house. H-h-h-ooligans and rascals have no place in my house! If you don’t get suspended, then my name isn’t Confidence Mawuli Kojovi Hormeku. Come on, get up!’ He pulled K Beck by the collar and ignored the cries of the girls who clearly thought it was Curtis’ fault. As if that wasn’t enough drama for one day, Adriana walked up to Curtis and slapped him.
That night, Afrakuma lay in her Tweety-themed duvet- a Christmas gift from Jerry-and thought about her conversation with Gagert from two nights ago one more time. To her surprise, nothing she said was a surprise to the woman. She sat cross-legged, looking as calm as a woman who was deciding what to have for dinner.
‘You don’t sound surprised’
‘When you are my age and have spent almost a decade and half running a school like Capital High, nothing will shock you. Besides all the signs were there. I am waiting for them to strike. I will be ready..’
Afrakuma wondered whether Gagert also knew that she was only a partial ally. One thing about Afrakuma was that she didn’t like to lose, so she planned to play both sides to see who would win. Both Gagert and Ms Ampadu were counting on her to turn the students in their favour.She too was waiting for them to strike. Either ways, she would have an ally in whoever won the battle.
‘May the best side win’, she muttered to herself just before her eyelids shut.
See you next week! 😉