Children in this country are something else.
As a postgraduate student, I used to work part time in M&S to earn/supplement my allowance. I hated the late shift during winter because it meant that you arrived around one pm or two and left around 10pm. This in itself was not too bad. I just put my head down and got on with it until it was closing time.
What got me was the walk to the bus stop afterwards. Management advised that female staff leave in groups
thus covering their asses so that you wouldn’t sue if you got raped because they cared for our well-being.
(That walk is metal in my mouth. I don’t know if this is what fear tastes like or if it is simply blood drawn from parts of my tongue which have my teeth clamped over them. The route to the bus stop is on a street flanked by buildings. It funnels the air, sharpening it into flints nicking at my flesh. My shoes are cheap ballet flats – I still cannot help converting prices to Naira in shops – and the cold coils itself around my feet with zeal, pulling tight. My legs are heavy after a while, boulders of ice. My body is shutting down from the feet up. I know my brain is sending a message: If I have to, I can do without you.
Then comes the waiting; half-hidden in the shadows of pillars, masked by the scent of others who have scarcely moved on from marking territories. Collar turned up against the wind, nose shielded in scarf, feeling every purposeful breath turn to liquid and before long, crystals on the cloth.
Finally the bus announces its arrival in the rattling of bolts, charging down the empty street. I step out of the shadows, putting a hand out into the pool of light spilling like liquid salvation on the road to perdition. Into the all-seeing fluorescence. I am safe. I am going home.)
So you can imagine my surprise when I got on the bus close to midnight and saw these two children – a girl and a boy – sitting as if it was their limo. My first thought was ‘What are these two doing on the bus at this time, biko nu? Isn’t you mother looking for you?’
I next wondered why people in the North of England seemed allergic to winter wear. I took in the girl’s pink tube top and a little pink skirt. The boy’s outfit of choice was a baggy t-shirt and trousers, offset by braces and a goldie-looking chain. (Ba-da-boom!) He had so many pimples; big ones, small ones, pointed ones, all red, fighting for prominence on his face. He looked about 11, the girl – also wearing braces – nine. They were so thin, it was hard to imagine that they couldn’t feel the cold. I felt sorry for them, for their poor mother working X jobs, and so tired that she didn’t even know when her kids snuck out for midnight bus rides.
That was until I noticed that the girl was sitting on the boy’s twiggy laps in a manner that was not sibling-compliant. I didn’t have time to dwell. The boy pulled the girl down by her neck and opened his mouth on hers.
Kristi mee ebere.
I could hear their tongues ‘Piyokom, Piyokom‘. Coupled with the braces it was as if eels were fighting with cutlery. I looked at the three other audience members. Nobody batted an eyelid. I felt shame cover me. Like a true Igbo girl who sees ihe aruru ala that she is not supposed to see, I started to avert my gaze. I caught myself.
There I was in my 20s about to avert my gaze because a nine and an 11-year-old were busy mia-ling onu n’ime ndeli instead of gong to bed, perhaps having dreams of stealing back Nasco wafers from their teacher’s drawer? Asi asi! I sat down.
Piyokom! Piyokom! Kpakam! Kpakam! Went the lips and braces.
The next thing happened in slow motion.
(Behold!) The boy’s arm came up, sliding over the girl’s exposed belly and into her tube top. He twiddled away much in the same way as one would a radio knob.
It was either keep watching or get off and walk the rest of the way home. The girl didn’t have any breasts.
I pressed the bell.
Gwam Gwam Gwam: Did our ancestors kiss?
I’ve often wondered about that. I know I joke about Igbo men and sex but I don’t think our ancestors were unskilled in the art of foreplay. Say a man – let’s call him Okonkwo – wanted to make love to his wife, I don’t think he went: “Bia nwanyi a. Ihe gi n’agu m. Dinalu ala.” (Actually maybe THAT Okonkwo might have done.)
I like to believe there must have been some …you know…time wasting elements involved. But what could it have been? And if it was kissing, how did they do it? Eskimo? French? Or some other Igbo Karma Sutra form that has died out due to (Christian) prudish attitudes?
I for one don’t think it was any kind of kissing. Saliva is called ‘Aso mmili’ – ‘Taboo water’, unless you take the other meaning for ‘Aso’ – ‘Sacred’. This meaning is more beautiful and might mean that exchanging saliva was not to be taken lightly. You only did it with peope you cherished.
Nah. I think it’s ‘Taboo’.
I can’t see my grannies swapping spit for any reason, cherished or not.