Tag Archives: Igbo girls

Two legs good, three legs evil: Part 1

His name was Frank and he was fine.

Sometime in my primary four his family returned from America and Frank enrolled in my school. He had a chipped front tooth and a paw-paw head and the teachers let him wear trainers to school rather then the usual brown, cortina shoes buffed to a shine with Kiwi polish. They also let him show off his white, short-sleeved vest by leaving his school shirt unbuttoned.

I’d heard about him the previous day from Chinenye. The headmistress made her his guide since Frank was in our year. He wore a denim shirt and jeans, and said ‘Wassup’ as they were introduced. Chinenye said she felt as if ants were crawling all over her face.

I think everyone was aware the minute Frank walked into the T-shaped hall which housed all the primary fives and some of the fours and sixes. The usual hum died like something had flicked a switch. “Mmuo nso agafee,” someone whispered.

Chinenye rounded the corner with her charge.

A million bubbles formed and popped inside my tummy. I couldn’t take my eyes off the whiteness of his trainers and the way his shirt flapped in the breeze coming from windows-spaces that never held glass. Something about him reminded me of The Karate Kid.

“Class, this is Frank. Greet him.”

“Good day Frank, you are welcome to our class. How do you do?” We chorused.

“Hi,” he drawled. Some girls tittered.The teacher eyed them.

“He will need your help meeting up so at the end of the day I will select the notes that he will take home to copy.” She paused. “Now where will I put you to sit?”

My heart beat madly in my ears. I hoped he would be seated on the first bench but we were already four. It was full. I dreaded him sitting with us. I wanted to throw up. The teacher put him at back with the rest of the tall people. I was relieved and saddened.

I avoided him. During break when it seemed the whole school had Frank fever, I kept away. My usual crowd hung about, as near as the boys would allow. When they got too close to the boys’ shiny new toy, one of them darted forward and pushed whatever girl dared breach the invisible wall.

“Hey.” My heart contracted in my chest even before I turned. My tongue rattled about in my mouth, my saliva solidified. It was the end of school. My water bottle was empty.

“Hello.”

“So, you’re in my class right? How come you haven’t said hello?”

“I have said hello. We all did, this morning.”

“No,” he laughed. “I mean like everyone else has?”

“I think you’re letting all the attention get to your head.” My voice came out thick and I was shamed by how effortless his accent sounded compared to mine. His words were bees swarming in my head. I was dizzy from the pleasure of it but kept my face straight, peeking out of the corner of my eyes at him. He slouched on the wall, hands in pockets, the very picture of nonchalance.

I checked my watch. Just in time, I saw my mother’s figure shimmering across the sand of the assembly ground. I left my shade by the wall and walked towards her. Frank followed, his voice dripping in my ear like honey. “Hey,” he pulled me by the elbow. Maybe tomorrow I can hold your bag while we walk to the gate, how ’bout that?” The heat travelled up my arm and lodged itself in my throat. My mother was watching me.

I drew my arm back and smacked him across the face. “Don’t ever touch me, you…you…SCALLYWAG,” I said in my most adult voice.

My mother patted me on the back all the way to the car. “Good girl. That’s how it’s done. If you don’t show them now they’ll think they can take what they should buy.” I didn’t understand what she meant. I didn’t care about anything. I replayed the slap over and over; the impact of skin on skin, Frank’s jaw hanging open in shock. My heart was breaking.

In school the next day Frank avoided me. I siddled close to his friends and tried to talk to him. He didn’t look my way. I eventually caught up with him in the sun outside, when we both got permission to use the toilets. He flinched as I apporached.

“Oh no, not you again. Dunno what I did to you but whatever it is, I’m sorry. I don’t want none of your crazy.” He walked behind the building to do his business in the bushes.

Thou shalt hold thine knees together at all times.

About ninety percent* of the rules concerning Igbo girls have to do with men. Specifically, what not to do with men. Or around men. Or for men. In order to be properly married to a man. Of those rules, the earliest concerns sitting.

“Sit like a woman,” my mother always said, hitting whatever part of you was nearest to her.

This meant that on the floor, a girl must always sit with her legs together, outstretched in front of her. That was relatively easy. Sitting in a chair was harder; one had to make sure that one’s knees were tightly pressed together, the resultant under-sag of skirt tucked in between thighs. This was important; holding your knees together when you were in a dress or skirt was simply not enough.

It goes without saying that boys were NOT ALLOWED to see above your knees. If a boy saw your pant, a bad thing was supposed to happen and your mother was supposed to know about it somehow. I didn’t know what this was, but I was afraid of it nonetheless.

Disobeying the sitting rule brought swift and harsh punishment which could come from anyone. Even the boys themselves.

“Hey! You girl, Don’t you know you shouldn’t be sitting like that?” I looked up from my snack, spread out over my thighs. A group of boys stood in front of me, their chequered blue shirts unbuttoned in break-time exertions. Their leader was a boy whose fair skin could only be described as ‘dirty yellow’. Like pus. He was younger than I was. I recognised them as the band of boys that tormented girls in school; pulling hair, throwing stones, spitting…I shivered. I wasn’t nearly old enough for them to be afraid of me at just eight, but I had to try anyway.

“Who are you talking to like that?”

“I am talking to you. Don’t you have home training? Didn’t your mother teach you how to sit?” In my effort to avoid the lunchtime melee, I had snuck a book into school. I was so lost in the book that I didn’t realise that the forbidden under-sag had happened. I was sitting on most of them, but a bit of my pants were on display. A solitary bead of sweat trickled down my back.

“Shut up, osiso. If you don’t get out of here now, I will go and tell Teacher that you people were trying to peep at me,” I bluffed. I saw the boys waver, looking at each other. A few of them at the back shuffled their feet. One of them scratched his head and turned around. “That’s right, go away or I will make sure you get flogged.”

I went too far. Their leader spat into the ground. I watched the dry spittle curl inwards, clothing itself in a layer of sand. “I will tell her that you showed us your pant. Your white pant. White and led.” I felt shame cut through me. The description of my underwear was a mark seared on my soul. Even before they started throwing sand into my thighs, I felt unclean. The sand flew everywhere, into my hair, my snacks, my book. I screamed and it went into my mouth. The boys laughed as they ran away.

I stood up and tried to dust myself down as best I could. The sand cut me like little knives in the softest parts of my body. I rinsed my mouth with water from my water bottle but I could still hear crunching when I spoke and goose pimples popped all over my skin.

“Why didn’t you run when you saw the car?” My mother asked at the end of the school day. She reached around and casually knocked me on the head. “I will flog you when we get home, I can see you are now too big to run.” I hung my head.

Mother was right. Boys had seen and now bad things were happening to me; I could barely walk from the discomfort in between my bum cheeks and I was still going to get a beating when I got home. Life was so unfair.

I always kept my legs closed after that.

* This figure (ninety percent) is a ‘Guess-timate’.

To cut a long story short…

It was four days after my Igba Nkwu. I was in my mother’s kitchen searching for Nigerian foodstuff to take back to London.

Kedu gi?” My mother shouted from upstairs.

“I’m in the kitchen,” I answered. I reached for some unripe mangoes and wrapped them in newspaper. I would have to pack them last so that they didn’t ripen too quickly in the heat of my suitcase.

“Ah, I see you’ve found the mangoes. Take these coconuts as well.” My mother also produced a packet of ground crayfish from nowhere and added it to my growing pile. She walked to a cupboard, opened it and shut it again. Then she walked to the pantry. She came back out. My mother was not given to aimless wanderings. I knew something was coming.

“What kind of contraceptives do you take? Do you take The Pill?” I recovered from my shock sufficiently enough to ponder the question. Responding ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to that question would mean that I was either on the pill or was taking another form of contraceptive. It would mean that I was safeguarding against a pregnancy. It would mean that I was having sex before I became a bride four days ago. It was a trick question.

“What would I be taking that for?” My mother was flustered. She tried to recover.

“Well, you should consider another from of contraceptives other than the pill so that when you want to conceive, you don’t have to wait for all those hormones to subside. Also there is a possible risk of weight gain…” She went into lecturer mode. She mentioned condoms. IUDs and injections. My mother held herself stiffly and sliced the air to emphasise her points.

My palms started to sweat. My mother was trying to give me a sex education.

I was twenty-six, had been living on my own for years and got married in a traditional ceremony four days ago, and my mother was giving me sex education. Now. After all this time.

I was perplexed. Was this the same mother who had famously bent over to throw sand into a suitor’s eyes for daring to talk to her as a girl? Was this the same mother that encouraged us to do the same? To keep away from men? This same mother whose previous attempt at sex education was simply “You know you are now seeing your menses. If you like go and get pregnant. Your father will kill you.”

I hated the word menses.

Now my mother stood in front of me trying to cram fifteen odd years into a few clinical sentences. I wanted to mess with her. I wanted to ask, “But how do you have sex in the first place? You are teaching me about prevention but how do I get pregnant?” I took one look at her; she seemed composed but I took in her too-wide eyes and sweat beading her top lip.

“Yes, mum. Thank you mum.” Her feet didn’t touch the floor as she left the kitchen. I felt sorry for her. Igbo Catholics had it the worst of all; the talk couldn’t have been easy. But I was still puzzled. After years spent drilling chastity, womanly pride and the best way to kill a man in just three gestures into my skull, at what point was I supposed to start seeing men as attractive?

Being a good Igbo girl is just hard.