My palms, tightly clasped in my lap, suddenly feel wet. I spread them open and stare down at them; watching rivulets of sweat trace the lines in them, before wiping them against my dress.
It is plain – the dress. It is not the usual bright coloured polka dotted or flower patterned kind of dress I love to wear. It is just plain, plain black, like the big, gaping hole I feel in my heart.
I hear the excited shrieks of children jumping about in the streets, I hear the exasperated voices of tired parents calling out to them, I hear the chirping of birds perching on tree branches and the panting of stray dogs running around.
The young couple arguing loudly across the street, the half naked toddlers playing barefoot in a puddle of dirty water and the four children in their early teens taking turns at the old game of Suwe I once played as a child, I follow with my eyes. I see them all.
I feel too the warmth of the late afternoon sun under my bare feet, the pain in my ankle caused by an irate stone from a child’s makeshift bow and arrow missing its mark, and the beads of sweat forming just above my swollen upper lip.
Still, I am numb. It is the hole, I am sure. The one that I imagine is there. That is why I am the way I am – wooden, like the long bench on which I sit now, the one I have been sitting on for hours. It is hard and uncomfortable, but it does not matter. Nothing does.
A woman, thickset and stout, suddenly appears before me, dragging the boy with the bow and arrow by his right ear. I assume she is his mother, although there is very little resemblance between them.
“Sorry, aunty,” the boy of perhaps four or five years mutters to me. He is now standing in front of me and looking more frightened than remorseful. A nudge from his mother fetches a louder apology from him.
My only response is a forced smile, an action that disturbs my swollen and tender upper lip. I bite my lower lip to hold back a sob, but the ailing lip is disturbed even more. I pick my shoes from the bench beside me and get up, ignoring the pain that sears through my body as I do so.
I do not want to go home, but that is where I am headed. It is only a street away, and there is nowhere else to go. I do not feel numb anymore, and each short step I take is painful. My feet hurt from walking on barefoot and I can no longer ignore the burn between my thighs. The goose bumps break out on my skin before the shuddering and trembling begin. I make to pull my jacket closely around me, but I remember that I no longer have it.
My eyes itch, then burn with tears. I cannot stop them, now that I am very close to home. They flow freely, steadily, down my cheeks. I trudge on.
Mother is where I thought she might be, but she is not waiting. She is bent over Omolade’s head, plaiting her hair. Omolade is my little sister and she is seated on a low stool in front of mother with her head in her lap. I stand, watching as mother turns my sister’s head each time she uses the cutting comb which she places in her thick, virgin hair after use. Then, she raises her head and smiles when she sees me, but the smile is immediately replaced with a worried expression.
“Labeke!! Kilode? Why are you standing there like that now? Answer me!” She rises quickly from her chair, almost pushing Omolade to the floor in the process, and runs to me, dragging me into the house.
“Talk to me, Omolabeke. What happened?” she continues to fuss over me, touching my face and arms. “Why are you holding your shoes? Where’s your bag? Your jacket, nko? Did you get into a fight?”
How do I explain to her that she is right; that I did get into a fight, and with my boss too? How do I tell her that I fought really hard, that I clawed and tore, screamed and cried, threatened and begged even before his groping, slobbery kissing, which left my upper lip sore, escalated to fondling my breasts? How will she understand that I let her down, that after all that, I gave up fighting, became numb, lay there like a zombie, and let him slide his filthy fingers under my dress and inside my underwear to poke around my insides? How do I tell her that I ran like a coward, leaving my handbag and jacket behind?
Mother knows everything, but how does she not know that her daughter has been violated, touched, and groped in the most sickening way imaginable by a much older married man? How did I not see that my firm but polite refusal of my boss’ request for an affair would hurt his ego? Why did I not see that the brushing of his hand against my breasts as he leaned over my shoulder to show me something on my laptop last week was not a mistake? Why did I not tell him that work could wait till after the public holidays when he called me earlier this morning? Why didn’t I fight harder? Yes, I got into a fight but not the kind mother imagines.
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