“Away!” The bus conductor shouts as he slaps the side of the white trotro after a man with a beige hat has squeezed into the last available seat. The driver starts the ignition, the car shudders and then he drives off. On the side of the road, a small market stretches out, dotted by loud women seated behind pans of fresh fish, screaming out for customers and swatting flies away simultaneously.
He veers off the main road and turns into an untarred road. “I dey swerve traffic small” he says, turning briefly to the passengers before turning his eyes back on to the road. The houses we drive past have rusty roofs and windows with missing louvres and blue fading walls that look like water seeped into a painter’s drawing.
As we reach the end of the street, a low guttural voice behind me starts humming a Presbyterian hymn. I recognize it because my grandmother is always singing it.
The woman who sits two seats ahead of me wears a navy-blue t-shirt that reads Caro made me do it. I wonder if she has ever touched herself before. I wonder if she has ever touched herself at the backseat of an empty car. I wonder if the act of touching yourself in open spaces constitutes waywardness, or something completely abominable. A teenager with breasts three times bigger than mine blocks my view. I imagine myself as a teenager, with no breasts, and figuring out life for myself, and I think this teenager will be just fine. She’s wearing a red faux leather skirt that exposes a creamy thigh with two beauty spots lined up on it, as if God placed it there as an afterthought. Tiny beads of sweat are covering her nose. She’s gesturing wildly and telling someone on the phone that a boy called Kpakpo is a big fat liar because she, Akwele, has never read Mills & Boons or any sex novels, she only reads correct books and has even started reading John Grisham. When she says the word sex, it feels to me like popping a toffee into your mouth, only to discover after the first bite that it is bitter cola. She looks 16 or 17, with large eyes and a big lower lip, and I still think she will do just fine if she does not grow into another year not knowing what comes after a body is developed and desire rents space in your body. When lust tiptoes into her body on random Sunday afternoons. And she discovers the desire to lie with a man who will have no regard for his fleeting feelings for her. And all the phone calls she has made and the “correct” books she has read are pushed aside and forgotten. When they make no difference to the men she will come to love who will then come to leaving her.
She, Akwele, has never read Mills & Boons or any sex novels, she only reads correct books and has even started reading John Grisham. When she says the word sex, it feels to me like popping a toffee into your mouth, only to discover after the first bite that it is bitter cola.
When I was in class 3, my class teacher, Mr. Finn, shuffled the class and arranged the seating order such that no two boys or girls were sitting close to each other, every girl had to sit next to a boy and vice versa. And that’s how Larry with the big head and lazy eyes become my sitting partner. During writing class, he took my hand from underneath the table and guided it to his genitals. Mr. Akwetey was painstakingly writing out the big brown fox jumps over the lazy dog in cursive handwriting on the blackboard. I looked up to see if anybody could see what was happening underneath the table. I looked back at Larry. He turned his attention to the blackboard and kept his hold on my wrist, moving my hand in a to and fro movement around his genitals. I felt frozen, but I did not whisk my hand away. And then he pulled my skirt a little further up and urgently pushed his fingers through. After class I stayed in my seat and refused to go for lunch even though I was dying for a strawberry lollipop. I hid my hand in my pocket and didn’t take it out till my father picked me up from school.
I changed my seat the next day, and even though Mr. Finn made me kneel for an hour for taking Baafi’s seat, I sat in his seat for the next 3 days until he finally gave up. I would think often about this incident and be filled with crippling guilt, swallowing down questions and willing the act to absolve me. I wondered if I was a good child, and if I was, had this one sin revoked my goodness? Should I have taken my hand off? Did staying still imply my willingness? Was there anything I did to invite him to touch me that day? Did I subconsciously want to touch him? Should I have told someone about this?
In class 4 my father was transferred to a hospital outside of the city so we moved out, and I never saw Larry again.
A strong smell hits my nose and I glance accusingly at the man sitting beside me. If you can fart in an enclosed space then you can buy your own car and fart every 10 minutes. I am glad to get off at the next stop.
Taking my clothes off when I get home is a hurried ritual, as if the rest of my sanity depends on how fast I can unhook my bra. The mirror repeats every action back to me and when I look it straight in the eye, I think that it is fair to say that, me too I be fine girl. Ink dey for my body small. My hair is impractically tough but somehow I’m able to tame it. Clothes fall easily on my side with no hips to distract them. I have had lovers tell me they love me even though I have no breasts, as though I should be thankful to them for their attraction towards me despite my orange breasts. I have had them explore my body with their fingers as though they were intent on looking for a treasure by digging just the surface.
Once, in the bathroom of a 4 star hotel, Naana and I spent 32 minutes trying to draw perfect eyebrows on for Jasmine’s twenty-third birthday. We had been friends for 4 years. I met her at a Spiritual Union camp telling a boy that he couldn’t laugh at a girl for being an A cup when he had the smallest feet. We bonded instantly. We liked the same movies, and were both mean to boys. We’d written and directed a one minute short film titled, “Girls on snapchat be like…”
And she’d once walked closely behind me from the mall to get a taxi just so nobody else could see the blood stain on my skirt. She was unfiltered and unapologetic about it.
I remember Rukie telling a group of girls that God is deeply sad whenever we go against his word and give in to the flesh, and I wonder how anybody could feel that way when there is an urgent thread of desire pushing itself out of a body
“How often do you masturbate?” she dabbed the tip of her left eyebrow with her pinky finger.
I blinked and looked at her for a second too long. Her question threw me off guard. I swallowed hard and shifted uncomfortably.
“Um, I don’t masturbate”
“What? Are you serious?”
“Ah Ayeley, you’re joking. Not even dry humping? Sweet baby Jesus!”
She places the brown eye pencil on the marble sink and turns to me.
“Listen to me. Touch yourself. Touch yourself, you hear? How do you give someone permission to travel a road you’ve not used yourself? How do you expect the trip to be smooth when you don’t know how to get there? Do not let another man visit the Promised Land when you haven’t graced the walls of the land with your holiness.”
Later, I would pull out this conversation from my memory, sit with it, sleep with it, wake up to it, and unpack the meaning out of it.
I remember how as a young woman I’d slide my fingers down in a pleasing manner, imitating an ardent lover, imagining a wanton partner, the buzz and eagerness to please, the careless affection.
I remember Madam Rita from Sunday school telling us that masturbation is a sin. I remember Pastor Jones, stiff necked and eyes wide, telling us how masturbation done alone and accompanied by lust is a grave sin. I remember Rukie telling a group of girls that God is deeply sad whenever we go against his word and give in to the flesh, and I wonder how anybody could feel that way when there is an urgent thread of desire pushing itself out of a body, when pleasure is bonding with relief and hugging itself around my toes. I remember Aunty Jasmine threatening to tell Mommy when she saw me with my hand in my crotch on the couch after school.
I slide my underwear out of the way and rock my finger to and fro. And then as the intensity builds up, as the seemingly long spurt of excitement announces itself, as it ushers in its promise of glorious release, I part my chapped lips, only ever so slightly, swallowing quick and hard, and I think of how alive this makes me feel – and then I let it drip.
Ama Asantewa Diaka is writer and a poet based in Accra. Her work, both as a performer and a writer engages issues of becoming, feminism, inequality, womanhood and mental health in her community. She has participated in internationally acclaimed workshops organized by Femrite (2013) and Farfina Trust (2016) and was the first Poet to be selected as a OneBeat 2016 fellow.