Cultural EXPRESSIONS

TEARS

I was brought up in Accra with my parents and three brothers. My grandmother visited frequently.  She would bring us mangoes and we always ate banku and grilled tilapia, which she brought, from our hometown. The highlight of grandma’s visits was when she told us stories of our hometown; Somanya. Her stories were the only knowledge we had of our hometown. Mum refused to let us visit because she said the witches in her family would kill us when they saw us.

As I grew, grandma’s visits became less frequent and whenever she came, I heard mum arguing with her and though their voices were always hushed in order not to wake us up, I would hear mummy telling grandma in their Krobo language that she was not going to allow her ‘mango’ to be lusted after by perverts. Grandma would then reply that when the time comes, there is very little mum will be able to do about it. These hushed arguments went on for a long time until eventually, grandma stopped visiting altogether.

As the years went by, grandma‘s visits became memories and the only times I heard from grandma were on my birthday when she would call, to say happy birthday. About a fortnight prior to my thirteenth birthday, I woke up to mild pains in my abdomen and I was slightly elated because I had an excuse to stay home. Thursday mornings were days for mental and our teacher caned us for every wrong answer made; I hated Thursdays. I rushed out of my room to go and tell mum I won’t be going to school that morning. I rushed in on my parents chatting. I screamed ‘’no school today!”, and quickly run out to escape further questioning. Unfortunately, I heard dad’s loud voice call, “Maame!” Immediately, my heart sank and I went in. Dad scolded me for neither knocking nor greeting then began his tirade on how living with three males had made me un-ladylike and how his mother would turn in her grave at the sight of her god-child running around like an adolescent boy. I said sorry and turned to leave when mum pulled me to her side and examined the back of my pyjamas. She then quietly stood and asked me to follow her to my room. I became apprehensive, fearing I was in trouble again. I now wished I was in school writing the mental test instead.

When we entered my room, I rushed to my bed in an attempt to lay my bed before mum noticed my bed was unmade. I then saw a large stain of blood and began crying. I was stubborn and rowdy but I hated the sight of blood. Mum then tried hushing me and I was confused because I thought I was in deep trouble. I then began to explain that I didn’t do anything wrong and that I don’t know how the blood got on my bedsheets. Surprisingly, mum burst into laughter and asked me to go and take my bath. I finished bathing, got to my room and met mum and dad on my bed, which was now clean. Dad told me I am now a woman and I had to start behaving as such. He then said goodbye and left for work. Mum, and I had a long talk and she explained to me what had happened and what to do henceforth. She then warned me never to have sex and to avoid men who would tell me I am beautiful. That Thursday was a long one but I didn’t complain because I escaped mental and I was not made to work that day.

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The next day was my younger brother’s birthday. Grandma called and spoke to Kofi. Kofi, as usual, told grandma about all the happenings in the house and went on to tell grandma that I ‘urinated blood and wet my bed yesterday’.  The following week, I got back from school and there were grandma and some two other women who mum introduced as my aunties. I was asked to sit down and my mum, who was trying very hard to calm her obvious irritation, told me that I had to go with grandma to our hometown the next day. I was confused but also very happy that I was finally going to see the famous Somanya I had heard so much about.

We arrived in Somanya the next day before dusk. I was sent around the whole village of Kleku, which is where my grandma lived after I had washed down, and eaten. I was sent to the King of Somanya. I was shocked when he introduced himself as my uncle. I made a mental note to chastise mum for not telling me I am royalty. My uncle, the king, then told me all about my family and my mum’s childhood. He then assured me that what I was going to go through is no big deal and that mum went through that as well and even got the Kleku chief as a husband, but instead ran off with dad. He then laughed and said that if I did things right and impressed the townsfolk, I might even be lucky and win the attention of that chief my mum refused to wed. She was to be the fourth wife. I left the palace court, brooding silently.

In the following weeks, I was woken up at dawn each morning, which was stressful for me because I wasn’t used to that.  It was as if the nights rushed by in the villages. With all those activities, I didn’t even find time to miss city life.  We were sent to the riverside for a spiritual cleanse and after that visited shrines, one after the other. On the day of the procession, the other girls and I were made to wear a thin piece of cloth over our lower bodies and then with our breasts and chests exposed, we were made to walk barefoot through the town. My face was hot with embarrassment and when I looked up and saw a group of middle-aged men pointing at my breasts and smiling with evil glee, the tears could not be held back any longer. I wept!

I wept for my feet which were sore from walking barefooted. I wept for my soft curly hair which was shaved off and thrown away without a second look. I cried for my precious body which my pastor said is the temple of God. The temple of God, which was now exposed and defiled by the glares and stares of lechers. I wept for the smug and proud looks on the faces of the native girls who were going through the same ordeal as I was but seemed to be enjoying it. I wept for my ancestors. I wept for grandma, who seemed confused and slightly annoyed at my tears. I wept for my dignity and pride, which was stripped off me like what was done to my city clothes when I arrived. I wept for the city girl in me, who would never understand why this should happen, even in a thousand years. I wept for a mum who tried to protect her ‘gem’ from this fate. I wept for the people, who had no idea that culture is dynamic and therefore still thought that the best way to preserve a girl’s virginity and virtue was by stripping her of her dignity.

Well, after the ceremony (which was termed successful because I swallowed my boiled egg without biting into it), I packed my belongings and rushed to tell grandma I was ready to leave. She met me at her door with a huge smile and pulled me in, saying she has good news and that our gods listened to her prayer. She then proudly showed me some gold trinkets and told me in a hushed tone that my innocent tears caught the chief’s heart and so he wants me as his seventh and last wife. I laughed! Grandma took that as joyous laughter and told me she already called mum with the ‘good’ news and that I would be brought back when my time was due. Mum met me at the bus terminal and shed silent tears when she saw me. I then told her that the only way I would go back to that town was when I was shackled and gagged. We burst out laughing amidst tears and went home.

Author: Lydia Agyeman, #360WritersChallenge Participant

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