A knot forms in the back of Onome’s throat as she sees four hefty men approaching her little village compound in Delta State, Nigeria. She has been dreading this day since she saw her elder sister experience the same fate three years ago. Before she has time to process her thoughts, the men have bundled her up on their shoulders. As she inhales the pungent smell from the men’s armpits, Onome wonders why she has to be carried in this degrading way. She has no will to struggle and had immediately submitted herself to them. Even if she wanted to struggle, a thirteen-year-old child was no match for one, let alone four, hefty men.
A few moments later, Onome finds herself lying on a worn-out mat spread in a dark, dirty room that smells like blood, sweat, and tears. She feels some hairy hands fiercely spreading her legs open and taking off her underwear. Another hand proceeds to cover her mouth. In the darkness, she sees something that looks like a sharp knife or razor. The sight instils tremendous fear in her, and she blacks out.
“Mummy, why do I have to go through this process?”
“Because it will help you transition into a woman. You may not understand it now, but it’s for your own good. You’ll appreciate it when you’re a grown-up woman.”
“Now that you’re a ‘grown-up woman’, do you appreciate it being done to you as a child?”
Onome’s mother is taken aback by the question. She hesitates a little before saying, “As a woman, you learn to persevere and accept the things you cannot change. This has always been a part of our culture and – ”
“Culture does not make people. People make culture”, Onome quickly interrupts her mother. “If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture!”[i]
Onome’s mother smiles weakly. “When did you become so intelligent, ehn?”
Excruciating physical pains bring Onome back to reality. The agony grips her entire body, from the top of her head to the sole of her feet. She scratches the hand covering her mouth, grits her teeth fiercely, and makes muffled screams. Tears roll down her cheeks until the seemingly unending process finally comes to an end.
Like a slab of meat, her clitoris has been chopped off.
The room is pervaded by the strong stench of the herbal fluids used to stop the bleeding. Onome lies there with a blank expression on her face and a feeling of oblivion in her mind.
Later that evening, Onome’s mother takes a steamy bowl of ukodo to her daughter. “Eat this, omote. It will make you feel better.” “Migwo”, Onome mutters a word of thanks but makes no attempt to move, considering the growing pains in her swollen genitals. She can see a mixture of guilt, pity, and rage on her mother’s face.
Onome wants to say, How could you let them do this to me? But she is too upset to even speak. Onome’s mother wants to say, I am so sorry that I let this happen to you – I had no choice. But she knows nothing she says will make her daughter understand. Both mother and child stare at each other in uncomfortable silence.
Over the next few weeks, the duo try their best to bury the incident deep in their minds, but whenever their eyes meet, they share a deep sense of pain that tells them this day will never be forgotten.
They remain like double-glazed windows that are perfect on the outside, but broken on the inside.
[i] Quote adapted from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014), We Should all be Feminists. [ebook] Great Britain: Fourth Estate, p45
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