‘When Love Blossom’
“After the tattoo, they had shared their first kiss by the mall entrance, she could never shake off how shy she’d been after that”
Students gambolled about the schoolyard like bees chasing and spreading pollen in the heart of the dry season, a season hotter and dustier up north than most parts of Cameroon. The earth parched and cracked like it hadn’t seen water for decades. The plants were almost non-existent and water from open taps ran so hot they needed to be collected and cooled under shades or Calabashes. A cool day seemed like a shockwave had hit the ripple of the sun’s continuum throwing the heat delicately out of pattern and in that slight space in the sun’s continuum, cold air brushed over the town like a kiss from the wind, which only happened once in a month throughout the dry season.
Maimuna knew better not to dirty her uniforms or become too sweaty, from a tender age, looking a hot dusty mess had always been a rebuffing trigger from her mum who did the laundry, as Maimuna grew older she became conscious of what the hot weather meant for her teenage looks. She sometimes remembered her mum’s voice echoing her disapproval of her dirty dusty feet and sweaty gown armpits referring to her as ‘Mrs ganakoh’ a title for the wives of cattle nomads. These days the most her mum did was look at her, sigh with disapproval on anything remotely close to dusty shoes and sweaty armpits. Her mum still managed to behave like she did the laundry when at the age of fifteen the maids did most of her washing except for her undergarments.
May’s dad was a top ranking military general who had worked in many parts of the country, but loved the North the most, he never took up the Muslim religion but enjoyed the organised ways in which the men, women and children religiously prayed, he always remarked that crimes were a lot less in this part of the country than anywhere else because the repercussions were religiously linked and dire. Being the only English general in town he could speak some of the Fulani tongues plus French, this was a respectful added bonus which worked in his favour politically and social stature wise, the lifestyle and culture up north had a complimenting ego massaging effect on him you could tell from the almost always satisfactory grin he wore with a tinge of arrogance.
He too meditated during prayer hours or caught the odd nap on his huge sepulchre-like office sofa ordained with all the military memorabilia and the picture of the head of state right behind him, come to think of it that picture never changed, President Paul Biya was 40 years older than that picture but the bureau for whatever reason kept reproducing the same picture across every government office in the country making him almost ageless to all generations of Cameroonians of present day and age! Even babies knew who was in the picture; it carried an aura of silent fear, almost god or satan personified.
His office oozed of political engenders a melancholically sad lonely square shape bureau, he somehow loved it and spoke really highly of his role and duties, midday prayers was a Zen moment for Pah. He had the most solipsistic personality, quite rigid and stoic, towering six-foot over the gallery of men in his regiment, the town inhabitants had nicknamed him Bakari – for having no pity over criminals, they feared him like a plague but he was a very loving father all the same. Almost always absent in a diminishing family way, the endless treats and gifts from the many people whose issues he’d resolved at work filled his storage and kitchen to the brim, food never came short, talk less fresh cow and goats milk, bush meat – kilichi was a snack in the generals’ house, he refuted the terminology bribe, but some of the gifts were tainted and you could tell from the hush hush-ness of their delivery that an affair had been resolved under the table. Life was just good up north and May knew no better after living there for fifteen years of her life.
Her mother, on the other hand, was a very reserved introverted type lady, May heard so many people describe her mother as beautiful but she felt it was exaggerated because Ma’a was just extremely light skinned and the wife of the most feared military general in a town where almost every woman was aggressively serving melanin tainted cultivated and harnessed by the melting North sun. This managed to give the women the constant look of thirsty, oily, eye squinting group of people, you could barely tell who was a teenager or an adult – no one aged regardless of the sun, the women up north just grew taller and thinner. It was very hard telling a daughter apart from a mother. Until she had spent a couple of years making friends and understanding the dynamics from every angle of respect and patterns of greetings, then May could tell an older from a younger woman, one thing was constant the women were all an epitome of African beauty.
Ma’a as May fondly called her mum took time to instruct the maids to iron her Pleated School Uniform and made her stockings whiter than white, she almost always got the tidiest student prize as well as 1st place every other term since primary school, these were sort of guaranteed rewards for her unless when her sworn competitor Gerald kicked her a notch down the podium steps. Now in secondary school her routine did not change much, the maids did the ironing and cooking while she helped mostly on weekends to tidy the house or the odd days when she’d look over her mom’s shoulder as she cooked, giving her the odd request to unwrapped the maggi cube now and then, the most May had ever managed to do in the kitchen was fry eggs and just in time her mum had walked into her almost drowning the egg mixture in half a little of groundnut oil – her cooking mission met its hiatus there and then.
Her mother remained the uniting force in the family, the only go to person who was ever present and unbothered, unflustered and trusting – though ninety percent of everything she was told still ended up transcending boundaries to Pah’s ears. Something about the way her mum related the story to her husband took away the impact of the repercussions, almost always diluted by something Ma’a had quibbled, this made her children adore the very ground she walked on and were never afraid to share their shortcomings with her. May was the fourth child of five with one older sibling in the military just like her dad, two sisters away at a French university studying Economics and Business Management and another in a final year of Med school. May was rounding up secondary school while her younger brother very much a mummy and daddy’s boy, and a complete newbie in the secondary school, was being fussed over by their parents like he was the first to go to college.
College was exceptionally interesting. School in general because she had had the same friends all along and it felt like family. Gerald was one of them and had slowly been morphing into something inexplicable. When she saw him every day in school her heart and hands played the same prank… The flutters and sweats and the odd eye contact. Her friend’s had started teasing her about him being her boyfriend, she did not know when or how that would happen but found herself longing for it to happen because they had grown on each other and both acknowledge that theirs was more than a mere friendship. Regardless of their attraction, they kept their academic contest going, challenging each other to become the best every time… It was clear the teachers simply had to score one person a grade higher for them to not tie in their exams…. He was the right kind of energy for her and she just blossomed in his gaze and playful banter.
One day after school he said to her as they walked home
“How does it feel to have boobs I knew you without any”
“You didn’t dare” she responded and chased him down the school path wielding a cane she’d picked from a stack of drying branches on a heap of leaves…
He was very daring in a hilarious casual manner, though geeky, his humour was witty and that made her attraction to him undeniable, even a blind person could see her crush for him by the way she’d stare and giggle… Somehow she was not only blossoming into a woman she was learning to flirt by some magical powers. She’d look at him look away and lick her lips like it all was happening in slow motion in her head. He greeted her with a hug every time, and always held on a little longer, some days, he’d jokingly call her “my wife” It made her flush that he had such an effect on towards her but also made her feel cherished, very cherished.
The curse of being a middle child was that everyone forgot how every encounter was new for you, just because you have siblings before and after you does not mean you are equipped to face the world, May’s case seemed like the exact prototype of the matter – she was pretty left to figure a lot of things out or wait till her big sisters were home on holiday to make any kind of enquiry about anything worldly or content herself with her mums best response – ‘you are not of age to understand that’ so she kept her confused inexplicably feelings for Gerald submerged for her bedtime reverie or the casual banter with the girls who referred to them as lovers and she surprisingly had stopped arguing, and somewhere deep down owned the title with pride – innocent pride.
Her focus on academics was not impacted by her feelings for Gerald, exam results were read in a steady order of first fives and last five, the first five were applauded and handed prizes while the last five were booed and shamed by the entire school assembly. Woe betides you being in that bottom five, what a send-off into the holiday to face your parent’s. May was either first and Gerald second or the reverse so their friendship was more of a mental competition inside the classroom, it was sometimes ruthless, to say the least, but outside the classroom after the tension and competition wore off, they sort of gravitated towards each, spending time together was more fun than with their peers, they had eye contact language locked down, and their sense of humour and finesse of finishing each other’s sentences shocked anyone who dared come close to being their ‘other’ friend, they were so close it was clear a third person was a crowd.
They knew something was changing in their relationship but were unequipped and innocent to execute their actual feelings. The jealousy from each other was apparent when they made friends with the opposite sex or making new friends in general, all they wanted was spend time with each other. That was a good place to be, as they grew older, it turned into conversations filled with dreams, digressions, aspirations laced with emotional tension, homework/core examination speculations and plans tinged with the usual school gossip. They had become an item by all the forces of nature they complemented each other’s life puzzle.
May walked along the school gardens, her laughter so loud almost shrieking with excitement and Gerald next to her. With her rug sack over her shoulder, heading towards the playground exit. They had just finished handball practice in their PE get-ups, a sport she had chosen because he had challenged her to it a few times and once she’d understood the rules of the game her height gave her an edge over most players and once again she was an icon in the girl’s handball team. Though exhausted, in his company she felt revived and didn’t look forward to going home anytime soon, they found every reason to linger … a very happy longing smile on his face – as though it held a message of her end and how much she meant to him. She smiled back and punched him on his shoulder when he teased
“ A sweaty you is a good sight though ”
“ What the hell” she laughed as she kicked him and slapped his arm
“Ouchhhhhh” he winced
“ You know my tattoo has not healed completely and you just punched it”
She laughed at his attempt to make a hurt face, her aim was intentional, which guy gets a rose flower and a rosary entangled tattooed on his arm, she remembers accompanying him to the tattoo parlour and trying to dissuade him but he had insisted that there are two things that matter most to him his religion and ‘a love he holds dear’, after the tattoo they had shared their first kiss by the mall entrance, she could never shake off how shy she’d been after that. It had been two weeks since that happened but she could barely look at him straight-faced. That kiss changed their dynamics completely she was 16 and he 17 and in a subliminal kind of way they both knew they’d become an official couple.
Walking, laughing and zapping away from his grasp was all in slow motion but the excitement was same. Her laughter echoed so loud and soft and playful and the dust swirled around her feet as she dragged her shoes against the dry dusty earth, the children faded in the distance, the schoolyard became quieter, running further down into the slopes and school farm, she hid behind the school caves, it always ended up with them doing this cat and mouse chase but she had never run this far. Her heart quickened, in her PE outfit, it felt even better to outrun Gerald so she did, not considering the limits of where her safety weakened.
She was glad it could take him a while to find her but before he did, she’d have time to catch her breath sitting on the huge rock by the cave she opened her bottle of water to quench her parching throat, the moment the bottle touched her lips she choked from the grasp around her throat, at first playfully then harsher and harder. Dry leaves rustled right behind her jolting her to a shrieking jump and immediately one of the hands that held her neck went straight to her mouth and the other around her neck tightened almost cutting her air supply. She giggled nervously trying to writhe free hoping and praying this was an absolute prank from Gerald
It took a few smart seconds for her eyes to appreciate what she was faced with, the feet of the person carrying her were way bigger than Gerald’s, his hands had lifted her so high that her feet dangled and he smelled so bad the smell hurt her nose. Her heart stopped beating the panic set in and she started screaming so loud only with the massive hands gagging her mouth, her screams were sent right back in her belly so forcefully that her eyes bulge in tears. Then she heard laughter deeper in the cave, more voices more street thugs, the thought that her worse nightmare had happened was no longer a thought but a reality she was living. A gruesome reality.
Her heart hoped for Gerald – Gerald will find me soon… She tried to calm down as the drab smelly monster dragged her into the caves, he feet greeting the sharp stones and she could feel her flesh giving way to sand.
Students in school were always warned that the caves were a no go area as city thugs hung there to smoke banga, get stoned and other commit other kinds of atrocities. In those caves, kids had disappeared or been violated in the worse ways possible she could only imagine the pain she will endure whatever fate held her predicament.
Everything she had heard about the cave up until this moment was a myth – she was, unfortunately, the reality. Her body got so tense from the fright that she vomited and shivered when he threw her like a piece of loot in front of two other scruffy looking thugs. Laughing and high-fiving each other, they congratulated the hunter for such a fresh game – slapped her in the face severally grabbing her chin and asking her questions she had no clue what they were saying – the fright had deafened her only her eyes were working but unfortunately the caves were poorly lit.
One of the thugs opened her rug sack and rummaged through – took out a chocolate bar her sister had brought home a while back from Paris. He bit the head off without opening the wrapper then made a sound of satisfaction from the taste of it, the other grabbed her notebook and read her name out loud then asked her
‘Is your father the general’ he sounded scared but came up close and asked again
“Is your father General Bakari”
She immediately realised they knew her dad – Bakari was the name the Muslim community had given him and had become his ID for as long as he held office in this town.
Barely able to respond she nodded – tears flooding her eyes in hopes that the fright people have for her dads no-nonsense will make them release her.
He shook his head – put his hand into his pocket and took out a penknife, put it to her throat and stated matter-of-factly
“ This is my lucky day – about a month ago your father tortured me and my friends, he had his men beat us mercilessly in the cell for days, no water no pity no painkiller and no green grass to smoke the pain away, we will make you know pain beyond your wildest imagination but keep you alive so your dad can attest to our actions and remember he is a stranger and will always remain a stranger in THIS TOWN’
“Please – Please have mercy please I won’t tell, I will not mention this to anyone please let me go, my friends will be here soon please I beg of you, we were playing a chase game and they are right behind me”
Her pleas did not only fall on deaf ears but finished exiting her throat in a painful gasp as the knife sunk deep in her rib cage, the sharp almost non-existent stab happened so quick she bent her head to look at her blood oozing warm and slow from her body. She knew the worse had happened and nothing could top this. She collapsed to the ground as the shock made her???, all she could remember was Gerald.
All she wanted was her mother’s arm about her, in front of her hazy tear filled eyes the faces of each member of her family looked down at her helplessly as the laughter and grotesque satisfaction of the beasts on top of her filled the cave. She closed her eyes tighter and looked towards the little light that came from the edge of the cave, no need covering her mouth she thought because she had no intention to scream anymore she was ready for death.
She whispered “Gerald – Gerald, help me” helplessly as the brutes unbuckled their zippers and pinned her to the uneven ground choking her and taking the most prized possession she thought she held as a young woman. She could not relate to what hurt exactly, the stab wound or the slicing and pounding of her flesh, the dismantling of her innocence, her purity, she could feel the warmth of the satin velvet wrapping her warm, her woman pride all oozed out of her body as life left her slowly, it only mattered to her that she could be found and wrapped warmly in the arms of her family, that last love was all the dignity and humanity she had left. This in no way was the image she had in her head losing her virginity to Gerald – this was far from it, her dream was killed there and then as life itself ebbed away she slowly closed her eyes and shut the world out.
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