by Debbie for TLC
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“B for Beat“
“You hurt me more than what I deserve because I loved you more than what you deserve…”
“The saddest kind of sad is when your tears can’t even drop and you feel nothing. It’s like the world has just ended. You feel nothing. You don’t cry. You don’t hear. You don’t see. You stay. For a second, the heart dies!”
Before I begin to intimate you of how I have managed to live my life up to this point, let me start by telling you how not so happy my story will end – so this is me saying, it is not a happy-ever-ending tale.
By and Large, I have an ugly past, an ugly present and possibly an ugly future. I hate to sugarcoat my words so I will tell you all plainly my bitter experiences.
Born and bred in the suburb of Bonny Island, Rivers sometime in the late 80’s, I did not get exposed to much and thus I did not need or require much. All that I needed – that my people needed was shelter, food, water and basic friendship and we had all that – I think. I was not born in a home of plenty but I was thought to learn to manage the basic things that nature could naturally provide.
Basic things such as water – we had surplus from the river close to the island, Food – well, we had lots of crabs and fish, fruits and legumes, and we had where to lay our heads. We did not need to go to school, neither was the idea thought up in our heads – it did not make sense to think of education at the time. We were taught how to fish and make nets. We learnt how to swim and wade the waves that come with the river tides. We learnt how to hide from the strange red looking people who always came by our river facing the Bight of Bonny – I think they were called tourists.
Biannually, we would usually have a mini-festival for Virgins – both male and female category. It was celebrated for adolescents from the ages of ten  to Nineteen . People who had attained the ages of Twenty and above were usually supposed to have been married. If not, by twenty-two , they become ostracized and sent out of the island so as not to beguile others into their way of life. The girls would during the festival, usually cover their breasts with two mound sized empty oysters and wear below their waist, animal skinned wrappers. The males would cover their area with Palm tree wraps and wear on their neck beaded crabs ornaments. This was done in reverence to the river as well as the earth that kept the children of the community till the festival period – so it was believed and so it was practised.
Bemused as I was at this process, I still had to participate to avoid any form of being ostracized. I had nowhere to go and I did not think I was brave enough to venture out on my own.
Besides, It was hardly unheard of that anyone would want to be ostracized from the community. Several girls ended up with one man to avoid been called names or leaving the community.
Barefooted on the eve of the festival, I had ran towards the river bank to seek the coolness of the water and wonder what lay ahead of me now that I had turned Eighteen . Very soon, I would be required to get married and start-up my own family. How possible would that even be, seeing that I was not even ready or mature to nurture my own self?
“Berema…” I heard someone call from a distance. I looked behind me to catch Awusa and Finima running towards my direction. I was in no mood for a chit-chat so I looked back at the water and continued throwing back the crabs I had caught back into the water.
“Berema…” Finima continued when she got to where I was seated, “Did you not hear the announcement that was made earlier today?” I ignored her comments and continued my throwing “Why are you here like you are not meant to be a part of us? Are you not going to participate in tomorrow’s festival?” I stopped throwing and stood up still looking straight at the water.
Baptizing my legs in the river’s warmth, I let the waters flow back and forth, caressing the sole of my feet and my ankles, as I moved in deeper. I did not like to be disturbed in moments like this, I did not understand why Finima could not just go away on her own in peace. Awusa watched in silence as Finima proceeded to drag me back from the water.
Bereft of strength, I splashed back to the floor and picked the nearest possible crab to fling at her. Awusa caught my hand from behind. He was stronger than both of us, so it was a given that I could not have fought back totally.
Belligerent as I was, he held me captive in his bosom.
“Berema…” he started. All I could hear was his baritone and nothing more. I was confused. Was he calling my name? “Berema, what has been going on with you for the past few days? Why have you been so distant?” he asked. I looked away as I refused to answer his looming question with Finima looking at me like I was some theif.
Bizzare as it sounded, I could not trust my friends to tell them anything. I mean, I do not think any one cared about anything apart from themselves. How was I to tell them about the beast I faced every night on weekdays – weekends are for family, booze and friends? How was I to tell them I was never a virgin ever since I started attending the festivals? How was I to tell them how I had been constantly raped by my Father since I was five ? How was I to tell them that the self-acclaimed Virgin festival was just a mockery to the gods we served? How was I to tell them that I was not ready to marry anyone from our Island? How was I to tell them that I wanted to see what lies beyond our Rivers? How was I to tell them that I had liked Awusa ever since I was old enough to know what it meant to like and touch?
Bethrothed he was already to Finima and I had no choice than to be happy for them. Awusa was already Twenty and tomorrow would be Finima’s last Virgin festival rite before she married Awusa. Finima is Eighteen  like me too and happy to be getting married. Would I blame her? It is all we live for and hope for here at Bonny Island. After all, Finima would join the successful others since Awusa was a bonafied fisherman and a rider of ferries for the ‘red-looking-people’.
Blotches were all over my legs but I had to keep them hidden in wrappers to avoid raised eyebrows and several questioning. My three  brothers hardly stay home so they are not aware of what father keeps doing to me. I cannot tell them for fear that someone might strike someone and somebody may die. I cannot handle another death. Mother’s departure still frightens me. I cannot seem to get over it. I do not want to get over it. I want to join her.
Blinded I was by hope. Hope that something would change and liberation would fall upon us. Hope that the ban of marriage would be lifted from the age of Twenty and moved to maybe twenty-eight ? Hope that someone would come to save me from the clawing hands of my black impish father. Hope that I would maybe die and go to a peaceful place.
Blatantly, I look at my two friends and smile aloof. There was nothing I wanted to say. There was nothing to say. Tomorrow is just going to be another lie, clothed in wrappers and oyster covered breasts and a virtual walk of shamelessness.
Bickering about the issue was pointless. Talking about the beast I faced every night on the weekdays between my legs was pointless as well. I had grown used to it. I no longer had feelings. I just wanted to leave Bonny Island.
Blimpish as my father was, it was hard to tell the truth about him. I stretch my legs into the water as I feel the sands rush with the water and settle beneath the back of my knee. Awusa is caressing my face and looking at me worriedly. Finima is holding my hand and smiling at me. I want to tell her. I look at Awusa. I can not bear to let him hear my ordeal.
Bracing up myself, I make to stand as I pull away from Awusa’s hold. I fall upon Finima as I hear her laugh at me. I join her in laughing too. Her laughter is throaty and husky. It is easy to sway someone to join her in her laughter. It is mesmerizing.
Baroque music is the next thing I hear. I turn and see Awusa singing for us both. It is hard not to smile. His words are choicy and touchy. I feel the need to cry. My throat is heavy. I gasp for breathe. My bones become brittle.
Breathing hoarsely, I quickly move away. I may explode if I stayed there much longer. Somebody grabs me from behind… “Leave me please.” I surrender “I need to fix my attire for tomorrow’s festival” I reply without turning to face him. I know it is Awusa that has held me back. I hope he does not feel the pain in my voice.
Bruising in pain, I hear Finima’s feeble reply “Let her go, Awusa…Come, let’s go and join the others at the Kongo house.” I feel Awusa letting his hands off me as I run away in shame.