All through her childhood, Kokui used to wake up in the night and wish for the sun. The darkness of the night tortured her. Her imagination supplied beasts based on the cruelties she experienced while it was day and these apparitions tormented her soul. She preferred the day to the night. No matter how bad the day was, it could only hurt her flesh. Regardless of all the brutalities meted to her by her Madam, her spirit and soul were unfazed. The night, however, had the power to affect the totality of her being. And she disliked it.
This night was different. Kokui did not wake from a nightmare; she woke to one. All the eerie dreams of her past had bundled themselves together and come to her as a reality – her menarche! This is an experience every young lady goes through. It signifies maturity and coming of age but the girls who lived with Madam Florence dreaded it. The implications of having what the girls called “Cursed Flo” was unpleasant. Sadly, they could only wish that it be delayed. But no matter how delayed it is, it comes.
The night was cool, but Kokui’s blood was icy and her muscles tense. She had lost any sense of how long she’d been awake and she was clueless about what to do. Each second was an eternity praying that the sun would not rear its head. She cast her eyes across the room and looked at each of the ten girls she shared the room with. All of them were older than she was, except little Aku and Favour. How was it that she got her flow first?
The room became too small for her. She could feel the walls on her skin. The ticking of the old clock in the corner of the room did not make matters any better. Each tick and tock reminded her that her time was up. There was nothing to hold her mind or attention. The anxiety that was being kept at bay began to win.
Were the stories true what Madam did with the older girls who had their flows? Legend in the town had it that they were transferred to the city to become prostitutes. This was why the girls made it their prayer topic every morning to ask God to forgive Eve her sins so this curse of womanhood will be lifted off them.
Maybe she would be spared, Kokui rationalized. She was only eleven and no proper thinking adult would put a child that young into prostitution. But that was what they all thought about Farida too. Until this time, Farida was the youngest girl to have her flow. She was twelve and she was not spared. The very day she got Aunty Flo’s visit, that same day she was washed and packaged into the next available bus to be delivered at what was referred to as The Big House In The City.
The thoughts of her uncertain future made Kokui squirm. Or, was it the cramps she was feeling in her abdomen? She crouched and held her stomach region tightly. She gritted her teeth to prevent her from screaming as she did not want to wake the other girls up. The only way she could distract herself was to think about home.
For Kokui, home meant one thing; one person – her grandmother, Daa Abla. Daa Abla was everything to Kokui – father, mother, sibling and friend. Her father was only an idea to her – an imagination she formed in her head to make her feel normal. She did not even have pictures of him. Her mother, at least, Kokui knew until she (her mother) passed away when she (Kokui) was only six years old. For a good part of when Kokui had the consciousness to know her mother, the latter was sick. So, all the times Kokui thought about the mother, she remembered her for the fighter she was, battling with all manners of sickness until she could not fight any longer.
Thinking about her grandmother gave her some warmth. She even managed a smile as she reminisced on all the days she spent with Daa Abla. But the smile was quickly replaced by a sad face as thinking about her grandmother’s life would also mean thinking about her demise as well. Ultimately, that also reminded her of how she ended up as one of the famous Aunty Florence’s girls.
It was at Daa Abla’s funeral. Aunty Florence was in town to get some girls but unfortunately for her, the girls who had hitherto agreed to go with her changed their minds. Furious, she found a seat at the funeral and counted her loss of wasting transport fare to travel all way to Kokui’s hometown for nothing. From where she sat, she heard some women gossiping about the plight of little Kokui and decided that although she was young she would take her as compensation for her lost. Kokui’s extended family members did not hesitate in giving her away as none of them was ready to take her in.
Thinking about all these and the present likelihood that she might end up as a prostitute, Kokui could not help but shed a tear. Her sobs woke Asantewaa one of the elderly girls.
“What is wrong?” Asantewaa asked as she attempted to turn the light on.
“No! No! No!” Kokui begged her to not do so.
But it was too late. The lights were on and Asantewaa saw the blood! She gasped in shock! She was convinced she did not make a sound but about five other girls woke after her exclamation. They all wore the same confused looks on their faces. A part of it was the surprise that Kokui, at her age, had seen her first flow. The other part was a look of sadness that she was going to be taken away from them. Beyond these, they also wore an inexplicable look which could only be explained as a rough reminder of the fact that they all will be subjected to the horror going on in Kokui’s mind at that moment.
All the girls were awake now. Eleven clueless girls who had no idea what to do about the Kokui’s crimson tide. Favour suggested they wash the blood off and pretend nothing had happened. How would they get to the washroom without waking Madam up? Where would they hide the blood-stained dress and cover cloth? What about the sheet they laid on the mats? What explanation would they give for its disappearance? There was no way out for Kokui. At this point, she was in tears. Little Aku who was so fond of her could not stop herself from crying either.
Then the girls heard the call to worship from the mosque a few minutes away from their house. 5 am. Time to get out of their rooms and perform their assigned chores. But they were all glued to their mats. Their bodies were too numb to move. The room was silent as they looked forward to Madam Florence’s typical morning scream – what they called The First Alarm.
The first alarm did not come. And the girls remained glued to their mats. Ten minutes; still, no alarm. Tired of waiting, some of them got up and folded their mats. A few other helped Kokui up and tried to clean as much blood as they could off her. Everything was done with the highest height of lethargy. They could not wait for their cruel caretaker to come and whisk their “sister” away.
“Someone’s coming this way”, Asantewaa screamed.
All the girls back away into the corner of the room where Kokui was seated and sobbing. They waited for their doom. Five of them covered their mouths with their hands. Three would rather close their eyes. The last two held Kokui and comforted her. It took an eternity for the footsteps they heard to come to their doorstep. Then, it stopped.
Little Aku snuggled in closer to Kokui. The little girl watched Kokui shut her eyes and visibly shake. The adrenalin flowing over her veins were like a carp through the river, but she could not move a single muscle, not even to cry. The absolute horror completely paralyzed her, and the more she thought about how everything will pan out, the more she felt discouraged and utterly terrified. She could not breathe, it felt as if someone was choking her. Her heart was racing and all she wanted to do was to curl up into a ball and have one of the girls hide her in their dresses.
Finally, the door flung open! It was not Madam. Aunty Lizzy, Madam’s right-hand woman. She was stopped in her tracks, seeing all the girls packed into that one side of the room. The girls were equally surprised to see and not Madam Florence. Aunty Lizzy shook her multiple times to snap out the bizarre scene.
“Come out, all of you!”
Now, that’s something the girls expected. Shouts like that were the only form of communication they were accustomed to. Nonetheless, they were still surprised about Aunty Lizzy’s apparent ignoring of Kokui’s bloody dress. One by one, they followed the instruction and walked out of the room.
Something was off about the compound. There were a lot of people there – strange for that time of the day – but the compound was silent. The few people who spoke did so in whispers.
Kokui hid behind her sisters to avoid being seen. In fact, the smell of her blood was repugnant and nauseating. However, nobody seemed to care about any of that, apart from her. It was almost as if she was invisible. For the first time that morning, Kokui forgot about her menarche. She tried to make sense out of the faces of the people gathered in the house. Despair, sorrow and pain were her deductions. Her mind considered a dozen theories for why the people wore those faces. Before she could narrow down her thoughts, one of the women in the compound walked up to them.
“Awww… Poor children”, she said, kneeling and hugging little Aku. “Your madam has passed away”.
A cold breeze blew past Kokui. She felt light and staggered for a moment. She managed a smile after that shock. All the other girls turned to her. “Lucky girl”, Asantewaa said and brought all eleven of them in for a group hug.