Thunderstorms rumbled outside the thatched hut of mama Awele as the rain heavily pattered down to the old roof and unto the sandy ground. Every family in the small village was taking shelter in their huts. While some slept from the cold and relaxing feeling of the rain, others warmed their afternoon meals in clay pots on indoor three-stone fires. Babies sucked at their mother’s breasts, and fathers lay with hands behind their heads, thinking of their farms and traps set far away in the bushes.
As a flurry of rain splashed outside unbothered, a naked and frightened ten-year-old Chukwufumnanya lay supine, her tiny thighs held wide apart by two aged women. She shuddered fearfully as mama Awele-the elderly village woman approached her with a razor blade clenched firmly between her ashy fingers.
Chukwufumnanya dropped her head backward in a final plea to her mother, kneeling above her and pinning down her hands. Her mother’s expression was blank; she fixed her eyes ahead, avoiding her daughter’s terrified stare.
As Chukwufumnanya held her gaze up to her mother, mama Awele slit the razor blade across the hood of her clitoris, blood gushed out, and the flesh came off with the blade. Chukwufumnanya let out a high-pitched wail, accompanied by the violent crackling of lightning outside.
In vain, she wriggled her tiny body, desperate to be set free.
Mama Awele flapped the bloody blade in a calabash of herbs and hunched back between the little girl’s thighs.
Chukwufumnanya shrieked as another slice chopped off more flesh from her clitoris. “Nne ehhhh!” she screamed pleadingly, backing up at her mother.
Her young mother stared bravely ahead at the sandy brick walls of the hut, tears escaping her eyes despite her determination not to look down at her anguished daughter.
The four women standing by watched on in silence, emotionless even, except for the quiet sobbing of Chukwufumnanya’s mother.
As a loud thunderstorm rumbled over the roof, mama Awele plucked out what was left of a weeping Chukwufumnanya’s clitoris. She proceeded to the labia to slash out the tiny lips of flesh already soaked in blood.
Chukumfunanya’s legs pulsated from the throbbing pain. Her body shuddered violently in the stronghold of the older women, determined to keep them down.
Her eyes began to roll back into her head, and she could feel life begin to leave her body.
“Fumnanya!” her mother fearfully slapped her face repeatedly, “Fumnanya!!”
Coldwater splashed across her face, and Chukwufumnanya gasped and opened her eyes to a woman standing over her with an empty bucket.
“Ei don finish,” she heard mama Awele casually say at her feet. “We go bring her second when rain stop.”
That was her twin they were referring to, and the women continued to converse in low tones.
Their voices trailed away as dizziness again overtook a numb Chukwufumnanya.
Lightening fiercely struck outside, accompanying her as she weakly drifted away.
Chukwufumnanya could not feel a thing. She lay quietly as her husband groaned away on top of her. She was thinking about the work she had left piled up on her desk at the office. She thought about what her boss would say come Monday when he found out that the report he had asked her to prepare was undone. Still, it really wasn’t her fault she consoled herself. Her laptop had been acting up that Friday. So she called her Computer technician, who came and picked it up from the office, promising to return it today being Saturday.
She looked over at the wall clock; the time read 7’o clock. She would call him once this was all over… She hissed, eager for her husband to be done already, and Ken froze over her, and immediately, she realized that she had hissed out loud.
“I’m so sorry,” she hastily apologized, gritting her teeth in regret.
Ken recoiled his head, petrified!. He looked down at her remorseful face. “Did you just hiss?”
“I’m so sor—”
“My God, Fumnanya!” he remarked, rising grudgingly.
She climbed down from the bed after him and grabbed her white oversize Teeshirt from the floor. She quickly wore it over her naked body and ran after him to the bathroom, stopping at the doorway, “I am so sorry,” she apologized, leaning against the door frame. “I swear I didn’t know when I made that sound—”
“But you meant it, didn’t you?” He turned to look at her from the sink.
She shrugged, gesturing her hands uncertainly.
“Oh my God, really! you can’t even lie to make me feel better?”
“Would you want me to?”
Ken gaped, planting his hands on his hips. “I can’t believe you right now.”
“Stop!” he flew his hands up in frustration, “Just stop saying that!”
Ken felt defeated. Girls from his past always commended him for knowing how to please the female anatomy all too well. He was nicknamed “the hammer,” a title everyone soon caught up with. But his wife, his wife whom he loved more than anything in the world, his wife whom he wanted to give all the pleasure to, hissed at his efforts, and that was not the first time.
It was offensive, depressing even!
But determined to handle the situation calmly, Ken heaved a deep sigh to contain his raging nerves, then dropped both hands to his sides and took two strides to stand before his wife.
“Fumnanya,” he began, “we’ve been married for a year. Today marks it one year and a week precisely, yet since the day we said ‘I do,’ which you made me wait for by the way,” He emphasized with a furrowed brow, “you dodge sex at all costs. The times you consent to it, you just lie there motionless, no moaning whatsoever. You said it would be better if we used lubricant; I bought one, grudgingly,” He held up a finger to intensify his point, “yet nothing changed. No matter the amount of lubricant I use, which was your idea in the first place, you still lie there stiff. It’s like you’re not even here. Am I so terrible that I bore you?—”
“I enjoy your company.”
“In bed, goddammit! You know what I mean.”
“But I said I’m sorry; it’s not like it’s my fault—”
“So it’s mine now? Huh? Haven’t I done everything you’ve asked of me?” He paused, took in her silence then continued. “What is going on, Fumnanya? Tell me what I can do to fix it, to please you.”
Chukwufumnanya turned away and began trudging back into the bedroom. “You can’t,” she said, lowering herself into the bed.
Ken interpreted that as a vulnerability to talk, so he strolled lazily to her side and sat beside her, waiting.
She crossed her arms across herself and leaned forward on her knees.
Slowly, she looked over at her husband, whom she knew loved her so much. He had been patient, respected her when she chose celibacy until their wedding night, loved her, and stayed patient those two months after their marriage when she won’t let him touch her. She was terrified of the very idea of sex.
But she had her reasons, and those reasons traveled way back.
At thirteen, Chukwufumnanya’s mother warned against engaging in premarital sex. She was forbidden to be alone with a boy; she was to wait until she got married, and this she gladly did.
She was in no hurry. Her mother had told her all too often that her virginity was a pure thing, so pure it had to be protected. So she went through Secondary school safeguarding it, never going beyond kisses no matter how much she liked the boy.
When she turned twenty, she set off to College, and there she met Emeka, a 21-year-old student in her Department. They fell in love, fast and hard, and became inseparable. Their bond was so strong that waiting until marriage no longer seemed like an excellent idea to Chukwufumnanya. She was in love and ready to give up her long-cherished virginity for her Emeka.
So, on one cloudy Sunday evening, she followed her beloved to his friend’s house off-campus. And with her heart pounding in her ears, she laid willingly for Emeka to take her honor in exchange for that sweet pleasure she had read about in books and heard everyone so pleasurably talk about. She even hoped for an orgasm – a feeling a girl in her hostel had described as the most incredible feeling ever! ‘Cloud 9’ was the exact term she had called it.
But, like mismatched puzzle pieces that wouldn’t go concurrently no matter how twisted and entangled, she was tight and accommodating. Emeka plowed in any way, causing her excruciating pain, and she cried out loud!
“It is expected,” he said to her afterward as she lay still, recovering from the agonizing pain. “Next time will be sweet,” he assured her.
But it didn’t feel sweet the second time, the third time, not even the seventh time. She didn’t get her orgasm either, so she ruled sex off her books. It wasn’t for her, she decided, and she avoided it like the plague, much to the disappointment of a very lascivious Emeka…
“Fumnanya..” Ken touched her out of her thoughts. “Talk to me, please.”
She heaved, pausing her lips. Her throat felt dry, but she fumbled out her words anyway, “I am sorry,” and rose from the bed and walked towards the other side of the room.
Ken was furious now. He stared at her back, lacking the right words to hurl at her.
“Is there someone else!” He finally yelled, jolting to his feet.
Shocked, Chukwufnanya whirled around to stare at his fierce face. “How can you ask me that?” she queried, hurt that he could think so low of her.
But Ken was too angry to care. He had always sensed there was a part of her she kept from him and he had been patient, maybe too patient, but not today; he was not going to have any more of it.
He began to stomp towards her, his brown eyes darkening with every step. Chukwufumnanya shivered. She watched as he closed in on her and her terrified feet plod backward until her back was flat against the wall.
“Is there someone else?” He repeated, standing in front of her recoiled body, a hard and furious gleam flaring in his eyes. “Am I some kind of a joke to you? Some pawn? is that what this is?”
“N-No,” she stuttered, shaking her head, “You’re scaring me. Please back away.”
He maintained his stand, eyes cold and dim.
“Babe please,” she pleaded. “I’ll tell you, just please move away.”
He shut his eyes, let out a loud sigh then opened them, tightening his jaw.
He took two steps backward, allowing her space to duck away and run to their bedroom window.
She stared out into their interlocked yard, silently gathering her thoughts. Then, her shoulders began to rise and fall. Ken feared she was crying, but he was too angry to take her in his arms or walk around to face her. So they stood still, her back to him and his yearning face to her back.
“There is no other man…” she truthfully said, then craned to her left, “…and there never would be.”
She returned her gaze to staring out the window.
“When I was ten, I was circumcised.” Her voice was barely audible, but he heard her, he listened to those words, and as his heart dropped in realization, compassion instantly overtook his rage.
“My twin and I,” she continued, “but hers was more severe. I kept passing out throughout the whole thing so I had just my clitoris and labia removed. Hers was what they call the type III procedure… her labia and clitoris were removed and her orifice stitched up. They left a tiny opening for urine. We battled various infections during that period, we were sick for weeks – high fever and constant pain, then there was the open wound in our vagina that throbbed from dawn to dusk. I remember us being wary of water because we were too terrified to pee. We figured that if we didn’t drink so much, we won’t have to go pee. Having to ease yourself with an open wound in your vagina hurts, it hurt so bad,” She paused, not wanting to cry, but the tears swam down her cheeks anyway.
Ken felt rooted to his spot, stupefied as he listened, still watching her back.
Chukwufumnanya moved away from the window with arms wrapped across her body. She sat down on her dressing stool, and all Ken could do was turn his head in her direction.
She sniffled, brushing her wrist over her runny nose. “When my sister turned 27, she got married which was two years before we met,” she gesticulated her finger back and forth between them “she underwent a surgical procedure to open her up so she could become intimate with her husband…”
Ken’s brows shot up in surprise.
“When she got pregnant and it was time to have her baby, I watched her suffer so much on that bed, I mean, I know that labor is supposed to be hard but what she went through wasn’t normal,” she shook her head insistently and gazed at her husband, and Ken nodded understandingly. “The labor was prolonged, it was taking forever, the doctor said it was due to a fistulae formulation. Eventually, they opted for a cesarean section but the baby died and two days after, my sister went too…” Her lips quivered at the bitter memory. “…And here I am,” she shrugged helplessly, “unable to enjoy sex, unable to feel a thing!”
Ken’s jaw tightened. It made sense now, all those times she won’t let him go down on her, how much she kept avoiding any move that meant burying his head in between her thighs, every position that could have even allowed that. She said she was shy but it was like she didn’t want him to see her there, and now he understood why. It all made sense.
Part of him was mad that she could keep such a vital aspect of her life from him, but the other part felt pity for her, and it hurt him, watching her sob like that.
He tried to imagine what it must have been like for her, the procedure, all those years she must have carried the pain, the emotional trauma, but he knew he couldn’t possibly comprehend what she had gone through.
He uprooted himself from his spot to where she sat. He cradled her in his arms and let her weep against his beating chest, and as she cried, the tears gathered in his eyes and trickled down his chin.
“I’m so sorry,” she said in between sobs.
He tightened his grip around her, rubbing her back tenderly. “It’s okay,” he shushed her.
He continued to rub her back and hold her until she was completely emptied of the tears. Then, he lifted her chin with his finger up to his face and looked tenderly into her misty eyes. “Can I see?”
Her brows flinched, unsure, then relaxed back on her face. She owed him this much; she knew she did.
Nervously, she nodded her head, and he let her chin go.
Chukwufumnanya shifted back into the bed, dropped her back to the mattress, and locked her folded knees, embarrassed.
Ken knelt before her and placed his hands on her closed legs. “It’s okay,” he assured her, gently trying to spread them apart.
She stiffened, not willing to open up.
“It’s okay baby, it’s okay,” he encouraged her.
Chukwufumnanya shut her eyes tightly together and willed herself to relax. And slowly, her legs came undone against his hands.
And there it was, half a clit.
Ken’s brows arched in surprise, but he recovered quickly before she opened her eyes and caught his gaze. He would be damned if he made her feel more uneasy than before.
“Are you done?” she hurried him, eager to slap her legs back together.
He parted his lips to speak, but words failed him, so he bent forward instead and carefully placed a soft kiss on her scars.