The Morning After

By

FOLAKEMI EMEM-AKPAN

 

When the first streaks of daylight turn her room a grey hue, Dami rolls onto her back. Her lower back aches slightly, just like she’d known it would, and there is a devil of a headache somewhere in her temple. She rubs at her forehead, finds it is flushed with sweat, grimaces.

 

Her feet make connection with the floor and she hurries over to the window. As she yanks the curtains apart, the room grows brighter and the pit-a-pat racing of her heart eases somewhat.

 

God, how she hates nights.

 

She has not always had a fear for darkness, but it is amazing how fast the human mind learns fear, how rapidly one can degenerate from a place of confidence into an abyss of terror.

 

The horror story began the day she turned twelve. Her aunt had organised a party for her and was busy putting up balloons in the living room. In the kitchen, as she worked alongside her uncle cutting the sandwiches into star shapes, he’d brushed his arm against her budding chest. Because it had happened so fast, and because they’d been working together elbow to elbow, she chalked it up as a mistake and made it a point of duty to enjoy her party.

 

The following evening, her aunty Jess was on night duty at the hospital and left Dami and the twins in the care of her husband. That was the first night he visited her room. The ordeal lasted less than twenty minutes but she will remember it for the rest of her life.  The rankness of his breath, the disturbing heat of his palms, the pure animal sounds he made, the searing pain he inflicted in that secret part of her, and the blood afterwards.

When he was done, when he’d finished pulling up his pyjama bottoms, he’d looked at her strangely, his eyes filled with a cold fire she’d never before seen.

“One word to Jess and I’ll kill you. Believe me, I will.”

 

Dami remembers sitting up for the remaining part of the night, afraid to stand up lest she make any noise that would make him come back. She was also afraid to lay down and fall asleep. So she’d sat there in a corner of her bed, sitting so still that her thighs turned numb before long. When she finally rose the next morning, there was a dried map of blood on her bed sheet. In her bathroom, she washed. First the bed sheet, then her nightgown and her panties. Finally, she washed herself.

 

She’d stood underneath the shower, turning the heat on so high she had blisters on her skin the next day. But all she’d wanted to do at that point was scrub away the nightmare, to wash and disinfect herself completely of the vileness with which she had been visited.

At school, she was so exhausted. And yet so relieved that she didn’t have to watch over her shoulder for her uncle’s ascent that she’d fallen asleep at her desk. That day, she’d been sent to the detention room for the first time in her life.

 

The next night, her aunt stayed home and he didn’t come in to her. But that didn’t stop Dami from staying awake, terror-stricken, counting the minutes before dawn arrived. That day again, she fell asleep at her desk in school, got sent to the detention room yet again.

 

This morning, she steps into the bathroom and turns on the shower full blast. The hot needles of water strike her not too gently but she stays under, scrubbing, washing away the fluids of the man she hates with her whole being. At the mirror above the wash hand basin, she examines her eyes. As she expected, there are dark circles underneath them. The dark circles are from a constant lack of sleep combined with tears that will not stop flowing each night he visits her room.

 

The real tragedy is that she is not an orphan living off her aunt’s largesse. Young as she is, Dami has heard stories of young girls being raped, but in each and every one of these stories, the young girl in question has no other place to go, is at the perpetual mercy of her assailant.

 

Back home in Nigeria, Dami’s parents are alive, loving, and extremely wealthy. Before she was born, her father had made a truckload of money refining sugar and currently owns the largest sugar refining company in Nigeria. He also has tentacles in the crude oil business, as well as in the cement and noodles industries.

 

When she turned ten, her parents had sent her to London to live with her father’s younger sister and husband because the harsh Lagos sun gave her migraines. Also, Dami and Jess had always been close, with Dami almost worshiping the ground on which her aunt trod. So the decision had been well accepted on all sides.

 

Her first two years in London was like a dream, as blissful as she’d imagined. She’d left her birth parents back in Nigeria but had found surrogate parents in her aunt and uncle. She was loved, protected, cherished.

 

Until that first night of violation.

 

When she is finally done in the bathroom, Dami slips on a smock and sandals. For a while, she’d thought that perhaps her choice of clothing – tank tops and jeans – was the reason her uncle raped her again and again. After that, she’d made a strange transition to childlike smocks and baggy dresses. But the violation has not stopped, no matter how unappealing she looks.

 

The young girl makes her way downstairs. In the kitchen, she makes pancakes and brings out a pitcher of milk from the fridge.

 

Sitting at the dining while the rest of the family sleeps on, she considers her life. She is fourteen, has suffered sexual abuse for two years, and had just recently begun `menstruating. The same way she’d heard stories of rape, she has also heard stories of girls who got pregnant at fourteen. While a small percentage of these pregnancies were willfully cultivated, most were results of rapes committed by fathers, by stepfathers, by uncles, by cousins, and by close neighbours.

 

She drowns her pancake in a sea of syrup, takes a bite, only to spit it out. Her stomach is coiled with nausea, her throat dry. She is not about to become a statistic, she tells herself. There is no way on earth she will end up becoming one of those girls.

 

Rising, she dumps the pancakes in the dustbin, returns to the dining table, to her glass of cold milk. Drinking not because she particularly feels like it, but because she knows she needs the nourishment, Dami drains the glass in one gulp.

 

Closing her eyes, gathering courage round about her like a cloak, she stands to her feet. She knows what she has to do.

 

Lagos, Nigeria is an hour behind London, but she knows her father would be awake already. When the phone on the other end begins to ring, Dami experiences a wave of panic. What if her father does not believe her? What if Uncle Tope lies so skillfully and she is accused of trying to break up her aunt Jess’s marriage? What if after all this, her parents disown her and she has no place to live? And what after it all, Uncle Tope makes good his threat to kill her?

 

Before anyone can pick up the phone, Dami disconnects, forces her racing heart to slow down. She returns to the table, buries her face in her hands and dissolves into tears. The anguish pours out of her mouth in heart-breaking sobs, and her heart feels like it is being shredded.

 

As the outside sky grows brighter, Dami stares out of the window, listening to Whitechapel wake up. Cars are pulling out of driveways, lawnmowers going at full speed, newspaper boys going about their errands.

 

Gathering courage a second time, Dami approaches the phone again. Although her heart has not stopped racing and the tears has not stopped streaming down her face, she redials.

As the phone rings a second time, Dami is again overwhelmed by terror and apprehension. But she does not disconnect the call this time, gathering an inner resolve to better her present and her future, no matter the risks involved.

 

The phone does not ring long before it is picked up. It is her father’s voice, and his jovial hello breaks her heart again.

 

Closing her eyes, imagining herself rising above the pain and humiliation, she says all she’d rehearsed, forcing the words past her constricted throat, refusing to choke up and cry. She hears the cry of rage from the other end, hears the muffled curses and then the soft question. “Are you all right?”

 

She says yes, then adds, “Can you wait until you get here before saying anything to aunt Jess?”

 

When finally she disconnects the call, she leans against the wall. She hears someone sobbing violently and it takes a full minute to realise that the sound is coming from her. Quickly, she mops at her face, wills herself to stop crying.

 

Outside, dawn has finally broken.

 

 

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