You were looking out of the car window, wincing at the mother who was flogging her son too furiously for his sin- whatever it was, when you heard your father’s voice and the tapping of his fingers on the steering wheel. You turned to him sharply, your brow arched already and concern drawing your eyes together.
“I wonder why he doesn’t greet me anymore,” he said
“Who doesn’t greet you daddy?”
“Look at him” he tilts his chin left to a man walking with a little girl who looked to be about four or five years old.
“Who is that?”
“Gerald, remember him? He lived across the road with his parents, they were my friends. Can you remember them?”
“How can I not remember them?” you muttered through a suddenly parched throat.
The car suddenly felt like a furnace, you wanted to jump out of the car, out of your skin even, anything to escape the memories about to hit you but you sat still with legs pressed together and your hands gripping your knee as the dam shook and then collapsed.
You were four years when it began, it might have been earlier but you have no way of being certain. What you are certain of, is being four years old, being in love, madly in love, and wanting to marry Uncle Jerry. You called him Jerry instead of Gerald because that was what his mother called him as she screamed his name from across the road when he came to your compound to play football with your neighbours and to talk with you.
You were an only child, born to a mother who was desperate for a son despite your father’s fervent reassurances that you were enough for him. Her father had married four women before the fifth woman- a German diplomat after a one-night stand, had given him your uncle Harry. He lived with his mother in Germany, far from the evil eyes of Nigerian witches and sent you chocolate and dresses every quarter because your mother was his favourite sister.
She was always in church, a different one each month it seemed, she wanted a boy and by God! She would get one. Your father’s job provided enough security for her not to need to work, so she spent her days in search of a miracle. It would be unfair to say that she neglected you, her quest left no space for you and it took the birth of your twin brothers when you were seven for her to see you and twice as many years to repair your relationship to something that did not feel like a burden. Your father worked on a rig, he was offshore longer than he was with his family, the maids your mother employed to take care of you were more interested in giggling with their boyfriends than tending to you.
There was no one to question the friendship between the young man with a gathering fluff of facial hair and you, four years old with tiny teeth and a fondness for chocolate that made your father worry you would have no teeth by the time you were ten. You did not mind though, one did not need teeth to chomp chocolate. No one wondered why he was usually the subject of your chatter or why you always said “I’m smelling of Jerry”. No one interrupted you two when he took you to his room, pulled your brightly coloured panties down, stuck his finger into your vulva, and gently rubbed his finger against your clitoris. And then, he would kiss you.
He never did it to you in your house or in other rooms in his house, or when his brothers or friends were in the room with you, it only happened when you were alone. Sometimes you wanted to kiss him outside as you had seen people do inside the television, you wanted to tell the world that you were going to marry him as he had asked you to, several times. He never let you, not once.
Sometimes he would pull the skin around your chest, never painful enough to make you scream. You wondered what he wanted but were too young to have the right words. He kissed you as if he would die if he did not taste your tongue, by the time you were five you were an expert kisser. He used a certain citrus soap and to this day, that scent gives you slight nausea and a rush of wet and shame between your legs. You cannot remember now, if he let you touch his penis or if he tried to stick it into your tiny vagina or between your rosebud lips. You’re thankful nonetheless whether he spared you that or if it was just your memory being merciful to you.
The last time you saw him, you were six years old and clinging to his trousers, his parents were moving to another part of town and he was going with them.
“Don’t go with them” you begged, “stay here and marry me now instead of waiting for me to grow up”
But he didn’t listen, he told you he’d come and visit you but you never saw his face again. It was a few weeks after you’d turned six. You missed him fiercely but couldn’t even talk about it, your mother had told you to leave her alone when you’d tried to tell her about it. She was watching an American pastor with her right hand stretched to the screen. She was muttering “I believe” when you interrupted her. She didn’t just tell you to leave her alone, she also bound and cast you before bowing her head again.
“Mummy is it true that somebody who has AIDS will turn into a skeleton and then die?” you asked while your heart did a fierce dance inside your chest.
“Who told you about AIDS, this child?” she stopped combing her long hair to look at you.
You looked at the sparkly red of the varnish on her toenails, you did not tell her about the pastor you had watched on TV who said AIDS was the devil’s punishment for sin, especially bad things like kissing. That was the first time you’d heard that kissing was a bad thing and as the man outlined how people died from AIDS, you had a panic attack- the first in a regular series.
You didn’t stop worrying about getting AIDS until you were in secondary school and the counsellor from the HIV awareness NGO group that came to your school in your first year, assured you that you couldn’t get HIV from kissing. He was surprised at the question from the tiny child you were at the time, so he gently pried the full story from you and introduced you to Mrs Ajayi who walked you through the first healing steps.
“I want to ask if his parents are still alive but he pretends he doesn’t know me each time I see him. That’s his daughter with him, I think” my father’s voice brought me back to the bumpy road and to 2017.
“He’s a bastard, that’s why” you reply and look at the diminishing image of Jerry and his daughter.
Your father’s lips parted in shock but your tear stained face froze the reprimand dancing on his tongue.
“He has a daughter,” you whispered as you turned to your window to look at the road. “The son of a bitch has a daughter”.