KWALE, 1993.

Thunderstorms rumbled outside the thatched house of mama Awele, rain heavily pattered down to the old roof and unto the sandy ground.

Every family of the small village was taking shelter from the pouring rain in their huts, while some slept from the cold and relaxing feeling the rain brought, others warmed their afternoon meals in their clay pots. Babies sucked at their mother’s breasts, 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 ten year old Chukwufumnanya lay supine, her tiny thighs held wide open by two elderly women.

She was terrified, shuddering fearfully as mama Ekene, the aged well-respected woman of the village approached her with a razor blade, firmly held in between her ashy fingers.

The little girl dropped her head backward in a final plea to her mother who was kneeling above her, holding her hands in place. Her mother’s expression was blank, eyes avoiding her terrified stare by all means. As she held her gaze up to her mother, mama Ekene sliced the razor blade over the hood of her clitoris, cutting it off. Chukwufumnanya let out a high pitched wail, accompanied by the violent crackling of lightning outside. She wriggled her small body in vain, desperate to be set free.

Mama Ekene flapped the bloody blade in a calabash of herbs and hunched back in between the little girl’s thighs. Chukwufumnanya shrieked as another slice took off more flesh from her clitoris. “Nne ehhhh!” she cried pleadingly back up at her mother.

Her young mother stared bravely at the sandy brick walls of the hut, tears escaping her own eyes in spite of her determination not to look down at her anguished daughter.

Another cut sent more blood oozing out of her genitalia accompanied by the loud screaming of Chukwufumnanya.

The four women watched on in silence, emotionless even, except for the quiet sobbing of her mother above her head.

A loud thunderstorm rumbled over their roof as mama Ekene 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.

The pain throbbed, so much. Too much.  Her legs pulsated, shuddering violently in the stronghold of the elderly women, determined to keep them down. The little girl’s eyes began to roll back into her head and Chukwufumnanya could feel life begin to leave her body.

“Fumnanya!” her mother fearfully slapped her face, repeatedly. “Fumnanya!!”

She gasped, awake as she felt cold water splashed across her face, her eyes opened to one of the elderly women standing over her with an empty bucket.

“Ei don finish” she heard mama Ekene casually say. “ We go bring her second when rain stop”

That was her twin they were referring to. Their voices trailed away as dizziness again overtook her.

Lightning fiercely struck outside, accompanying the little girl as she weakly drifted away.



Chukwufumnanya couldn’t feel it. She lay quietly as her husband groaned away on top of her. Her mind thought 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. But it really wasn’t her fault she thought to herself, her laptop had been acting up that Friday, 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 over..

She hissed, eager for her husband to be done already. Ken froze over her, causing her to immediately realize that she had hissed out loud.

“I’m so sorry” she hastily apologized, gritting her teeth in regret.

Ken recoiled his head, amazed, he looked down at her remorseful face. “Did you just hiss?”

“I’m so sor…”

“My God Fumnanya!” he said, rising up grudgingly.

Chukwufumnanya climbed down the bed after him, grabbed her full white slip and quickly wore it over her naked body.  She ran after him to the bathroom, stopping at the doorway, “I am so sorry,” she said, 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, gesticulating 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”

“I’m sorry..”

“Stop!,” He held up his hands in frustration.  “..Just stop saying that.”

He felt defeated. Girls from his past had always commended him for knowing how to please the woman anatomy all too well, so much so, that they nicknamed him “the hammer”, a title everyone soon caught up to. But his wife… his wife whom he loved more than anything, who he wanted to give all the pleasure in the world to, hissed at his efforts.

It was offensive. It was depressing.

Heaving a sigh to calm his nerves, he dropped his hands to his sides and took two steps to stand in front of her. “Fumnanya, we’ve been married for a year, today marks it a year and a week, yet since the day we said ‘I do’ which you made me wait for by the way, 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 in emphasis “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 are not even here. Am I so terrible that I bore you?…”

“I enjoy your company”

“In bed gaddamit! You know what I mean”

“But I said I’m sorry, it’s not like it’s my fault..”

“So it’s mine now? Haven’t I done everything you’ve asked me to do?” He paused, took in her silence then continued. “What is going on Fumnanya? Tell me what I can do to please you”

She turned away and began trudging back into the bedroom. “You can’t” she said, lowering herself to the bed.

Ken sensed her vulnerability to talk so he walked lazily to her side and sat down 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 deeply. 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, too terrified of the very idea of sex. But her reasons traveled way back.

When she was only thirteen, Chukwufumnanya like many young girls her age were warned against sexual practices. She was forbidden to go too close to a boy. She was to wait until she got married and this she gladly concurred to. 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 20, 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. They were inseparable, going everywhere together, doing everything they could as a team. Their closeness got them the nick name ‘love birds’ on the school campus.

Waiting until marriage didn’t seem like a good idea anymore, she was in love and for Emeka, she was ready to give up her long cherished virginity.

So one cloudy sunday evening, she followed her beloved to his friend’s house off campus. With her heart pounding in her ears, she laid willingly for him to take her honor in exchange for that sweet pleasure she read about in books, watched in romantic movies and heard everyone so pleasurably talk about. She even hoped for an orgasm – a feeling a girl in her hostel had described it to be the greatest feeling ever! ‘Cloud 9’ was what she called it.

But, like mismatched puzzle pieces that wouldnt’t go together no matter how twisted and entangled, she was tight and unaccommodating. Emeka plowed in anyway, while she winced in excruciating pain.

“It is expected” he said to her afterwards 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 tenth time. She didn’t get her orgasm either and so she ruled sex off her books, it wasn’t for her she decided. She avoided it like a plague, much to the disappointment of a very lascivious Emeka…

“Fumnanya..” Ken touched her out of her nostalgia “Talk to me, please”

She heaved, parting her lips. Her throat felt dry but she fumbled out her words anyway, “I am sorry” was all she said as she slowly rose from the bed and began to walk towards the other side of the room.

Ken was furious, 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, she whirled around to stare at his infuriated face. “How can you ask me that?” she said, 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 that she kept from him, he had been patient, maybe too patient, but not tonight, he was not having anymore of it!

Slowly but threateningly, he began to stomp towards her, his brown eyes darkening with every step. Chukwufumnanya  shivered in fear, backing up against the wall as he closed in on her.

“Is there someone else?” He repeated, standing right in front of her recoiled body, a hard furious gleam flaring in his eyes. “Am  I some kind of joke to you? Is that it?”

“No” she stuttered. “You’re scaring me, please back away”

He maintained his stand, eyes cold and dim.

“Please” she begged. “I’ll tell you, just please move back”

He shut his eyes and let out a loud sigh. He opened them, tightening his jaw. He took two steps backwards, allowing her space to move and stand by their bedroom window. She stared out into their interlocked yard, silently.

Her shoulders began to rise and fall. He was afraid 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 his, his yearning face to her back.

“There is no other man…” she said with a glance to her left, finally breaking the silence “and there never would be.” She returned her gaze to stare out the window.  “When I was 10, my mama had me circumcised” her voice was barely audible, but he heard her, he heard those words and his heart dropped in realization. Compassion quickly overtaking his rage.

“My twin sister 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 but 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, it was terrible. We battled various infections during that period, we were sick for weeks, high fever, then there was the open wound in our vagina, it throbbed. I remember us weary of even a cup of water, we figured, if we didn’t drink so much water, we won’t have to pee. Peeing 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, his mouth open as he listened, still watching her back.

She moved away from the window, walking with her arms wrapped across her body. She sat down on her dressing stool and all Ken could do was turn his head towards her direction.

She sniffed, swiping away the tears on her cheeks “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 had to go for a surgical procedure to open her up so she could have sex with her husband, because he couldn’t penetrate..”

Ken’s eyes widened.

“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 at her husband, who nodded understandably. “The labor was prolonged, it was taking forever, the doctor said it was due to fistulae formulation. Eventually, they opted for a caesarean section but the baby died two days after, my sister didn’t make it either..” Her lips quivered at the bitter memory. “..And here I am” she shrugged with a heavy lump in her throat, “unable to enjoy sex, unable to feel a thing”

Ken’s jaw tightened against his shut mouth. It all 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 style that would 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.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you before” she cried, “I’m so sorry”

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. He hurt,  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, and he knew he couldn’t possibly comprehend what she had gone through.

He uprooted himself from his spot to the bed, he craddled her in his arms and let her weep, and weep, and weep against his beating chest. A tear unexpectedly escaping his own eye.

“I’m so sorry” she apologized for the umpteenth time

He tightened his arms over her, rubbing her back tenderly. “It’s okay” he shushed her.

He rubbed her back until she quieted down. Then he lifted her chin with his finger and looked down tenderly into her misty eyes. “Can I see?”

Her brows flinched unsure for a second, then relaxed back on her face. She owed him this much, she knew she did.

She nodded, sheepishly. He let her go and she shifted back into the bed, laid her back on the mattress and locked her knees, embarrassed.

Ken knelt before her, he placed his arms on her closed legs. “It’s okay” he said, gently trying to pull them apart.

She tightened, not willing to open up.

“It’s okay baby, it’s okay”

Shutting her eyes tightly together, she let go and her legs came undone against his hands

And there it was.

His brows shot up in shock. He recovered quickly, not wanting to make her more uneasy than she already was.

“Are you done?” eyes still shut, she was eager to slap her legs back together.

He parted his lips to speak but words failed him. He bent forward instead, and lovingly placed a soft kiss over her scars.




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