I was fourteen, I think. I was in Dar es Salaam. We were travelling for the holidays with my cousins whose father was from Zanzibar and, after a month there, were making our way back to Nairobi. The house in which we were staying had three stories and my cousin and I had been assigned a bedroom in the top level which had a staircase to the side leading to the roof. That evening we watched a movie, I don’t remember which one exactly, but it was probably Indian. My cousin and me were sharing a bed and our family friend, who was also my cousin’s boyfriend, was with us. He had sneaked in.
After the movie ended, we switched off the light to sleep. My cousin and her boyfriend lay on one side of the bed and started whispering to each other. I tried to pretend that I didn’t hear them but I wondered what the silences between their whispering meant. We had been given sheets to cover ourselves and I could hear their rustles. The bed creaked slightly with their movements. There was a faint sound of skin against skin. Were they touching? Kissing? I wondered if they wished I weren’t there, but I thanked God I was there, because then they wouldn’t be able to “go too far”. The thought of going too far was scary for all of us, as we’d been taught since we were flat-chested that a girl who went too far would be ruined. We didn’t understand what this ruined meant but we didn’t want to find out.
I had never had a boyfriend. Despite being the first one to “develop” amongst my cousins, I was the last one to get herself a boyfriend years later. I was shy and awkward. I found it difficult to talk to boys. I had crushed on a few though, and right then it was one of my cousin’s friends. It was when I was around him that I felt the throbbing the most.
After a few minutes of trying to sleep, I became aware of the throbbing. The Dar air was thick with heat and a ceiling fan pushed against it lazily. We had left the windows open to give the fan support, but the heat was stubborn and we didn’t get much relief. I was hot and restless but I tried not to toss about; I didn’t want to disturb the couple. I could feel my night dress stick to my back and thighs. I lay still and continued listening to the couple and the night sounds.
Up to that night I had ignored the throbbing because I didn’t understand it. I was afraid. It felt urgent and out of control. But that night, maybe because of the heat or the whispering and touching couple beside me, I couldn’t ignore it. I felt it start from between my legs. A soft buzz at first, it got more persistent as the minutes ticked by. It felt like a question, but I didn’t know the answer. I got restless, tossed and turned until my cousin whispered my name. I pretended to be asleep.
“Amelala,” I heard her whisper to the boy.
A few moments later I heard them get off the bed and slowly steal out of the room. They went up the stairs to the roof. I imagined what they were going to do there; imagined them kissing and touching freely now that I was not there, and the throbbing grew more insistent. Did my cousin feel the throbbing? Was he touching her because of it?
I didn’t move for a little while to make sure they were not coming back. I hadn’t used my sheet because it was too hot but I now took it and covered myself, from neck to toes. I turned and lay on my side, facing away from the door in case the couple came back. Underneath the sheet I slowly lifted my dress, pausing to listen out for them.
When my dress was up to my waist I put a finger inside my panties.
“This is wrong,” I thought. The guilt made me tremble. If it had been daylight I’d have seen that my whole body was a shameful red.
I lay still for a moment, but the questions between my legs were too loud, they sensed and called my fingers. I needed answers.
I moved my finger again, slowly, down my panties. Breathing heavily, I made my way between my legs, placed my finger and waited. I don’t know what I expected but nothing happened. I decided to stop and, as I was pulling my hand back, a sudden and intense surge of heat spread up to the pit of my stomach. I sucked in my breath loudly and snatched out my hand in fear. I knew what I was doing was wrong and that it had something to do with “going too far.” I thought of my embarrassment if the couple were to catch me, but the questions grew even more urgent.
I put my hand on my chest and waited for my heartbeat to slow down, then I put my hand back into my panties, this time confident, knowing. I found the place I had touched before and started moving my finger around it, testing, querying. I was lying on my back with my legs slightly spread. Getting wet, I panicked briefly. My fingers felt slippery. I didn’t know what to do but, with an instinct that must have been embedded in Hawa’s body, I moved my finger a little faster, trying to answer the questions. My fingers were everywhere in that small wet space, searching, exploring, looking for answers. One finger touched something, a small protruding button, and when I touched it, I felt liquid heat shoot down my legs. I moaned even louder than before. I could feel the answers at the tips of my fingers.
Where the most intense feeling was concentrated, I rubbed there, circled there. Blood rushed to my head. I spread my legs wider and pushed my panties lower. The sheet was an untidy bundle near my feet. Lost in sensations, I was moving my body, my hips following the rhythms of my fingers. Gasping, I forgot that I hadn’t wanted to make any noise. I didn’t know when it happened, but I was using my other hand to touch the rest of my body: my thighs, my stomach, and my small breasts. My breasts felt hard and larger than normal. I rubbed my nipples and my whole body tingled. My body was burning and I didn’t know how to soothe it. I could feel sweat trickling down my face. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into, the transformation my body had undergone. What was this? I was torn between wanting to stop and a feeling unlike any I’d had before. There was tension building inside me, and I felt that I was getting closer. Closer to what, I had no idea.
My eyes were closed, my body spread, and my fingers touching every part of me when I heard my cousin’s shocked voice:
I froze, my heart plummeted, and something within me shattered.
Aisha (@bintim) is as a writer who is passionate about telling stories with a focus on researching, curating, and preserving stories of women, especially African women, through both fiction and non-fiction. She is working on a book of short stories to be published in 2014.