Excited, she wrapped a dark brown sarong around her waist and paired it with a matching vest. 37 degrees outside meant it was impossible to wear much else. She yanked on her only thong – a pink lacey thing that cousin Nathi had smuggled her during the Christmas holidays. She had spent an hour wondering how she was supposed to wear it as it sat in between her but cheeks in the most rude manner. The thing rode up her buttcrack and annoyed her to no end, but the smut she and her dorm mates read under the duvets with the lights from the screens of their contraband cellphones after lights out told her that this is what men liked.
They had slowly progressed from stolen kisses behind houses after parties to similarly stolen caresses in corridors or outside each other’s gates. Family friends. Nobody would’ve suspected anything untoward was going on when the phone would ring and he would asked for her after politely thanking her father for the lift home earlier that day. “Never more than this”, he would whisper, whilst lifting whatever t-shirt she was wearing that day.
She made short work of the one and a half kilometre walk to the dams and giggled as he sauntered up to her, gave her an aggressive kiss, circled her waist as he always did, and pressed her smaller body against his. She imagined one day she would enjoy the exchanges as much as she enjoyed the way his hands felt when they slid into her panties. She grimaced inwardly until the exchange was over. She’d gladly endure this to feel that pleasure. It was the height of summer in her second last year of secondary school and sun rays were dancing in between the trees, dappling the undergrowth and the well-worn footpaths. Her pulse quickened as they approached ‘their bench’, forcing her to direct extra effort at answering his questions about her day.
The bench was a solitary one, placed there as if for sneaking lovers who had nowhere else to share their secrets. It was positioned in the most confusing manner, facing neither the water nor anything else worth staring at. The shrubs and trees that surrounded the space served as a private enclosure. He gently but emphatically pulled her onto his lap, straddling him, face to face. Her resolve to breathe easy failed. Dismally. If her dark skin could blush, she was sure she would be the colour of the slightly ripe tomatoes weighing down her mother’s plants in the garden. He tugged her head down and kissed her again. She counted in her head as she waited and like clockwork, 22 seconds later, his right hand snaked into the parting which opened over her left thigh and stroked that soft place. Gently at first, then with a strange urgency that he had never exhibited before. He didn’t even notice the pink underwear she had so deliberately donned to impress him. He tilted her back and reached into his tracksuit bottom’s waistband and pulled out his ‘friend’. She had never seen it before and almost fell off his lap at the reveal.
He must have sensed her fear and withdrawal and quickly rubbed her lower back and whispered the familiar “never more than this”.
When she felt the sharp pain she knew what had happened. The fog of confusion and pleasure immediately cleared and she jumped off his lap and battled with the tears and the knife of betrayal slowly twisting in her gut. Her heart. He mumbled what could have been words of remorse or comfort, but she heard nothing through the roaring in her ears. She pulled her underwear into place and as she raised her hand, saw the evidence of her trauma on her fingers. She wiped vigorously on the flimsy material which clothed her as he stood up and righted his trousers.
“You should go home.”
She did. He walked with her in silence until the entrance to the nature reserve and disappeared the way he came. The cars driving past were a blur. The barking dogs which yelped from behind high gates and walls did not register. Even the customary catcalls from the neighbourhood gardeners did not make her skin crawl the way they usually did. The tears had long stopped as she entered the house. The renovators were still busy so she could not shower for at least another hour. She changed panties and wrapped the soiled lace in newspaper and plastic, the way her mother had taught her to wrap her blood every month and deposited it in the outside bin.
As soon as the last visitor had left, she took a tepid shower and checked that she was clean a thousand times before shutting the water off. As she applied Vaseline to her skin, she looked into the mirror, perhaps expecting to see signs of what had happened to her. She saw nothing. Her forehead was still slightly round, made interesting only by her widow’s peak, the only thing her mother had passed on to her. Her black eyes, deeply set, still twinkled with the youth she had felt slip away on that bench. Her teeth were still evenly lined in her mouth and when she smiled, she was still the prettiest girl her father had ever seen.
She stepped into the kitchen and started helping usisi with supper. She played the old radio which sat in the corner next to the bread bin loudly, the way she always did and laughed when usisi cracked some joke about her grandmother’s antics. Like she always did. And the next day, she woke to make breakfast for her siblings, like she always did. She continued with her life that way the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that.