I became a woman on the morning of the last day of the year. It was exactly five o’clock in the morning and I was asleep on a mat on the floor. Had it been the previous day or the day after, I would have been on my bed. But on this day, the bed I usually slept on had sunk in the middle because the ropes at its lower part had come undone and this made sleeping unnecessarily difficult. I couldn’t sleep with my sister on the bed near the window because she left one eye open while sleeping. Once, when we had visitors, I’d been forced to sleep with her only to wake up in the night to find one eye staring back at me. I’ve never slept with her since. The other bed was full of washing from the previous day and I was not willing to waste precious minutes of sleep time to push them out of the way. So I took the mat we usually used to sit on outside the house and spread it on the floor. It did not matter to me that I would wake up with the mat’s patterns on my body. I just had to sleep, and if Mama was in a good mood tomorrow perhaps I would tell her about my bad bed.
Two things woke me up at exactly five o’clock in the morning. My sister’s Nokia something something was ringing. Tatu was in the habit of setting alarms that she never woke up to. Yet, as if a ritual, every night before she slept she made sure her alarm was set right. The other thing that woke me up was a slow, lingering pain in my lower stomach. This left me confused as had it been my upper stomach, I would have known it was a hunger related stomachache. But this was something different.
The leso which I used as a nightdress had come off my body. I gathered it and tiptoed to the toilet so that Mama wouldn’t hear me and ‘remind’ me to flash the toilet. After finishing my business- which I did with my eyes half closed- I made as if to stand up when I saw three red drops on the now too white toilet bowl. They lay there conspicuously, trusting their color to communicate the significance of their presence to me. All of my senses were bloated with sleep and it took me a few seconds for the color of the drops to register.
Oh my God.
Doing all I could not to scream at this expected but not-hoped for occurrence, I stood up, took the ends of my leso, passed them behind my neck and made a knot. I then squeezed my legs as tight as I could and walked slowly back to our room. How could everyone be asleep while drops of blood that came in threes were trickling out of my body?
“Tatu!” I called my sister, shaking her violently. She usually breathed hell on anyone who dared interrupt her sleep. Anyone except her alarm clock and Ma, that is. But this trickling of small balls of blood on the inside of my thighs was too scary to deal with on my own. I would deal with her wrath later on.
“Amka. Wake up!” I pleaded.
She stirred. Finally.
“Nini wewe nawe?” “What is it?”
I told her. She was now wide awake, her mouth maintaining a frown that was on the verge of a smile. A been there, done that sort of smile. She told me to go check properly if I was bleeding from the inside and not on the outside. I noticed a bit of tenderness in her advice. I forced my mind to remember where I’d put the Always pads we’d been given at school after another trip to the toilet confirmed the bleeding. It was definitely menstrual.
My sister immediately transformed into the responsible older sister, aged to show that she was the connoisseur of things such as these. I, on the other hand, spent those awkward moments standing at the edge of her bed feigning attention to her instructions all the while thinking of how I’d gone to bed a girl and woken up a woman. It was like I was watching this thing happening to someone else in a dream. I desperately wanted this to be a dream. Surely reality couldn’t be this mean.
My sister was telling me that I would have to be discreet from now on so that my brothers wouldn’t know I was rolling. Rolling, that’s what she called it. Perhaps that is how blood left my body; rolling its way out of it and into the pad. After I’d had a difficult time putting on my pad, I sat on Tatu’s bed and wondered why I didn’t feel like a woman yet. Maybe it was a feeling that came steadily, growing on you till you were suddenly a woman, failing to point to the exact moment where it all changed. I felt a desolation that I could not explain. I silently mourned for all the things I would now have to stop doing.
“Have you told Ma?” Tatu asked.
I shook my head. “Bado. Not yet,”
Feeling responsible, she got up and went and fetched Ma. She returned a few minutes later, with Ma in tow, on her hand two new pieces of lesos.
“Go and shower,” she said after she had placed the lesos on my bed, expecting me to know that they were mine. “Then give Tatu your dirty clothes so that we can wash them for you,” That was her way of giving me special treatment, and I didn’t blame her for she knew of no other way. Ours was a family that didn’t know how to get sentimental. I preferred it that way. A show of emotion at that time would have made me too uncomfortable.
Later on in the day, as I lay on the mat outside the house, thinking of the best way to sit like a woman, my brother wondered aloud why Ma and Tatu were washing my clothes for me. In answer, both my sister and my mother looked at me and smiled. I smiled back, unsure of the reason for smiling.