Things are never really the way they seem; sounds so cliché — but they never really are…


It should come as no surprise that I again tried to hide my period from Aunty the following month. This resulted in my inability to properly take care of myself, which led to my school uniform getting stained. So when I stood up during recess everyone in the classroom — boys, girls and teacher alike — saw it.

Even now, I can still recall the humiliation. My felt had flushed hot — like a pot of jollof rice just lifted off the stove. I believe if it were possible for a black person to flush red, my young face would have become as flaming-red as a beetroot. I’d looked down as the teacher escorted me out of the classroom, but it hadn’t prevented me from hearing the snickering comments that were already spreading through the classroom like a bushfire.

‘This girl sef, mmmh. Doesn’t she even know what pad is?

‘Maybe the person she lives with doesn’t buy her some. She lives with her Aunty, maybe that’s why.’

‘ Did you see the back of her dress? I would never step foot in this school again if that happened to me. So embarrassing!

‘She’s so strange. Hardly ever smiles. Did you see the back of her dress?”

Their voices receded as the teacher, and I got further and further away. It made no difference. I could still hear them in my head. I wanted to disappear. It felt like death could have been preferable right there and then. The situation was made worse by the teacher’s presence beside me. I could not bear to look her in the face even as she cleaned me up. I’d always been a polite child and had been taught to say ‘thank you’ for every kindness or help I receive, but I could not open my mouth to say a single word to the woman as she wiped, tucked and tidied me up. She must have understood how I felt because she didn’t try to make me. When we arrived back in the class, I avoided everyone’s eye and went straight to my desk. For the rest of the day, I did not raise my hand to answer a single question, which was unusual. I enjoyed school, and since it was the one place I would express myself without being told to shut up, without being pinched or ridiculed, I was never tired of raising my hand when a question for which I knew the answer was asked. Years later, when I began studying French at Alliance Francais, this attitude would earn me the sobriquet Mademoiselle Vitesse. I once read a story of a Holocaust survivor who went out buying bread every day just because he could — even when it wasn’t needed. I understood him correctly. To date, I can’t help speaking up whenever the need arises. It doesn’t always earn me kudos, and I have gotten in hot waters a few times because of it. But I don’t care. I’m never tired of speaking up and speaking out whenever I have to or can.

I didn’t tell anyone about the menstrual-stain incident when I arrived home. Instead, for the next several days, I feigned illness and refused to go to school. I eventually went back when Aunty herself threatened to drag me there. Even then, I did so out of fear. Fear of what she might do if she found out the truth and thought I‘d made her look bad before my teacher and the entire school.

Anyway, from that point on, whenever I had my period, my uncle’s wife looked at me with suspicion. And from that point on, she attributed almost all my cycles to abortion, which made no sense. One abortion was within the bounds of believability, but an abortion every single month? It didn’t seem to matter to my uncle’s wife.



FROM FEARFUL TO FIERCE: the true-life story of a woman who was abused, bullied and told she would never amount to anything of worth.

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Sarah Udoh-Grossfurthner

FROM FEARFUL TO FIERCE: the true-life story of a woman who was abused, bullied and told she would never amount to anything of worth.