YOUR HUMANITY IS YOUR HOPE: That Flicker Inside You that Refuses to be Stamped Out.

It should come as no surprise that I again tried to hide my period from Aunty the following month. This resulted in my not being able to properly take care of myself, which led to my school uniform getting stained. So when I stood up during recess everyone in my class — 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 that had just been lifted off from 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 the proverbial beetroot. I had looked down as the teacher escorted me out of the classroom. But that did not prevent me from hearing the snickering comments that were already spreading through the class like 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 from the classroom. But 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. Then there was the teacher beside me. I could not bear to look her in the face even as she began to help me clean up, or say a single word. 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 nickname 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 would look 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.

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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.