When she was 10 years old, a man came to her house to measure the rooms for new curtains.
Her sister was upstairs and her father was in the garden. She went downstairs to get a glass of milk. And then in her father’s house, with all the doors and windows open, he put his hands on her. He asked her questions – as if he were a teacher talking to a student, simple questions, inane questions to keep her distracted – and all the while he ripped away the walls of her personal space and security. Through the boundary of her red and white checked school uniform and in the refuge of her own home.
And then he smiled. Having taken a full measure of her, he walked into all the other rooms of her home to measure them for curtains.
She stood there, imprinted by his hands on her body. Tears began to run down her cheeks. And then she began to shake. Uncontrollably. She stumbled upstairs to where her sister was reading, and stood at the door. Shaking and crying.
Her voice had been stolen.
But the feelings of disgust, hatred and fear would not be silenced as easily.
She hated her sister’s comforting touch and yet she craved her protection. So she pushed away her arms but forced herself into the same chair. Sitting as close as she could without retching or wanting to tear the skin off her bones. Desperate for warmth against the remembered cold of his hands.
Twenty years later, she still feels his hands on her. Still sees herself sitting in that brown and cream coloured arm chair, shaking, crying and unable to speak.
* Published now, more than twenty years later, in solidarity with Shailja Patel. #StopTonyMochama.