When I was a child, a little girl of twelve years, I had never thought of myself dating a boy. I had seen my elder sister in love with boys; she called them “men,” but I loathed any boy smiling at me or coming close to me, claiming to tell me a thing. Boys were naughty, bad liars, they liked insulting others, and their love for fighting scared me. I knew this from classmates I had at primary school where boys outnumbered girls. Boys were not good to be friends with, and I forgot about being in love.
In my twenties, this skepticism subsided. Boys smiled at me more frequently and I smiled back. Of course, I was beautiful, and I was becoming a girl that fits every man’s sight. Boys visited our home and I sat with them outside, even without the careful watch of my family members. I got past my old habit of getting scared and never dating boys, but there was still something I knew I wouldn’t do. One that had never surfaced in my mind in childhood, but which I came across in my twenties. I thought—I would never go with a married man, no matter what the case may be.
Not only had I heard menacing stories about young girls who faced dangerous consequences from the wives of men they’d had love entanglements with, but I’d also seen one myself; and never under the sun would I encourage such a choice. A girl from my neighborhood had her lower middle tooth kicked out by her sugar baby’s wife. Their love affair was full of fun until the real wife discovered what was going on. To get her revenge the wife pretended to be the man’s sister and invited my friend to their home. That’s when my friend found out her secret boyfriend had a wife.
But who was I kidding? Life has a way of doing its thing, and sometimes what seems impossible is put to the test and life gives way to possibilities. I grew to accept that I might end up in the hands of a man who was slightly older than me, but even that was not the limit. I later dated someone who was old enough to be my father, my mother’s age-mate. Here is how it happened:
I used to walk to school five kilometers from our home. On that fateful day, I’d woken up late. My night was consumed by surfing the internet to find homework answers the teacher assigned to the whole class. In the morning I prepared myself as fast as I could. In a blink of time, I was done, my hair well-kempt and properly combed, my uniform dress looked radiant with the long line of the crease from ironing, and my black pair of shoes and white socks were gorgeous. I appeared the same way that my mother used to compliment me, whenever I presented a smart appearance from toe to head.
To go to school, I took one of two directions: a broad road or a thin footpath that passed through the bush. The two directions had remarkable differences; the main road took an hour’s walk, while the footpath was a shortcut, a thirty-minute walk. The road was dusty but the footpath was clean from the muffled dirty air. The main road tore one’s skin with a scorch of heat, while the bush around the path blocked heat waves even during the summertime.
On that cold, weather-friendly June day (winter), I took the short way to school. The footpath wound up through tall gum trees. Their flamboyant hardwood leaves were thickly interwoven to form a domed sky during the rainy season but they go bare in summer as if they only live for a season and die again to come back triumphant on rainy days. But the environment is still beautiful in the winter period that precedes the season for rain and the weather still favored their flourishing.
The forest began a few yards from our home. Stalking into the woods I felt goose bumps racing on my skin, and a strange sense I had never encountered dawned on me. My heart began beating faster, my legs grew heavy so that I could hardly lift them, and sweat ran down my face and back. It was clear that something was bedeviling me. A few furious questions queued in my mind: had I stepped on witchcraft? Is something bad happening at my school? Has my mother just fallen sick or a thief broke into our home? These questions rang in my mind and they stopped me for a moment as if they wanted me to stand still, go on, or head back home. I tried to disown the woeful weird feeling, comforting myself that all my worries were unrealistic and unreasonable. I had walked that path longer than I could remember, and on every morning like this the birds chirped, and baboons clapped and clattered as the forest woke up, alive with the community. That day, everything was in silence—a full-blown graveside silence. No birds chirped or fluttered, no wind was whimpering, and the bush pushed dashingly a different smell than the usual smell of stale gum tree leaves that filled my nose to our school gate.
I slumped down the path minding my footsteps when, after a short moment of stillness, my ears caught a deep crunch. There were footsteps close to me. The danger was looming and my fear kept mounting. I turned my head in all directions but still, I saw nothing. I turned to the right and gazed far with bulging eyes; I turned to the left in the same manner, nothing; and to my back nothing was visible. I stared ahead into the trees roofing the path. The murmuring sound continued until I felt risk bristle on my bare skin. I felt caught, like a criminal falling into a detective’s trap. I turned sharply toward a high-pitched sound of many feet slapping the ground and was astonished to find three guys surrounding me.
The trio was in shabby clothes and their faces were alien. They laid their rough hands on me. Maybe after a hard day of digging coal, they had been at the brewery while I was doing my assignment, last night. Their eyes were bloodshot, their breath musty. It smelled of dump and nights of rotten alcohol. There was one thing that we shared in common, all of us had had a nap just before daybreak and we all started our journeys early.
I was helpless. I had no idea what to do. I wanted to scream but doing that would be a teaspoon of salt on an open wound. Who would hear me in this lonely bush of aliens? I asked myself in hapless worry. One of the guys covered my mouth immediately as if he was reading my mind, or perhaps they were about to start offering me their mounting lust. The three drunkards started to give naughty compliments. “A slice of fresh meat,” one said. “She looked like she was in a sealed box.” “She will taste like breakfast for a king,” the last guy said, adding, “What are we waiting for, wasting a sacrifice on a silver plate?”
As they were laying me down, I knew I could lose my soul and I could cease being a virgin. Virginity proves the integrity of a girl, in my culture. If a Burundian girl loses her virginity, a part of her is gone and her chance for marriage floats out of reach, as high as a blue sky. Virginity is the gold that a cool man expects from a girl, it’s what he wants when he asks for her hand in marriage. But the coal men were about to forcefully dig it out of me with a barrel of liquor. I started a silent prayer while they tossed me in the air with their hands. God save me from these guys, I whispered inside. I closed my eyes and breathed hard.
They had wasted too much of their time on admiration, throwing complimentary praise for my gorgeous body protruding through my school uniform, my soft hair, my moist lips, and my shiny skin. One of them attempted to kiss me, and I scratched his face aggressively with the sharp nails of my left hand. Another grabbed my breasts, which sent pain across my chest until I broke into uncontrollable crying. The third man was trying to separate my legs and that was when the actual war erupted.
In a fight that was the fiercest in my life—for I was saving my life against three voracious men who were about to quench their thirst from my body—heaven sent an angel. A huge man was running down the path, tumbling and fuming with anger to save me. I hadn’t noticed him, and the three drunks were busy with the fight. A sudden kick on one of the guy’s back, followed by a pounce, brought all of us down. Overwhelmed by the unexpected danger they sprang from the ground and fled on their feeble feet. It was a dramatic run in different directions as if they didn’t know one another. I was weak, but I was saved. My uniform was soiled and my socks and hair were dirty, and the man carried me home.
The man who saved my life, Irakundu, was a teacher at my school. He soon got to know the road to our home. This teacher never had time to talk with me at our school. He taught the 11th grade while I was in the 12th grade. But after this incident, Irakundu would come to check on me. On all his visits, he would bring drinks, cookies, margarine, sugar, or lotion. “He is a generous man,” My mother said.
At our home, a girl who reaches twenty years old welcomes friends at home, and it is allowed for her boyfriend to pay her visits. I had some friends but none interested me that way. The closest was John, my classmate. I loved him. He was tall and less talkative. He had a giraffe neck, slanted eyes, and a wide jaw. His skin was fairly brown. If John was a girl and I was a boy, she wouldn’t fall for me. We developed feelings for each other, but I felt some doubts about the seriousness of our relationship. I suspected he might have been cheating on me for a girl our other schoolmates talked about, but he refused to disclose and I dropped him. John was the first boy I ever fell in love with, and the first boy who broke my heart.
Irakundu was almost the opposite of John. He had a narrow jaw, widely set eyes, and dark skin, and he was short. If he was not yet in his forties, one would say age had taken much out of him. When Irakundu visited I would sit next to him. He started mentoring me on how I should handle my life with care. Often we then had to share the same road, going from my home to school. I started to develop feelings for him since we spent so much time together. I grew to love him, but I knew he was a married man, so I tried to keep those feelings to myself.
Soon Irakundu asked me out. At first, I was afraid to say yes, although deep inside I wanted to. It hurt me a lot to not accept an invitation from him at once. The man didn’t give up. He continued asking me about the outing. I asked myself why shouldn’t I give it a try. He was a nice man who had everything one would need in a boyfriend. For a week Irakundu stopped coming back to our house. I was worried. The next time we met on the footpath, he invited me out again and I agreed. He looked into my eyes and gave me a deep kiss. I embraced him and it flowed.
18 April, 2023