The older I get, the more I realize just how much I have to learn. But this article is not about mental maturity; this is about physical maturity, if you will call it that.
When I was in elementary and secondary school in Nigeria, I always thought I was grown and sexy. In fact, I could have sworn I was grown and sexy. The boys in my school always liked me; I was not that light-skinned, but they called me ‘yellow paw-paw’, and the young men on my street assumed my name was ‘Chi Chi’ because in their limited minds, only Igbo girls were light-skinned. It flattered me then, but I now realize it was ignorance on their part and mine. When I was in JSS2, my French teacher told me he thought I was a little Chinese; apparently, I have ‘Chinese eyes’. To be politically correct, this would be called ‘Asian eyes’. I thought he was crazy for thinking I was a little Chinese, but when I came to the States, a few people said I had ‘slanted eyes’, and therefore hinted a little bit of Asian blood. Well, I have asked my mother, and she is quite sure that neither she nor my father has any Asian blood in them. Furthermore, she is also very sure that my father is my actual father.
So I was pretty much at the top of the ‘grown and sexy’ list even though I was only about 10, and I put myself at the top of that list. No need to discuss that I had no clue what sexy meant; if I did, I could have sworn it was a dirty word. Everything was great. Life was great. I was sexy. Life was sexy. I remember how I always used to wear a ‘shimmy’ under everything I wore. Thinking back on it now, I do not know why every woman in Nigeria felt the need to do so. But I have to say that I wore the heck out of them. I had the ‘long shimmy’, the ‘half shimmy’ (otherwise known as under skirts), and the ‘singlet (also known as vests)’. My favorite was my white mini long shimmy; it stopped right above my knees. Every time I came back from school, I would take my school uniform off and walk around in the shimmy.
My God, I was on fire! I was so hot that you could have fried a crispy chicken on me, and still had to use a fire extinguisher. Yes, I was that hot – or so I thought. Everything was going great. Every day, I would put on my blue school uniform, sparkling white socks (which were now looking blue because I soaked them in ‘blue’ the previous night. Remember ‘blue’?), and shining brown sandals (which my aunt sent from America, so you know that even increased my hotness level), and I would match out the door feeling too hot for my own good. Sure, I had to trek to my friend’s house to catch a ride, but I was still hot. As far as I was concerned, that only gave me ten extra minutes to show a few extra people just how hot I was.
I thought I had it all until things suddenly changed. Without notice, I became the bottom of the food chain. What happened, you wonder? I’ll tell you what happened. My friends started growing peanut-sized lumps on their chests and I did not! Do you know how humiliating that was? Night after night, I cried and begged God for breasts. I told him to give me a little, just a little bit! I had absolutely no breast at all; I did not even have enough to qualify for a training bra! My friends complained that their ‘lumps’ hurt and itched, so I too started pretending that my invisible lumps hurt and itched. I would kneel beside my bed, praying and crying to God for breasts. I made all sorts of promises, if only He would give me lumps! I would never lie again. I would never insult my class mate. I would never cheat in a test. I would never use markers to draw on Ngozi, the house help’s face while she slept. I even fasted for lumps!
Just when my lumps started showing and I thought I was back at the top of the list, something else knocked me off. One day, my best friend, Uchenna came to school feeling down. All day, she had her head on her desk, not really talking to anyone. Finally, she revealed the reason for her downcast attitude.
“It came yesterday.” She said to me.
Confused, I asked, “What came?”
“My menses. And I’m having cramps.” She whispered. I neither know why she whispered or why we called it ‘menses’. Today, I will gladly tell anyone and everyone about my monthly visitor, Ms. Flow.
“Cramps?” I asked her. I had no idea what cramps were. Uchenna, on the other hand, knew everything because she had two older sisters while I had none.
I am ashamed to say this, but I was green with envy. I knew that almost all of my class mates had been getting their ‘menses’, but it did not hit home until my own best friend started seeing hers, and mine was no where to be found. I asked her what the pain felt like, but she could not really describe it. She just wanted it to stop. That night, I was back on my knees, praying, crying, begging, and promising to keep all the promises I failed to keep earlier. Did I mention I was fourteen by this time? I fasted some more too. Everyday, I eagerly ran to the bathroom and pulled my underwear down, hoping for at least one spot of blood. I even bought a pack of Simple Sanitary Pads. Remember Simple? It came in a bright yellow pack. I only wanted it because my favorite aunt who was now married and living in America used to use it when she lived with us – although I had no clue that it was for blood.
Can you imagine how betrayed I felt by God when I found out that my friend, Isabella whom I was fourteen whole months older than not only had much bigger breasts, but also had her ‘menses’? Isabella, on the other hand used Always pads, which I experimented with a few times – even though I had no ‘leakage’. I prayed for my ‘menses’ and everything that came with it. Yes, I also prayed for the cramps. Without my ‘menses’, I did not feel complete; I did not feel like a woman. It did not help that I was round and had low cut hair – not that I’m no longer round, but my hair is long now.
I was fifteen when one day…voila! A drop of red appeared. I was so excited that I could have had a seizure. So off I went to put on a Simple sanitary pad. As soon as I put it on, I sat on the porch outside my house, feeling accomplished and complete. I had done it all. I was now officially a WOMAN. I sat down confidently with one leg crossed over the other, chin held up high, and there was no stopping me now. I waited a few hours to go and change the pad; I was sure it would be full and almost pouring out by then, but to my greatest surprise, there was nothing! I cried. And cried. And cried some more. The next day came, and there was still nothing. Where did my drop go? My mother explained to me that it was not ‘regular’ yet. Ms. Flow disappeared until I was sixteen when she reappeared and has continued to do so every twenty-four days.
These were the big stumbling blocks I faced in becoming a woman. The little stumbling block was being teased for having too little hair. I am not a hairy person, so if I shave my underarms, the amount of hair that will be there after a month would probably be as long as the one a regular person has kept for only a week. I used to think it was a problem. Now, I am grateful for it. But once upon a time, I begged God to give me more hair. And do not get me started on begging for pimples. That is a story for another day.
After all has been said and done, I now realize that Ms. Flow did not make me a woman. She only made me fertile. Everyday, I realize that the day before, I knew less, and as I grow, I continue to learn. I am a woman today – I think. But tomorrow, I will be more woman than I am today. Needless to say, I no longer beg, pray, or cry, or fast for lumps, hair, pimples, and Ms. Flow. But I especially do not ask for any shape or form of cramps. Been there. Done that. Do not ever want to go back there.