The Act of Learning to Speak by Oseyomo Abiebhode

[Trigger warning: This writing contains material about sexual and dating violence.]

No no no no

No no no no no no 

No no no no no no no no no no no no

She spreads her lips apart and then makes an o of it as she says the word, over and over. Her lips are a bright shock of red, they don’t match her coffee brown skin but she’d liked the lipstick, even when it stood defiantly in the stack of prettier colours at that corner shop in the market. She’d spent the last of her shopping money on it. 

She looks at herself in the mirror again, first, examining her cheeks, then, her cheekbones, then her nose and eyes, and then again, her lips. Her hair, a mop of black kinky fluff, would on good days be the subject of envy and compliments and on bad days, like today, the butt of mean jokes.

Her examining eyes go further down from her face to her chest, to her small breasts – round and firm – with their highly sensitive purplish-black nipples which seem to stand attention at the introspection. She is beautiful in her own way; she knows this to be true, yet and yet. She corrects herself: she is beautiful full stop. 

No no no no, she says aloud again, the words forming almost magically. It is magical, if you really think about it, how words are formed. First, there is a rumbling from deep within that gradually finds its way up and transforms into an audible form manifesting as a sounded word. And those words can sometimes change things. How utterly magical.

A frown begins to creep up into her face. It starts from her eyes as a poison of joyful expression. Slowly, it transforms to a snake and as one, crawls down to her lips, disfiguring their redness, they quiver. Her brows fall apart and her eyes begin to water. 

She begins to cry as the thought of his ugly touch seeps in. And to comfort herself, she practises, no, rehearses saying no, looking again at the mirror as she does this. She wishes, as she thinks about his wet fingers slithering up her thigh, that she had firmly said no as he advanced to kiss her, his bleached pink lips slobbering from wanton desire; that she had screamed no as his unnaturally yellow hand, with their crisscrossing green veins and blackish knuckles had rubbed her beautiful left breast, sensitive and loose-lipped, but beautiful. She had been mute however and, like a doorless room, had let him in with no fuss. 

She thinks about it now, how she had dressed up on a day like this, how she had enjoyed massaging her lips with her favourite lipstick like she has done today, how she had smacked her lips, taken a once-over of herself in the mirror, and headed for the door; for his house. She thinks about how she had sat – barely – on his filthy-looking bed and wondered how he looked so different in person from his profile which had promised he was ‘one of the good ones out there’ and ‘just here to make friends’. 

As she sat in a bedroom that doubled as his sitting-room and kitchen — there was a green Butterfly stove in the corner encircled by small pots and pans — he’d wanted to know what she would like to take. Nothing, she’d said, partly because she had heard stories of girls getting drugged and partly because she didn’t trust his hygiene. 

She’d come visiting because of their chats, where he had been a dark princely knight carrying her in his virtual white horse – read keyboard – out of depression and familial misunderstanding to his castle of muffled chuckles and midnight sexting. He had been her world for those weeks before her visit, sort of. 

And as she sat there in his space, she sought desperately for this knight and saw him not. Before her instead was a man who didn’t quite look like one of the good ones and who didn’t seem to be interested in making friends. It was in the leer of his eyes, in his insistence to sit too uncomfortably close even though his germ-ridden bed could sit at least six. But still, she sat, out of fear or a screwed-up sense of politeness, perhaps. 

It is from this point when he is just about to start what she will silently watch him do, that she cannot continue to recall. A chasm of memory exists here instead. She chooses to only remember scrubbing her body for hours after, bathing with medicated soap and her tears. As she looks at her reflection on the mirror, a dark expression slowly leaves her face just as she stops thinking about the event, an involuntary shudder rocks her shoulders and she feels the now-familiar desire to vomit and cry into one bucket.

‘We accept the love we think we deserve’, she doesn’t quite remember who or where she’d heard the quote from but it rang true for her. The fits of anger sprints from the deep recesses of her heart into her eyes. She wants to stop blaming herself because it is not her fault, but it is difficult. There are moments when she desperately wants to convince herself that it was consensual, just for her sake, but a lack of no is never a yes.

Today, like every day after that day, she’d chosen to remind herself that she was beautiful, that she deserved beautiful things, and that she will not accept anything that wasn’t as beautiful as her. Today, like every other day since, she has religiously practiced saying no — knowing even as she did that it was not enough to keep the prowling monsters at bay.

Oseyomo Abiebhode resides in Benin City, Nigeria and is in the habit of making social commentaries readable. He runs a personal blog and has been published in the Pomona Valley Review and Mbari. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter @nicholausian.

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