THE COLOUR OF SURVIVAL | STAR OKPEH

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I am here.
This is somewhere I once knew as home. So I am told. Everything looks intimately familiar. Strangely familiar but I cannot remember it to have been anything to me. The word, Home is a strong word. Like blood or Love and the soul. I was Sixteen. A sixteen year old receptionist waking up every morning to mop floors, make beds and fill buckets with water to Lodge people in. Most times, I would go in to a smelly room of rotten sex; a rumpled bed and hairs shaved roughly on the toilet floor. I was sixteen. A virgin. Will, patience and thoughts. I worked from morning to night and would return home with food tied in black nylon bags for my brothers. I soon got bored of those old brown tiles staring back at me every morning. Teasing me with tales of the two fulani men who had brought in two young female hawkers to ‘bang’. Cattle rearers having sex in the same room. Each with a girl. Or the Muslim man who looked very decent I would have mistaken him for an Imam with a woman on hijab. They got a room and didn’t stay for more than thirty minutes. I saw things there. One day, I came in to clean after some Lodgers and found blood stains on the bed. The young girl who came in with a man looked very innocent. She should have been about seventeen or eighteen years old. Yes. She wore a black skirt with a brown blouse. When she came in with the young man for a room, she had been very shy. Avoiding my eyes. The room felt stuffy. They were half empty maltina bottles on the table and blood stains on the sheets. I had seen enough!

I fucking resigned.

Men would come around to drink at the bar and touch you. They felt entitled to female flesh they saw around such premises. The girls would laugh and joke and touch them too. Money will run out of pockets and drinks will be bought. The girls are wise. Certain wisdom are necessary to survive in certain environments. Hairy chests will be rubbed with soft hands and then disappear immediately the pocket is cheated. I never belonged there. With wise girls and hungry men. Rooms smelling of cum and sweat. No. I never will belong here. It was never home.

Now that I am here, I still cannot remember everything. They are familiar things. Familiar faces but I cannot feel the hopelessness of my memories here. The fear, the sorrows and will. I can remember them but I cannot hold them. They are long gone.

I remember the church too.
St. Peter’s Catholic Church. I remember how I prayed the rosaries everyday with tears. Believing at the Grotto for Virgin Mary’s blessing. “Hail Mary! Full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are thou amongst women and blessed is the fruits of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary! Mother of God. Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen!” I was a Legionary, a member of the legion of Mary for the time i fellowshipped there. The priest had been a very good man to me. Friends too and the statues of holy saints reminding me of faith. There are moments in life when everyday has us counting down to a miracle. Waiting and praying. Holding on to the divine when hope cannot dwell on belief. At times like this, The divine must become reality if we are to live and not die.

I cannot remember being kissed here. Oh no! I remember now. I was kissed! Forcefully kissed, I must say. One of the most undesirable kiss I must have ever had. I would like to go into details but why bore you with my young teenage ignorance? A piece of advice though: If you’re a young girl, let’s say between 15 – 17 (14 year olds shouldn’t go about kissing men or experimenting sexual things. No! Please. And I’m considering 15 – 17 here even though it is illegal for young girls this age to be sexually active with anyone, it is also important to note that our society has eaten away the core of morality and things are happening) Anyway, young girls 15-17, never ever trust young men with your lips, thighs, breasts or the paradise between your legs. They are liars. Everything is a lie. The kindness, the gifts, the passion, the promises, the sincerity. Everything is a lie. Just forget it. This is the advice of a Big Sis. Especially, those young men who are above 20. They only want to satisfy their active libido. Do not avail yourself. Do not be manipulated, cheated or abused. Stay away from men at this age. I know you’re mature, sensible and beautiful. Yes. I know you’re not a child. This is not about that. This is not about you being young. This is about reality. Certain realities you’ll learn later.

This place is unpleasant. It reminds me of unpleasant things. Unpleasant times. It is not pleasant. Pleasant is a sexy word…
I met Emmanuel here. Emmanuel. The Nineteen year old who would become one of my best friends. He wanted to date me. I had been at the hotel working one day when I was told by another worker that a young man in the bar had bought me a bottle of malt.

“Oh really?”

The young man was damn freaking handsome. He’s still very much tall and handsome to this day. I mean, very tall and handsome, that you can’t get your eyes off him. I am very tall for a lady but I feel stupidly short with Emma. Dark, has the cutest smile and kind to the core of his heart. He gave me the first Andriod phone I would use. It was a Samsung product. White. I would never forget because I would have my earphones on, playing music as I endured the harsh realities of my life in that hotel before I resigned. Emma became a solid part of my life. I never agreed to be his girlfriend but I had a friend in him a girlfriend would never have. Sometimes, I wonder how kissing him would have felt like?

He would read the songs he had written for me. Show them to me. Visit and buy drinks for my brothers. He was absolutely generous and good looking but I didn’t like something. I just didn’t like the fact that he wore rings, necklaces and hanged out with guys who I didn’t think looked decent enough to hang out with my ‘Emma’. He still hasn’t forgiven the fact that I blocked him on social media and never got around visiting his mum. About the social media thing, I was clearly stupid back then. I still apologise. I was young and ‘sprikoko’. I love you, Emmanuel. You weren’t my friend. You were my brother. A source of relief in dark dark times. Something to look forward to when everything felt suffocating. In this place, I was called a prostitute by an obesed idiot who walked around the neighborhood all day claiming to be employed but obviously jobless. In this place, I made friends with a guy whose mother sold ‘mama put’ (food is ready joint–restaurant) so I could always have access to free food. This never went pass the first try because he wouldn’t keep his hands off me for a single minute and I had no doubt he could have me raped if I acted too smart. I kept a long distance from him.

Zino was also a friend here. A fascinatingly cute Muslim guy with a long beard. He would bring me food and would sit telling me many stories, his plans and efforts of being enlisted into one of the Nigerian law enforcement agencies. Not because he has a passion for being a patriotic citizen but because a man needs a means of financial security to meet up with society’s standard and a woman’s beauty too. Sex and children doesn’t come free. Women are expensive creatures. They are priceless actually but society says a man must leave a gift to show he is capable of being trusted with a soul delicate and rich. My friend, Sylvia, is a feminist. We are sisters. They fight for women’s rights against abusive men and certain cultural beliefs. I do not know why I am not a feminist. Maybe because toxic feminism has discouraged me from the cause but I do know women were not made of dust. They were made from a rib. Bone. They are strength made into disguise like the small nature of a key card. Men made to be more. So long a tale anyway.

I am here. Again. I am sleeping alone. Waiting for anger to fall. To dissolve into reasons to watch and be at peace. A poet once said “We have no time to stand and stare.” I am here to stare. To call back many things I have been and remember all that I wanted to be. All I rejected and all I aspired with dreams. This is not a story. It is how we find the sun. The past is not always with us but it is in the locket of today. It is here so we can sometimes open it up and let it ‘bring to remembrance all that we have been taught.’

Mountains are tall trees made of sand and
Weak things;
Like the ideas of a child whose ankles bear
The royal beads of luck.
We are not always stars that shine at night
Some of us shine against the sun and are barely seen
Or recognized with songs.
We are mountains of leaves and stems and branches.
Weak things
But strong and thick.

LIBRETTO Publishers
Star Okpeh

About Author:
Star Okpeh is a Nigerian Writer and Poet, Miombo’s Review Princess Of African Poetry 2019 and author of The Dance Of Dawn. She is also a Columnist at Konya Shamsrumi Press and former columnist with The Sun Newspaper, Cameroon. Her works have appeared in magazines, journals and over twenty five anthologies.

LIBRETTO Magazine
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