Joh Ma feeling, your stepfather says, joh Ma feeling joh Ma feeling johmafeeling johmafeeling.
His breath stinks of cigarettes. The bed creaks under your combined weight. You are not here. He is not so heavy, you have learnt, if you move a little to the side so the bed supports his weight. Then you can breathe. Joh Ma feeling. Resist the temptation to bite down on his neck. Concentrate on the way he smells - like chu, and smoke. Joh Ma feeling. His words are coming faster, his rocking is more frantic, speckles of spit fly onto your face from his mouth. He'll be done soon. The bed creaks. You want to close your eyes but you can't - when you do his weight becomes unbearable, fills the room with its density, until you can imagine nothing else but you and him in the world. So you keep your eyes open.
The bed creaks.
In class, Jainaba says full grown breasts are for women. She says a kid who has breasts is a prostitute, and is going to get pregnant before she turns 18. She doesn't say your name but everyone in class knows she's talking about you. Almost everyone is silent, listening to her. Break has just ended, and the teacher for the next period hasn't arrived yet.
Maneh jigain denye kore wara tamaateh, Ablie Corr says from the front, to raucous laughter.
Yow lore ham chi tamaateh, Bai Jagne asks him, from the opposite corner. They are best friends and are always insulting each other.
Laajal sa yaaye, Ablie Corr replies.
Hei damaa ubi..., Bai begins, but then the teacher comes in, and everyone rushes back to their seats and opens their exercise book.
Aminata deye laygi mak la, your stepfather says to your mother, ham naa laygi haleh yu gorr yi dorr di chase si nak - y kuma fi fehka! Paaka laaye ute ak fetel.
He is smiling, and your mother laughs, from her perch on a stool washing clothes. You don't smile. You stand and wait for him to finish. He leaves. Your mother frowns.
Dore dormam dore daraam, your mother scolds, teh mungi nii di def lim mune pour torpatore la. sukore nehorn du la faaleh. yow sorf nga torop y - suuye waha yow nga nyagasal sa kanam bi mel ni lan. ak sa kanam bu wowe bii!
Storm clouds have gathered, and the day has darkened.
Aminata!, your mother screams from the backyard, demal wehril ma suma yayray yi balaa nyore torye. The clothes are not your mother's - they belong to him. You take them down - under-shirts and boxers: green ones and red ones, all with holes in the front for peeing.
You gather as many as you can and carry them indoors, throw them on the sofa. Then you go out for more. You have only just finished when the storm begins, raindrops pelting the windows. Last time you were out in the rain the other kids kept laughing. The water makes your shirt stick to your body, the two bumps on your chest sticking out. You do not like when this happens, the way the other kids will notice.
The gel with the two power station, Mr Hakim the math teacher says. When NAWEC goes hoff we have you to supply hus with helectricity.
The class erupts into laughter, the back-bench boys banging on their tables. There is a stupid grin on your mouth, and your face burns.
Young gel like you, Mr Hakim says, carrying haround those two power station. You want to bring your papa problem O! Hokay!
That's how you get your nickname.
Joh ma feeling. Joh ma feeling joh ma feeling johmafeeling johmafeeling johmafeeling. The creaking of the bed. Darkness above and heaviness below. Your mother in the next room. And then: the sounds of footsteps in the hallway, the hall light coming on, and he pauses. His hand coming up to clamp down on your mouth. A silence, the hall light still on. The sound of the toilet next door flushing. Footsteps leaving the bathroom. Stopping in the hallway, right outside your door. The light in the hallway on, a thin sliver of it entering the room under the door. Everything still, everything stopped - you cannot even hear him breath. Your heart thudding in your chest, pushing him off you - but not having the strength to, and he stays on. Then the hall light is off, and the footsteps go back to their room. He waits a beat, then begins again. He is whispering now - you can barely hear him. Joh… feeling… ma… Joh… feeling… In a minute he is done. Pants back on, and he leaves the room without saying another word to you.
After school sometimes you play paddy-nyaddy with the kids from next door. They are much younger, their tiny feet neatly enclosed in the squares you have marked out, jumping over their njam, marking their territory with sticks. When your mother passes you there she calls you nyaaka fayida for playing with kids not your age, but she is not angry. She stands at the side of the road and waits for a van to take her to visit your aunty, her white kaala thrown over her shoulder, covering her handbag.
Hei Aminata - sa turn, one of the kids says.
Aminata!, your mother yells from the road, Aminata demal taijal ma suma palanterr bi balaa more tawe - dama faateh.
You give one of the kids your njam and run back to the house. Your mother's window is open, and your stepfather lies inside on her bed. He wears a white ngensoh, his pot belly sticking out. The window clinks as you push it, and he looks up. He sees you and smiles. Kaye, he says, beckoning.
The wind picks up, and gathers all the dark clouds into one mass above. The towels and curtains your mother has hung flutter like flags. You walk slowly into the house, through the living room and into your mother's room. You stand at the foot of the bed, and he sits up.
He reaches to his side, and you take a step back. He retrieves his wallet, and takes out a five dalasi note.
Hanaa dore deh lehka ice?, he asks. You do not speak, make no movement, only stand there and look at him.
Am demal jainda ice, he says. beh pareh nga nyowe weril sa yaaye yayraym yi balaa nyore torye. He holds out the note but you make no move to take it. He scrunches it up in a ball and throws it at you.
Acha jailal, he says, teh nga baaye merr bi - deye smile tuuti. You pick the note up from the floor and turn to leave.
Ah duma am jerejef sah?, he asks.
You turn to look at him. Then you leave the room without a word. Outside the clouds have dispersed as quickly as they gathered, and the evening settles in across the sky. You go out onto the street and give one of the neighbor kids the five dalasi. Her braids are worn, and she has a gap between her front teeth.
Lore buga ma jaindal la Aminata?, she asks, poking her tongue out through the gap.
Ice, you reply.
She runs into their house and comes back out with a mbuus full of icey buye. When she hands it over to you you don't take it.
Jail lehn kore - buguma, you say. You leave them squabbling over it and go sit on the bench outside your house, to wait for your mother to come home.
On the nights when he doesn't come you can't sleep. You lie there in the dark and listen to the ticking of the clock in the living room. Your bladder is full, but you dread the living room, dread meeting him there, under the translucent wall clock and the looming TV stand. So you lie down and wait for morning. You keep hearing him making his way through the living room, keep hearing his muffled footsteps, barely audible, so you're never sure whether it's him or not.
He is the one who always comes - your mother never has.
Halel dina tayju?!, your mother asked furiously one morning when she found your door locked, trying to get curtains from the closet in your room. Since then you've left it open - she's forbid you to leave it closed. You look intensely at the curtain. If you look at it from the corners of your eyes you can make out his shape when he first enters. But sometimes it's just the darkness, playing tricks with your sight.
The boys who sit outside the peul shop call you their wife. Kaaye jaindal ma cigarette, they say, and you run to get it for them. The peul calls you his wife too. His name is Amadou and he is cross-eyed and has brown teeth. The first time they sent you to get cigarettes you crushed them in your hand, and they were mad. They said yow danga stupid torop, and mak bu em ni yow munulore tay cigarette. Since then you've learnt how to hold the brown and white sticks in your sweaty hand without pressing down too hard.
Kanye la taka bi nak, Mangore asks.
Man nobu ma la, you say, and they all laugh.
Suma raka ding ma nop nak by force, he says, ak sa kanam.
You smile, and tell him his face looks worse than yours. You don't mind their teasing - it's only in jest. Sometimes after you get them cigarettes and rizzla they give you the change to buy ice. You call them naye and take it, they pretend to be taking it back, and you have to beg before they'll let you have it again. Then you run off, with them shouting out names behind your back as you go.
Joh ma feeling joh ma feeling joh ma feeling johmafeeling johmafeeling johmafeeling. The words run together after a while, until they are just one long word without meaning, hanging heavy in the dark, along with the spittle and the white liquid that comes out of him, a giant ball that grows heavier and heavier until with a sigh and a grunt his weight suddenly becomes almost unbearable as he collapses completely on top of you. And then he gets off, and you are free again.
Hey power station lore sorl nii!, Jainaba says as soon as she sees you, at the school party. Yaangi mel ni doma.
Everyone laughs. She has too much make-up on, her rouge overflowing past her lips, her face powdered pale, but no one tells her this. Everyone is afraid of her, and her sharp tongue. You try to walk past her, to enter the class and go sit in the back alone, but she blocks your path.
Hanaa sa maam more la rouge!, she says, Laaye laye leh! Kaaye lehn horl - Aminata maami domaam bi more kore rouge.
A small crowd has gathered around you, the rest of the people in your class, watching, amused and grinning. You look down at the ground, and wish you could disappear from this place. Jainaba's two best friends - Ya Haddy and Sohna - stand behind her and clap their hands above their heads as they laugh. They are all made up in the same way as she is, faces like ghosts, rouged mouths brimming over.
Baaye lehn nit ki, Omar Jallow says, yow sah, yow sah - rouge rouge… and he trails off. He can never quite finish his sentences.
Yow Omar Jallow nganeh lan?, Jainaba says, Ningaa nyoradi - toiye ni sa baaye - hanaa dang kore nop? Yayne nyaara muna anda - nyoradi kunda. Chim!
Buba arrived after that in their family car, and everyone rushed outside to see as he fought with the teachers over whether he could park inside the school. You sat at your desk, looking down into it as if it had depths in which you could see things. Omar Jallow stood at the door looking at you, but you ignored him, and finally he left.
One night your stepfather stayed. He sat on the bed afterward, the sound of his breathing loud at first but slowly dying down, until you couldn't hear it anymore. He turned to you, putting his hand on your leg. You drew the leg away. He moved his hand to the other leg. You turned over in the other direction, and closed your eyes.
Am nga farr, he asked.
You said nothing. He shifted in the bed to get closer, and putting his hand on your shoulder turned you toward him again.
Behna bess, he says, dinga ham neh limaa def yaype pour yow la. Dama laa jaangal nehka jigain - sa yaaye morm dafa feeh - dafa fok neh mun na laa baaye noe nu rek.
You shook his hand off and moved to the edge of the bed. He sat there looking at you in the dark - you could feel his eyes on you. And then you heard your room door open and close again, and could not feel him there anymore.
Sometimes when your mother and stepfather are both out you go into your mother's room and stand in front of the mirror. You take off your shirt, and look at your chest. You trail a circle around the bumps, and then take them into your palm. You gently knead them at first. Then you grip them and press down hard, until there are tears in your eyes. You do this with the left one first, and then with the right. In the mirror you look back at yourself, your eyes watering, your face scrunched up. You smoothen out your face, try not to cry out at the pain. By the third time your hands refuse to grip anymore, and the skin on your chest feels as if it's being torn off. You force your hands, but they make only a half-hearted attempt now, refuse to grip your flesh. So you put your shirt back on, and go back to your room, where you lie on your bed and look at the ceiling, until all the water in your eyes has trailed down your face and is gone.
Then you get up and wash your face, and go sit in the living room to watch TV until they get back.
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