When their bodies belonged to their fathers, they knew that they could not be given to worldly things. Desires were worldly. Worldly in that they allowed them to be inside of their bodies and see the parts of themselves that chose to become alive when they disobeyed and allowed themselves to cave into these desires. When their bodies belonged to their fathers they knew that it was not the same thing to see a man that you want and allow him to talk to you — allow him to kiss conversation out of you with the hopes of opening you up later, instead, it was as if you did not see the man and the only time that you saw a man was when he would come with fake humility to take the title deed from your father and now you would belong to him. The men would shake you into each other’s hands and you would be packed into his home amongst his other possessions.
It was always important that he had a home — a sign of his worth. That he was educated and he was able to keep you fed and working to maximum capacity. It was enough that he did not speak words to water your soul but he spoke like a man. And man spoke only to tell their wives they were hungry for both food and sex. They did not request the food or the sex, they spoke it into existence. Our mothers were gods, they made it all available. Cook his food, let him eat and be satisfied and then later turn into food yourself, let him eat and be satisfied.
These are some of the thoughts that Ngoni thought of her mothers existence. It wasn’t with contention that she thought these things of her mother and aunties, nor was it admiration. It was what it was — how her mothers lived. She saw her thoughts in the way her mother bowed and bended to the needs and temperament of her father. She contoured herself into his sharp edges, and over the decades of their marriage she knew his every bend. She anticipated his needs and made sure she remained his most valuable asset. When her mothers years around the sun had unforgivingly become plenty and she had begun to depreciate in value in the eyes of her father — he had taken a liking to a younger skirt and he now spent most of his time peering underneath the new skirt and less time making meals out of her mother.
She too now existed in the way that her mother knew how to teach her. She too belonged to her father and one day she would belong to a husband and if she was unfortunately blessed, when her husband died, the title deeds to her existence would pass to her husband’s brother. She knew that this reality of her mother was not what she desired but it was the order of things.
After homework and eating umkhomo one day, under the shade of the mopane, Nhamo cupped one of her breasts and squeezed. Ngoni felt the pleasure of the squeeze and something turn in her abdomen. Like someone slowly turning on the stove, heat was flickering between her thighs. Nhamo let go, picked up his bag, the remainder of his umkhomo and he left her under the mopane.
For three weeks after the first squeeze of the breast, Nhamo and Ngoni sat underneath the mopane with their books and ate guavas or magaka or mangoes. Their once unceremonious meetings to do homework under the mopane in his backyard now ended with a breast squeeze. Nhamo’s hand took possession of her breast.
On the second day of the fourth week of breast squeezing — Ngoni eagerly awaited for Nhamo to first make a comment about how his brain was fried from all the homework and how tired he was. He would lift himself off the ground in a lull as though to allow Ngoni to catch her breath and she would rise too. They would go in for a hug but he would bring his left hand up to her breast and squeeze. Her nipples would harden and he would use his thumb to feel the rock before he casually mentioned that they would see each other again tomorrow.
On this day, four weeks and two days after the first breast squeeze, Ngoni did not get up from the ground, instead he said that he felt like studying a little longer. She lingered with her thoughts on what this meant for her and her wanting breast. She said she would sit with him too and wait for him to finish before saying bye. She bit into another guava and waited. They sat until even voices could not be heard coming from the street. Nhamo did not get up instead his hand got up to squeeze the neglected breast. He shifted his body to allow both hands to take one breast each. Ngoni felt the electricity in her body and was unaware what it all meant but this is what she had stayed for. She liked the goodbye squeezes. He kissed her for the first time and she decided the kissing would now also be a part of the goodbye.
Nhamo felt her body tense when he took his hand from her breast and began to squeeze his hand into her jeans. He felt her shift when he fought with the zipper of her jeans. He heard her say “Nhamo, what are you doing?” He heard “Nhamo no, I don’t think I want this.” He said “We have gone past thinking Ngoni, when you let me touch your breast.” She said “I don’t think I want this.” His body weight hovered over her now and she was laying on the ground and then his weight was on her and he said “your body likes it.” She said “No, please stop.”
He was done and she could not move.
She felt the seed of the guava stuck in-between her teeth and began to try and remove it. Nhamo had managed to put his trousers back on and he was picking up his school bag when the seed stuck between her two front teeth finally gave into the fight with her tongue and fell out. She felt relieved. She felt tears.
She spoke to her mother and said “Nhamo had sex with me.” It was not “Nhamo and I had sex”. It was “Nhamo had sex with me.”
Her mother’s existence was no longer placid, it suddenly became wild. She said “Ngoni, Nhamo raped you.” She repeated it two more times;
“Nhamo raped you”
“Nhamo raped you.”
Ngoni was uncertain that the word was right spilling from her mothers mouth. How can a woman who had belonged to men all her life know a word that meant that you belonged to yourself and someone had dared to violate your right to yourself. The word rape made the room seem entirely too large, like it needed to be said in a smaller room and contained. Never allowed to spill out. Her mothers arms rocked her and her anger soothed her. Feeling the anger rise with each rock in her mothers arms — she cried more audibly and part of her knew she was crying because she had broken her mother. The woman who was not moved by much was now rocking her uncontrollably and her placid existence was now shattered.
The sergeant did not ask what happened. He said “so is Nhamo your boyfriend?”. It was after Nerai had taken her daughter to the clinic and then to the police station that she was now glaring at this man with uneven eyes as he asked her daughter stupid questions. Nerai felt her temper rise. “My daughter was raped sergeant.” We have been to the clinic and we are now here to report the case. My daughter was raped sergeant. She is here to tell you; who raped her, when they raped her and where she was raped.”
The sergeant looked at Nerai and Nerai knew that he was from the generation of her husband. He did not expect her to say much. Nerai had never questioned her existence in the way her daughter saw it. She had done what her own mother had told her to do and allowed the bending and and contouring of her spine because it had been her dream to be a wife and a mother. She had, once in her youth found disobedience inside of herself and followed her worldly desire. She had fallen in love. He was older then her and had introduced her to Oliver Mtukudzi. He lived in a one bedroom in the city centre. She sneaked out every weekend and they sat on his floor and listened to records. He spoke english with an accent he had adopted when he had studied abroad. He loved politics and poetry. He spoke about a revolution in the way that someone who had never held a gun spoke about revolution. He spouted flowery words of poetry and Nerai giggled. They held hands and he was the man that knew the scent of her womanhood first. Nerai thought this was love. It wasn’t of course — because he soon found another to write sentences of poetry with and listen to records with. He now listened to Fela. He said Zimbabwean artists were not reaching his soul anymore. He had swapped Oliver for Fela and Nerai for another girl that lived in his building and had a job and could argue back about world politics. Nerai thought maybe they wont last and he could come back, but he said “you’re just not doing it for me anymore” — in his borrowed accent. The light of disobedience and fulfilling of Nerai’s worldly desires left Nerai’s eyes and her mother knew that her daughter had given away her body without the permission of her father. She also knew that her daughter had started to cry over her body at night, craving the parts of her she had awoken. So she spoke to her husband and they found her a husband. With a vow to never love, she had allowed herself to exist and never awaken desires that could not be tamed.
“Did you want it at first and then you changed your mind?”. The sergeant is asking Ngoni and he is not bothering to look at her. He has for the past 30 minutes of the interview been scribbling into his notebook. He shifts with irritation at having to repeat himself “Did you want it at first?”
Nerai did not remember what happened exactly but she was now sitting in a holding cell and her palms were tingling. Her husband came and bribed the police officers to let her out. This is of course what they wanted. They knew who she was from her last name. He took her home and punished her. He beat her and asked her to explain why she dared to raise her hand and slap a policeman. He beat her so she would never get the idea that she would ever raise her hand to him. When he had beat her and her body was stiff with pain on the floor, he picked her up and laid her on the bed. “We will not speak of this matter again, we cannot have a rape scandal on our hands. That boy’s father is my business partner. We cannot afford a scandal on our hands.”
Nhamo, went to his older brother’s bedroom and told his older brother that he had finally had sex. His brother slapped him on the back and said “you are now a man.”
Nhamo said “I’m not sure, Ngoni is my best friend but she did not seem to want it like I did.”
His brother said “That’s fine, girls are always playing hard to get.”
Nhamo smiled but allowed himself to doubt again “she said she didn’t want to.”
His brother laughed and said “the pretend good girls always say that. Just make sure you always use a condom. Trust me, she wanted it.”
It was seven months after the rape under the mopane and Ngoni was standing in a courtroom. In the witness stand. Her mother had left her father. She had refused to let Ngoni be silent.
Was it your first time having sex?
“It was my first time being raped.”
Are you sure it was rape?
“I said no.”
But you were in his backyard. You went there everyday knowing his parents were not home.
“I said no.”
Was it possible that this young man thought your actions meant you wanted it.
“I said no.”
But you had been letting him touch your breast.
“I said no.”
Your body said yes.
“I said no.”