by Allison O’Leary
Ayiyo, you slept under the jackfruit tree every day during break because your stomach pained you from hunger so that you could barely keep your eyes open. Your six siblings cried in the still nighttime, bony arms clutching swollen bellies as your mother said the rosary. When you were born, she called you the purest word she could think of in hopes that like Mary, you could remain untouched by the horrors of your home.
My sister, tell me what it was like. Do you remember the woodcutter who held you down and beat your face and stomach in the early hours of the morning, your school books scattered and your tiny blue uniform dirty and torn? Tell me how he forced your legs open and how your lungs seemed to constrict against themselves, trapping you down on the green earth of the country you loved so much.
Ayiyo, did you cry when your mother left you at that place with the mzungu and his rows and rows of black daughters? Little, big, new, old, did you care that your names all ran together? All those brown bodies, huddled together under the soft blankets of your bed, did you think that this was the best place you would ever come to?
And did you cry when he touched you for the first time, ran his coconut fingers over your broken skin hoping to crack you open and devour you whole? How his hands reached down to your waist and plunged under your skirt like the fishermen in the village dip their nets in the tired, tired lake?
When the police came, when you heard the English word defilement, did you scream like he told you to scream if a man that wasn’t him ever touched you again? When he came home, strolling across the land that your people had broken their backs to grow, did you simply stand on the front steps, a hot dish in hand, waiting for him to announce dinner?
Ayiyo, tell me about the young mzungus who came, one after the other, eyes shining bright, looking down on you, telling you how lucky you were. Tell me about me and my pink face and laughing mouth and open arms, hugging all my girls one by one by one. Tell me how you stayed silent and watched, watched all of them fall under his spell.
Tell me about the ferry from your island to the mainland. Tell me how the salty water cooled your face and how your long braids that weren’t your own flew in the wind behind you. Did your breath leap from your lungs as you looked over the edge of the boat into the sea that held too many who had tried to change their lives?
Ayiyo, Ayiyo, siiba bulungi. My sister, this is not how life should be. Wake somewhere where your country has not failed you, where men with their dirty hands and crippled minds have not touched you. Somewhere, it will all be safe.
Allison O’Leary is a high school senior in the Early Honors program at APU. She loves Bruce Springsteen, coffee, and writing about women. Her specialty is short stories and poetry about lives that aren’t quite hers. In the fall, she is going to Whitman College, and then out into the great world.