She sat across me with a somber look on her face. I had done my homework on her. She had moved from the village to the city to take care of her ‘unique’ child. A child whose person was not acceptable in the society’s eyes. A child who was seen as a botch, a stain on the delicate fabric of society. She had been forced to brave the war for her child, fight for the survival of her child. After all, in a world where most live under the dictatorship of what society expects of them, the going is tough for the few who do not live up to society’s ideals. I looked at her keenly as I waited for her to begin. I nodded in readiness. She smiled and nodded in return. Then she began…
It was just another day in the village. The sun was shining, the cows were grazing, women were looking after their homes, men were slaving away, children were playing in the fields – just another day in the village. There he was, my little boy, playing in the fields with other children, so young, so innocent, so angelic. I looked at him with admiration. They sure do grow fast. I watched them huddle together for a minute or so then they dispersed. My little boy gathered some soil into a heap then came running to me. “Mummy, mummy, I need some water,” he said.
They were at it again. ‘Kalungulungu’ it’s called. Child play where the children model houses from mud and cook mud and flowers and leaves in little tin cans that they collect – basically playing house with anything they can find. I gave him some water in a small bottle. He ran off to rejoin his friends and I turned my back and started walking into the house. I felt a little tug at the sleeve of my leso. I turned around.
“Mummy, why don’t I look like other girls?”
I froze. My little boy wanted to know why he didn’t look like other girls. “Because you’re not a girl, son, you’re a boy,” I answered kindly, all the time keeping that motherly smile.
He looked at me uneasily as if to ask if I were sure. He fidgeted and looked down, mumbled something then looked up. I squatted and leaned in. “You can tell mummy, it’s okay,” I said as I nudged him.
“I’m a girl mummy,” he said.
I looked over to where his friends were. It was then that it struck me that most of them were girls and the ones that were boys were not joining in the fun but rather they were teasing and mocking the girls. All of a sudden my eyes were open. I remembered seeing him squat to pee, like a girl. I remembered seeing him pick a dress, in more than one occasion, even though his father had made it clear to him that little boys wear trousers, like men. I remembered him screaming and crying at the barber’s because he didn’t want his hair cut. Suddenly, it all made sense. My little boy, my four year old little boy, was not a little boy. Not to him at least. To him, he was a little girl.
“I have the wrong body mummy,” he said, battling the tears in his eyes.
I was dumbstruck. I didn’t know what to do, it had never occurred to me that he felt this way, it had never occurred to me that he was a girl trapped in a boy’s body. He was doing a very bad job fighting away those tears. I wiped them off with the sleeves of my leso, still having that motherly smile. I told him it would be okay, gave him a big hug and told him to go play. He skipped along happily like a heavy load had been lifted from his chest. I sighed heavily because a heavy load had just been placed on my chest. I went inside quickly because I didn’t want him to turn around and see the tears streaming down my face.
I had heard about things like these, but they happen so far away, across the sea, in the white man’s land, not in Africa. And even if they were to happen in Africa, they would happen in the cities, where the white man’s influence is greatly felt, where the children play with the latest technology and not dirt, where children feed on unhealthy ready-made food and not healthy home-made food, where children cannot for the life of them speak their mother tongue but speak the queen’s language like their own before proceeding to murder it with such great spite because it’s the ‘in-thing’.
It’s all the white man’s doing, it’s a non-issue here in Africa, so the government would say when confronted with the issue.
Where in this pray-while-facing-mount-Kenya, pour-libations-at-the-mugumo-tree, technology-free, junk food free side of the Sahara has anyone heard of such a thing? He would become the village freak. He would be labelled as a curse. Bewitched, they would call him. I wouldn’t have any of that.