Dinner was ready. Mama had set the table and had made Joseph call everyone. Papa who had just returned from work, had his bath and joined us immediately. At the table sat Mama, Papa, Joseph, Tomi and myself. Just the five of us; a small happy family.
I always wondered why Mama let Joseph join us at the table. Joseph was our help. But Mama said he was family. Mama had brought him to help her with the house chores and her business – especially her business, after Tomi and I gained admission into a girls’ boarding school. Mama was suffering from a rare illness which always made her tired.
Joseph had just finished secondary school and was seeking admission into the university. He was from Mama’s village. Mama knew his family. Everyone thought it would be okay if he learnt a trade while waiting to take the JAMB exam.
“Susan love,” Papa called at me. “Pray for us.”
I was elated to know I would be praying. Papa had always asked everyone except me to pray at the table. Tomi almost always prayed at the table, while I prayed during devotions. Tomi looked surprised, but I knew she was happy for me. We had talked about it earlier in the day. She said she had a feeling I would be praying tonight at the table. She was right. Joseph, our help winked at me. He had overheard our conversation earlier in the day and had said he too had the same feeling.
“Father, bless this food we are about to eat,” I started. “Provide for those who can’t afford and teach us to always be grateful for what we have.”
Everyone chorused “Amen.”
As we ate, Papa asked questions about our new school. Tomi had just moved to JSS2, while I just joined JSS1. Our new school was introduced to Papa by our uncle, Uncle Sam. He had told Papa it was a good boarding school with strict moral teachings and Christian upbringing, owned by a Reverend Father. Upon hearing the school had a Christian foundation Papa consented that we should be sent there.
“So when will the mid-term break be over?” Papa asked.
“Next weekend,” Tomi answered.
Everyone chewed at their food. Then Papa broke the silence. “How long is the break?”
“Two weeks,” I answered this time.
Mama gave me a quick look. She thought it was disrespectful to respond to a question when not being talked to. I shrugged. How was I supposed to know the question wasn’t directed at me? Sometimes I think Mama could be unnecessarily strict.
“And what have you girls done in the last one week?” Papa said, looking at me as he ate.
I noticed Tomi taking a quick look at me from the corner of my eye. What were we supposed to say? That we had been playing? Saying so would only incur Papa’s wrath. He could not stand any act of indolence.
Worse still, I did not know if the question was directed at me. I noticed Papa was still staring at me. I raised my eyes to Mama for the nod. She gave it.
“Umm, we…have been studying,” I lied. That was what I could mutter at that point. We had spent the whole week lazing about.
“Oh good,” Papa nodded in approval. “So tell me, what did you learn today?”
“Yes, go on,” Papa insisted as if nothing had happened.
“Ummm…..” I mumbled, searching for words.
“It’s called biology,” Joseph said.
“What?” Papa inquired, turning to Joseph who had watery eyes from the choke.
“I saw her reading a text book today. The subject was biology.”
“Oh good. Were you able to help her out? Did she find the subject difficult?”
Joseph wiped his eyes. “Not really sir. I only had to shed light on the controversy on the origin of life….”
“Oh that!” Papa interrupted. “Science versus God..”
I exchanged glances with Tomi. Joseph just bailed us out.
We ate in silence for a little while again. Then Papa added, “I think you girls should spend the next one week with the youth department in church. It’s the Youths week. Spend more time with the Lord.”
“Yes Papa,” Tomi and I responded.
After dinner Joseph cleared the table and did the dishes. Tomi and I retreated to our room to discuss what had just happened.
“You read today?” she asked, looking surprised. “I never saw you with a biology textbook.”
“It wasn’t a biology textbook.”
“Oh, you actually studied? What did you study then?”
My eyes roved round the small room Tomi and I shared. I did not know how to tell her. Would she be mad? Has she read such book too?
Tomi and I are very close. She is twelve and I am ten. She is my big sister but we are like twins. We talk about every little thing. She knows my thoughts and I know hers. We are just inseparable.
“Susan, what? You know you can tell me. I spent the whole day at Bimbo’s place watching a movie. If you have learnt something today, then tell me. Remember I told you about the cartoon I saw yesterday?”
“So what book did you read today?”
I stood up and walked to a drawer by the bedside. Pulling it, I brought out an old magazine.
“This,” I said, pointing it at Tomi.
I noticed the look on her face on spotting the first page of the magazine. It was blank. Expressionless.
The magazine had pictures of girls and boys dressed in skimpy and revealing wears. Some were completely naked. In some pictures, the boys appeared to be doing things to the girls – things the girls appeared to like. The smile and satisfaction on their faces said it all. In other pictures, the girls appeared to be in pain as the boys put their penis through the girls’ body, but the boys looked less concerned.
“So where did you get this from?” Tomi asked.
“Joseph. I saw him with it and he …..he decided to tell me what it was. He said it’s like biology. That it helps people know themselves better.”
Silence. Tomi kept opening the pages. She was brave.
“So what did you learn?”
I collected the magazine and opened to a page. Then I pointed to a man who squeezed his penis to let out milky substance.
“This,” I said. “Joseph calls it sperm.”
“Oh really,” Tomi muttered.
“At Bimbo’s place today….the movie we saw…. I saw a man put this in a girl’s mouth.”
“Did the girl like it?” I asked curiously.
“I think so.”
“So they watch such movie in Bimbo’s house?” I asked.
“Just the two of us – Me and Bimbo. Every other person had gone out.”
“Where did she get it from?”
“Her dad’s room. She saw it while she was cleaning.”
I went back to the bed and sat beside Tomi.
“Tomi,” I called. She looked at me. “Joseph said if I am interested, he could show me something.”
“He said there is a way he would touch me and I would feel electricity run through my body.”
I heard Tomi let out a sarcastic laugh. I knew she did not believe me.
“I am serious!” I insisted. “He said if I come to his room tonight he would show me.”
Tomi held me by the shoulders. It was a firm grip and I knew what she was about to say.
“If you are serious about this, would you let me join you?”
I did not know what to say. I had never refused granting Tomi a request before. If I said yes, I did not know if Joseph would be happy.
Tomi gave me a big hug.
“Thank you, baby sis. You are the best. Now, Papa would soon be here to check on us if we are asleep. We have to pretend we are sleeping. Once he’s gone, we’ll find our way to Joseph’s room.”
We heard some footsteps approaching our door and we immediately picked our spots and covered ourselves under the duvet. As I lay with my eyes closed, I began thinking of all the things Joseph would do to me later – to us.