art by Pierre Jean-Louis
I wish I was a British pound. The British pound is free to go anywhere. It will be in your pocket and then handed to the cashier and then handed to the next person. And all you will do is smile and say: “Ah, I am one pound richer,” or, “Ah, I can finally buy a can of coke with this pound.” And the Queen’s face (on the pound of course) will say in her queenly way, “Salutations, how do you fare?” And the person will answer: “Very well, thank you, Your Majesty.”
It must be nice to be wanted. Not that anyone could ever dislike the British pound. It can buy you things like a chocolate bar for when you need something sweet and it has the Queen’s face. No one hates the Queen, so no one hates the pound. Simple.
I don’t hate the pound either. I name myself after it, Little Penny (cuz the pound and the penny have power. They can get you anywhere) and I don’t hate the Queen either. One thing I learn at Roundbrook is that the Queen’s English has more power than anything else, even the pound.
I learnt this when listening to the guards, “Why can’t none of them lot speak proper English. I can’t bloody understand a word of what they say. Them immigrants are so lazy.” I can talk Queen’s English now. I can stay, right? I am English now, even if my skin is not pale like yours; even if I do not look like I am cloud. I still have a Nigerian accent but I am English now, right?
I don’t like questions but I still ask.
The proverb of my country says that a dog must be a dog and a cat can only be a cat, but I wonder if a dog would turn into a cat or a cat would turn into a dog if it meant it could survive.
So I read anything I can get my hands on (which is only scraps of newspaper). Right now at the moment I am reading the Sun page two (over the guard’s shoulder). There is another page, page three, ignore, ‘ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS.’
Page, page two, has a woman stretched out, only wearing her pants. I wonder what the girls at the village would say if I told them. It would probably go a bit like this:
“The girls in Britain only wear pants in the newspaper. There’s a special page for them.”
“Weh? What is all of this wahala?” The girls at the village would say.
“It’s true; the girls walk around in no clothes.” And they would giggle and I would shake my head. No one has time to explain the West to village girls. And then we would run off and play.
But I cannot do that because the men came.
I ask everyone here what their lives were like before they were here (I am curious like that). They do not say much, just that the men came. The rest goes unsaid, I guess.
The men came-
NO! DO NOT REMEMBER!
“The Lord is my light and salvation, so why should I fear?”
– and they burned our village. The men came and they killed our men. The men came and they raped our women.
“The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?”
The men came and they chopped off the heads of our children.
“Even when I walk through the valley of death; I shall fear no evil, for the Lord is my rod.”
The men come and they asked a question.
The men came and everyone said no. The men came and everyone died.
I wish there was someone who would say: The men came and they built schools. The men came and they worked side by side with our men. The men came and they helped the women and tickled the laughing, breathless children. The men came and we ate jolof rice and we ate poundejam until we were full and we laughed and danced and sang Psalms. With the men I would find a man who spoke Yoruba and Ibo and French and English and Spanish and every language ever known. He would speak to little children and the old women and there would be no hatred in his heart and when he spoke to the men they would drop their weapons. There would be no violence, do you understand? He wouldn’t have to be beautiful but when he spoke, there would be beauty on the tip of his tongue. It would be like a sky of a thousand suns, bright and beautiful and shining. He would be kind and he would never get angry. Not even when I burnt the food cause I was too busy laughing with my girls. But there is no ideal man with a sky full of a thousand suns; or with beauty in his heart; or all the languages of the world at the tip of his tongue. I think that is the point.
I have learnt that the monsters, the really scary monsters are men and they hide in the dark. They hide under your bed and they eat you while you sleep. I have learnt something else – not all of these monsters (men) live in the dark. That is another thing different here. I stay on watch because not all of these men will come when the day tires. Some of these monsters, some of them watch you from the cameras. They are invisible and scary. They have questions on the tip of their tongues and lust in their hearts.
“If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.”
I guess everyone will go to hell. No one will gouge out their eye.
So I let my hair grow oily and I never clean myself. Beauty is not beauty if the men come. But sometimes that is not enough and I plan how to kill myself.
If they come for me in my room, I will smash my head against the wall.
If I am in the cafeteria, I will take one of the blunt knives and stab myself until I am dead.
If I am in the bathroom, I will drown myself in the toilets.
There are worst things than death. There are questions.
But there are some places where death cannot be found. What do I do when I am here with the psychologist? Do I wait and starve? The men will be there by then. They will ask me the question:
“Do you choose him?”
I hear music on the radio, a song I heard when the men came and another time when they were taking me to the detention centre. Everyone hates each other but everyone loves music. I wonder what they would say if they knew they all liked the same music. But they must be right because the girls liked songs too. It is a strange world.
If I was home the girls would sing:
Kosi Baba bire
Ko ma s’Olorun bi ire.
There’s no king like you.
There’s no father like you.
There is no God like you.
They are right to like music; they must be. You can’t dance to questions and dying children.
There is a woman standing there. She is wearing a scarf covered with the alphabet. I catch sight of her brown legs. They are covered in scars. They are like the ribbons that the girls and I would plait in our hair. Is your whole body covered in scars like your scarf is covered in letters? Do the scars creep up like the ribbons you use in plaits? What stories do you have written on your legs? Did they ask you the question as well? I must look away. There is only so much beauty one can take. The woman notices and covers her legs. I frown. Do not be ashamed, the scar-maker wants you to feel that way; he wants you to think that they are ugly. But that is a lie. The scars are not meant for the dead (those are wounds). They are meant for the living. They say I live; they say you have lost; they say I am victorious. They mean I have survived. I survived your question. The Lord is with me. I am loved by Him. He has not forgotten me.
But shush, do not tell anyone else. I do not know what the men would do if they knew. It is better if the beauty of your scars is kept between us. It is better if we love the Lord in our heart. It will be our secret.
I wonder if I am lying to myself by denying my scars, by ignoring the question. A famous Yoruba proverb says that, “You may tell little lies, small as a thorn, but they will grow to the size of a spear and kill you.” I am already dead aren’t I? Does it matter if there is something else that will kill me? I try to follow the proverbs, but they are hard to do. Where you settle in old age depends on where you stood in your youth. Does this mean I will stay here forever?
I allow myself to remember because I really do try to follow the proverbs.
“Do you choose Mohammed?”
“No, we love Jesus too much.”
I wish I was like the spider Anansi who was gifted in storytelling. Then I could tell stories to the girls back at home. I could tell them that they could choose Mohammed and still love Jesus in their hearts. They wouldn’t go: “Weh,” or, “Wahala.” They would sit there transfixed and maybe my story would become a fairy-tale like Anansi the spider. And maybe my stories would calm the men when they came and the guards would let me out. And I wouldn’t be Little Penny; I would just be Oritseweyimi. But I am not Anansi the spider. The girls don’t know or understand. The men come and they kill everyone.
I cannot be Oritseweyime which means God is behind me. I can only be Little Penny which means I have the Queen’s face on the pound. There is no God behind me with this name.
Hannah is an eighteen year old British student. She enjoys reading, writing and talking about philosophy. Some of the topics that greatly interest her are feminism, religion and Classical history. She is also an avid fanfic reader. She can be found on Tumblr.
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