Oge had her very first ingrown hair, but she didn’t know it initially. Something was painful “down there” and it brushed against her panties every time she walked, stood, or sat. Curious to see what caused her so much pain, under the blankets at night, she touched those nether regions until she found the site of a small bulb. It immediately flamed red at her touch.
Oge usually liked to keep her distance from her mother when she came home from work because upon seeing Oge, her mother usually gave her a house task to do. “Go the store”. “Go vaccuum the house”. Or worst yet- “Wash these dishes.” Her mother’s voice did not come out as an ask. Certainly not a begging or pleading. It was a command. However, after a full week of pain, Ogechi tentatively approached her mother in the kitchen. Mrs. Aharanwa was simultaneously stirring yet pounding the farina into a large dough ball for the family’s lunch. Mr. Aharanwa was in the living room with one eye on the football game as he spoke to Auntie Alera in Igbo. Auntie Alera had just come from ‘back home’ and was not sure how long she would stay in Chicago. The noise from the television was loud enough to drown out her conversation with her mother, which also made it difficult to be heard.
“Mommy,” Ogechi quietly said.
“What?” her mother asked.
“I have a pimple down there and it hurts.”
Mrs. Aharanwa immediately transferred the pan of mostly finished farina on a burner without heat. She quickly turned to Ugochi, eyes blazing.
“Who touched you?!” Mrs. Aharanwa urged.
Ogechi replied, “Nobody.”
Mrs. Aharanwa reached out and grabbed Ogechi’s arm and repeated the accusatory question. “Who touched you?!”
“Nobody!” Ogechi said, fiercely, looking straight into her mother’s eyes.
“Let me see it!” her mother responded. Quickly, the two of them walked down the hall to the bedroom that she shared with her sister.
“Let me see it,” her mother repeated.
“Close the door!” Ogechi responded, afraid that one of her family members would hear the conversation.
Ogechi pulled down her blue skirt and Tuesday panties down to her feet. “It’s inside,” she said to her mother.
“Lie down on the bed,” her mother ordered. Oge did just that as her little brother, Chinedu opened the door and started to enter the room.
Mrs. Aharanwa cried, “Get out!” at the same time as Ogechi screamed, “Go away!”
Chinedu quickly closed the door, his childhood curiosity unabated.
Mrs. Aharanwa peered between the legs of her daughter. “Where is it?” she asked.
Ogechi touched the pimple on her left lip. Her mother looked closely at it, touching it and examining source of discomfort. Ogechi sucked in her breath in pain as her mother pushed on the pustule, squeezing it as she looked at it.
Surprisingly, Mrs. Aharanwa called out, “Alera!” followed by something in Igbo that she could not understand. Mrs. Aharanwa exited stage right, closing the door behind her as she continued to call Aunty Alera’s name. Ogechi sat up, unsure of whether to put her skirt and panties on again or to remain on the bed. She decided on the latter and could hear voices urgently whispering in Igbo outside of the door. Then, slowly, the two women entered continuing to speak in Igbo.
As Alera entered the room behind her mother, Ogechi immediately felt like Adam and Eve before God walking towards them in the garden. Her mother was one thing, but her aunty, so new to U.S. shores, seeing her naked from the waist down was another matter altogether.
“Open your legs,” Mrs. Aharanwa commanded.
Tentatively, Ogechi looked at her aunt and at her mother again. “It’s okay,” Aunty Alera said as Ogechi leaned back onto the bed. She examined her aunt’s face as Aunty Alera asked, “Where is it?” This time, Ogechi touched the area right next to the ingrown hair that was causing so much pain.
Aunt Alera closely examined the area without touching it. She said something to her mother in Igbo and a look of relief quickly crossed her mother’s face. They continued to speak in Igbo to one another.
After a few moments of their chatting with one another as though Oge was not there, she asked, “What is it?”
“What is what?” she replied.
A look of confusion ran across Ogechi’s face. “What hurts down there?”
“It is only a pimple.” A curt response seemed somehow inadequate to summarize the pain that Ogechi had been experiencing for weeks.
Mrs. Aharanwa quickly turned and left the room, leaving Ogechi with her aunt. Ogechi quickly snapped her legs shut and sat up. The matter was closed. The bump would go away after a few more days, just like the pimples on her face. She sat on the bed, about to reach down for her underwear and skirt.
Aunty Alera placed her hand on her left arm, stopping her midreach. “Wait,” she said, “your mother went to get a razor blade.”
“A razor blade? For what?” Ogechi asked just as her mother came back into the room room with a razor blade in her hand. She handed it to Aunty Alera, “Here it is.”
“Lie down,” her aunt said.
“NO!” Ogechi exclaimed, reaching for her skirt and panties.
“Lie back down,” her mother said. “It’s not going to hurt.”
“No way!” Ogechi quickly put her panties on and grabbed her skirt.
“Let her go,” her aunt quietly said as Ogechi ran from the bedroom into the living room. Her father was in the living room watching a football game.
“Daddy, Aunty and Mommy want to cut me!”
“What are you talking about?” he said annoyed by the interruption of the ballgame. His eyes never moved from the television screen.
“Aunty is trying to cut me down there.”
He turned to face Oge. “What!?”
He immediately stood up. “Helen! Alera!” Mr. Aharanwa walked towards the hallway on the left as the two women quickly left the room to meet him there. They all spoke in Igbo quickly, Mr. Aharanwa’s voice booming in bass over their alto voices. As they spoke to one another, Ogechi, not understanding what was being said, quickly changed the television channel to browse what else was on television besides the Bulls versus the Sixers. It was only as an adult that she learned about words like female genital mutilation, FGM for short, to describe these types of things that happen to girls around the world by well-meaning adults and family members.
“Ogechi, turn it back to the Bulls!” Mr. Aharanwa shouted to his daughter.
“You are all talking,” was her nonchalant reply as she stopped on a rerun of Three’s Company. Television remote in hand, she had won the battle and she had won the war.