Asya woke to white walls, a sharp smell of chemicals, and the sound of her mother’s voice. “Please tell the doctor that I am forever in her debt.” There was a tremble to her voice which Asya had never heard before. “But I have no money…”
“Don’t worry about money, Mrs. Okeke,” a male voice said. “Dr. O’Cleary works for an organization called Doctors Without Borders. She specializes in FGM.” Then he began speaking in another language and Asya fell back to sleep.
Weeks later, Asya stood in a small green room facing the bespeckled woman sitting behind a desk. “You’ll have to speak up child,” she said. “I cannot hear what you are trying to say.”
Asya took a deep breath and started again. “May I please speak to Dr. Okeelee,” she asked.
At first the woman looked confused, and then she smiled. Asya could see that she had a little pink on her teeth from the lipstick she was wearing. A daring, and dangerous practice in the village. “You mean Dr. O’Cleary,” she said. “What is this about?”
Just then the door opened and her mother’s white doctor walked into the room followed by a woman with the most extraordinary coloured hair. It was the colour of the mud that the villagers used to build some of the smaller huts. She gave Asya a sunburned smile and said something to her in a language Asya did not understand.
“Dr. O’Cleary, this child was just asking for you,” the desk-woman said.
In the next room Asya undid the twine holding her three beads together; she removed the orange bead with the hidden sunset and held it out to the doctor. “This is Chima,” she said. “I wanted to give it to you for fixing me.”
Her mother’s white doctor translated for Dr. O’Cleary; then the red-haired woman reached down and solemnly took the small gift. She spoke briefly and then waited for the translation. “Dr. O’Cleary thanks you for your gift. She said that she will keep it safe and close. She also would like to know how you are feeling?”
Asya smiled then reached out a tentative hand and touched the doctor’s wrist. “Please tell her I thank her, and I am all better now.”
The clouds had been building up for weeks and when she left the office the first drops began to fall. Asya skipped home as the warm rains washed the dust from the paving stones near the well, making small deltas in the sand. As it grew heavier the sound of the drops hitting tin roofs made her think of jungle drums. Her hair and clothes clung to her skinny little body and her bare toes wiggled in the warm mud. When she walked by Mr. Uluchi’s office window, his face stared out at her and he frowned before turning away.
Even though her grandfather was always kind to her now, Asya knew without having to be told that she must never let him know that she had been fixed by the foreign doctor. If he found out he would make sure that Asya was cut again, or worse. She shuddered at the thought.
Asya had stayed out of school for almost four weeks; that was the usual amount of time that it took to recover after a cutting. Her mother told her that she had been lucky: her special doctor, Okeelee, said her case didn’t require reconstruction; whoever had performed the rite had probably been a beginner so when faced with so much blood decided it was enough. After a week the stitches came out and she was almost completely healed. But it was with huge relief when she finally returned to school.
Her seat partner Keisha was ecstatic and the two girls were soon inseparable. “I’m going to be a doctor when I grow up,” Asya confided to her friend.
“I’m going to marry a rich husband and grow fat,” Keisha said. The two girls giggled and held hands as they walked home from school together each day.
When they came to Asya’s house grandfather was standing in the doorway and shouting at her mother. “You are the most stubborn woman I know!” He turned and stalked away, ignoring the girls.
Asya ran in and clung to her mother; fear sent spasms through her little body. Her mother wrapped her arms around her daughter and sang her a little song about laughing monkeys. “Hush little one,” she soothed. “You have nothing to be frightened of.” But her face was not smiling.
Seven years later, at thirteen, Keisha was already beginning to show womanly curves; in contrast, Asya was still as thin as ever, even though she had grown a head taller than her friend. Keisha grabbed the paper out of Asya’s hands and stared at it. Keisha’s mouth gaped. “Oh Asya. How wonderful. I bet no one in the village has ever gotten marks like this.” And it was true, no one ever had. But no one had ever worked as hard either.
Asya and her mother’s fortunes had risen since she began to work; they lived in a tidy little house now, with a new stove, and the luxury of running water. It had two rooms, the smallest of which they used as a sleeping area, with a firm bed of braided rushes, and as a place to keep their clothes. The largest room had a small table and two chairs. Asya did her homework there every night.
Her mother was waiting for her on the front stoop as she came home triumphant with her marks. “You must go now,” she said, fear making the whites of her eyes shine. “I have hired a man to take you to the airport in Nairobi and my doctor has purchased tickets for a flight to America. My sister has agreed to take you in,” her mother said as she thrust a bundle into her daughter’s arms.
“What’s happened, Mother? Why must I leave?” Asya asked, her heart bursting apart. Leave her mother? How could she?
“Grandfather has agreed to let Mr. Uluchi marry you – tomorrow. You must leave right away.”
In the middle of the night they crept to her mother’s friend two doors away. They clung to each other for many long minutes, tears glistening in the starlight. “When I am a rich doctor in America I will come and get you,” Asya promised her mother.
A large man with many scars driving a big truck stopped at the edge of town and Asya was bundled into the front seat of the cab which smelled of pumpkin. She sobbed quietly as the truck pulled away from the village. “How long will it take to get to airport in Nairobi?” she asked the man.
“What makes you think I’m taking you there?” He smiled a smile which did not reach his eyes.
“NO FGM Symbol – Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting” by Blatant World. Creative Commons Flickr. Some rights reserved.