Who Stole Dumle’s Smile?


There is nothing as peaceful as the naivety of a child, we all learn that when adulthood pounces on you. I grew up in a very little village, an island, many might say. For all my years I was oblivious to many things but there are two things that I remember vividly; Fish and Dumle. On an island like ours there wasn’t much for the men to do other than be fishermen and make boats. My father was a religious fisherman, everyday he came home he smelt of fish. This meant my mother’s stew never lacked protein; there was always a tail, head or middle just dancing around the pot. On festive days I carried a basket of roast fish on my head and sat next to Dumle who arrived with a tray of plantains or yam. It all depended on which one favoured them that season. I still remember the taste of Dumle’s mother’s roast plantain and pepper sauce which had chunks of our roast fish. 
Though there isn’t much I remember, I remember Dumle. Her snotty belly laugh whenever I mimicked her father’s posture. Her empathy towards everyone and everything, her constant worry about the pregnant goat that wobbled around the village but most of all her wide smile that made her eyes smaller. She had always been a charmer too much of one I guess, because suddenly men began trooping in and out of their house. 
Dumle’s house backed a shallow lake that was covered with the greenest moss and on boring days we found ourselves there hunting for mushrooms like my father hunted for fish. Her house was a second home whenever my father was off to work and my mother headed for the farm. I would skip all the way running out of breath when I got there. Her mother always kept an extra bowl of yam pepper soup for me which I gulped down in a minute. Dumle would tell me long doubtful tales but I would eat them up like my mother’s roast fish. I was a child after all and it felt good to hear about things that happened in the supernatural world. One time while we were picking mushrooms she told me a story of people who lived under the sea and had tails for legs. I would expect any child to be spooked by that but I had asked her if she would take me to see them. 

On a market day after I had sold a tray of crayfish I marched to Dumle’s house only to find her sitting solemnly in the corridor, as I walked closer I noticed her  eyes were puffy from crying. Before I could put in a word her Uncle walked out of the house with a smirk on his face. 

 “Bariwu, how are you?”

 “Good afternoon Uncle Ebimo. I am fine” I replied. 

“Tell your sister to smile small, a frown suits no one” he said shuffling his wide feet on the ground.

I remember sitting next to Dumle till the sun disappeared from the sky and she never said a word. It was unusual of her to keep mute but I could understand, even I, never wanted to speak when something bad had happened like when my mother bought me a blue scarf instead of a red one. I had gone on a four hour hunger strike to prove how upset I was. In my little mind I had concluded that her mother  had yelled at her for leaving the chicken shed open.

I returned to Dumle’s house the next day and everyday after that and for all the days I was there she never spoke a word. There was no laughter from her throat nor a smile wide enough to melt a heart. Whenever I arrived she always told me she had work to do. More strangely Uncle Ebimor visited the compound often and was always there whenever I came. He seemed to be the tear in our friendship and I never understood why. He hovered over my green moss playground like a hawk seeking to carry a chick and every time he walked you could hear his feet scraping against the earth. 

Again, the naivety of a child is bliss and you learn that when you’re in a sexual violence seminar in Iowa listening to a survivor who narrates a very familiar story.

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