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The Many Doors to Womanhood

Tresia Shihepo | Namibia

Sometimes when I close my eyes, my mind becomes a hallway,

Long and dark

With a row of doors stacked against the walls

Painted in what I call my childhood.

I will be floating in that hallway.

Hands gripping onto golden antique knobs

I try to open as many as I can.

Usually one pops open.

And when it does,

I'm allowed a little light.

I'm transported to a time when I was barely 12. I sat on the kitchen floor as my mom stirred a pot.

"Mom, Winnie left school early today because she had periods." I announced.

The spoon in mom's hands falls beside my foot as she rushes towards me with a scowl drawn onto her face.

"Shhhh. Don't ever say that again! You hear me? We don't just talk about that so casually." She admonishes.

I nod, stunned. I wondered why she found offence in something as simple as a stomachache.

The door disappears and brings me through the window into a new room.

Mom and dad's room.

Mom is angry with me and I don't remember committing an offence.

"That girl, Nangula from down the street. That girl. She's pregnant!"

I'm confused.

Wondering how someone's pregnancy relates to me.

"It's such a disgrace. She's only 13. I keep telling you this. Stay away from boys! Boys ruin lives!"

I wonder if she spoke from experience or fear.

I wonder if I have developed enough to understand the weight of those words.

I'm back in the hallway. A new door opens.

I'm 13 years old.

My first school trip out of town. I'm staring at a boy named Clyde

While he is engaged in a conversation with one of the teachers.

He speaks in French melodically.

And I'm a starved musician that's reunited with her long-lost lyric.

My first crush.

This is how poetry is first discovered.

I write on a napkin during dinner

On how his blue eyes sparkle against the light.,

He really is very pretty and boys aren't supposed to be pretty.

I too want to learn French.

I wonder if this was the window that showed me my first glimpse of girlhood.

I wonder if my period had come too late in its wake for lighting the halo of womanhood in me.

I'm sent back to the hallway.

Sixteen-year-old me serves beer to the uncle that lives down our street.

He and his friends stare at me as I search for change.

"Little flower" he calls out

His words sound wrong.

"Such a pretty, pretty girl" he praises

"You have grown into a young woman now,

Of marrying age"

I still feel his thumb scrape innocents from the back of my hand as I hand him change.

I had never hated being grown more than I did that very moment.

To me, it meant that men older than your mom start seeing beyond the grey school uniform.

But I was already grown then, wasn't I?

A girl working to feed mom.

The birthplace of maturity

Between school books

And fending off grown men

There was no longer time to play,

I guess I was already a woman then,

That was before I allowed Enzo's fingers to wrap around my waist

Before the first taste

of alcohol...

My eyes open with haunted realization.

Maybe I had misnamed the hallway all this time,

Maybe it truly all started before the first show of full hips

And foul lips.

The doors of my childhood remain locked,

And now I really can't remember when I was a child.

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