Tan Tan ina. These words which did not belong to any language, words we spoke to each other as we played. Tan Tan ina. Ina? Ina mo, we said as we tried to pronounce new words. Enamour. If she said it, she meant it. Words don’t mean anything anymore in this place. The last time it meant something, Ali put a poster on the fence and later it was cut down with a pen knife, and that is how words stopped meaning anything. No one wanted to see anymore. Not us. Not Mustapha, not my father. Tan tan ina. Enamour.
See, the first rains came, sweet as a kettle on a stove. I liked the way the steam would fill the little room because we could not afford a bigger place. So with the rains, came indoor cooking, indoor boiling, indoor inhaling of steam. Even washing of clothes smelt better, and just to watch the soapy mixture with the washed out colors from cheaply dyed clothes flow into the gutter. The neighbors didn’t fancy it. They called it pollution. Tan Tan ina. Doesn’t your mother teach you better, dirty girl?
When I was five or six, I cannot remember, Edith told me her father was in prison. She said he was the king of the prisoners. I was in awe because even though I thought guns and knives and roses because I was already watching the 18 plus movies, it sounded fantastic. Did her father know Jackie Chan? I asked her. If he did, could he introduce us? Me? Tan Tan ina. Of course, she said. So I wore my yellow tights and yellow spaghetti top and I was like the sunflower. Hmm, this is what you are wearing at this age, what will you wear when you grow up?
I knew shame then. I know shame now. It’s never enough, you know. That I force my cheeks in, or that I try to smile so my face doesn’t sag. I look like a grave. A grave with an implanted mirror sticking out. Sticking out when jutting into my chins. Mustapha says that I should rub more powder, but tan tan ina, I’m still an ugly roach.
On my twelfth birthday, someone shat in our toilet and it was close to the living room. No one could believe the smell. No one could believe this was my party. What was I trying to do? Massive involuntary suicide? But you see it wasn’t planned. Ah, where are you people going to?
So one day, I sat down with my elbows on my knees and I cried. I said enamoured many times, tan tan ina. I wanted something quintessentially ethereal. For days, for many, many days. Its why I liked yam and palm oil. I liked it because I could smack my lips and pretend it was sweet. Yam was sugar. Yam was fine fibrous cotton sugar. Even as I say it now, I know nothing like that exists. Tan, tan ina.
That’s how I started writing. One day. old book. After licking the edges and eating some pages of the old book, I began to write, first with my left hand and then with my right hand. All gibberish. One , two, three, four. Nothing important at all, and yet I was fifteen. I had seen planes made from jik bottles. I had worn bleached clothes. My father was a tailor and I was here writing.
It does not matter anymore if people do not want to see me write or to see me at all. Here, I am most lonely and here I am completely found. The paradox of this situation is what makes its bitter sweet. Tan Tan ina. I am enamoured.