Childhood Snapshots

by Bill Kouélany

 

We are on a bus – my sister, my girlfriend and I. It is hot. Sweat is pouring from my girlfriend’s armpits, slipping down her arms, wetting her school uniform. I watch as the stain spreads, taking up more and more space. I move closer to inhale the smell. Appalled, my sister watches my pleasure as I take in the thick scent… Fascinated!

 

Another snapshot:

 

A man has just taken off his undershorts and left them lying in the bathroom. They still bear the marks of his body. There are creases and in the creases all manner of matter, uncontrolled, uncontrollable… Fascinated!

 

Another snapshot:

 

I am alone in the bedroom, I fart. I run my hand under my buttocks and bring it to my nose. A smell of rot, I am rot… Fascinated!

 

Another snapshot:

 

I piss in the shower. I like to piss in the shower and let the urine run the length of my leg, look at my leg stained by the urine, urine no doubt thick with pus… Fascinated!

 

Another snapshot:

 

I am in the shower. I aim the hand-held shower between my legs. The water is burning hot, I turn it up a notch, then a little more… the pain penetrates me, eats at me, and then comes pleasure. Immense pleasure… Fascinated!

 

Another snapshot:

 

I am nine or ten. In school, I have a close friend called Sylvie M. She has dark skin that she is lightening little by little. My mother does not like her, she does not want to see us together. Sylvie is very precocious. Barely older than me, she has a woman’s body and is already sleeping with men. I am in love with Sylvie. I like her breasts. In the schoolyard she lets me unbutton her uniform to caress her breasts, but she stops my hand as it tries to go further… Fascinated!

 

Another snapshot:

 

I am around 13 years old, attending school in France, in Sevran. I share a bedroom with my tutor’s daughter, Christelle. Suddenly, I leave my bed, rub up against Christelle, seek out her lips, caress her breasts. Stunned, she pushes me away, her nostrils flare, her lips tremble, looking for words to call me names… Fascinated!

 

Another snapshot:

 

Still in France. I hate my tutor’s authoritarian ways. Uncle Kim. I am as rude as can be. The more he complains about me, comparing me to sweet little Christelle, the more I sweat him. I refuse to eat with the family. I hate family dinners. I seek out my own pleasures; while they sit around the dinner table watching TV, I tiptoe into the kitchen and dip my fingers into the saucepan… Fascinated!

 

Another snapshot:

 

Still at Uncle Kim’s house, 7 rue Pierre Brosselette. I can’t stand the school dining hall, so instead, at lunch, I wander through the empty apartment. I’ve made off with the key to Uncle Kim’s room. I open the closet door, take my jeans off, try on his wife’s dresses and high-heeled shoes, do pirouettes in front of the mirror, feel like a woman, I am woman… Fascinated!

 

Another snapshot:

 

My father gives me 10,000 CFA. I run to the marketplace. I buy a pair of high-heeled shoes, white, very feminine. I only wear them in my room, in front of the mirror. In front of the mirror, I feel like a woman, I am woman… Fascinated!

 

Another snapshot:

 

In Pointe-Noire I have been sharing a room for some time with Pélagie, Uncle Justin’s fiancée. Uncle Justin is studying in Moscow. He has entrusted his fiancée to his sister, my mother.

 

Another snapshot:

 

In my parents’ room, on the bedside table, is a little green washcloth that never moves and that the houseboy never touches. Never ever ever. End of story. I let myself into the room to inspect the mysterious little washcloth that the houseboy never ever touches, washes or even looks at. This little green washcloth is the groans and the sweatmarks of my father and mother. The little green washcloth stinks of sex: their sex… Fascinated!

 

Another snapshot:

 

I am on vacation at my grandmother’s house. Her bath, out back and back-to-back with the neighbour’s bath, is closed off with strips of sheet metal.

 

I am washing on one side, someone is washing on the other side. I peer through a peephole. It’s Ma Vouala, my grandmother’s neighbour. She is a little younger than my grandmother. She is with Ma Jeanne, one of my Bacongo pals – I call her my na ngaï: a loving adult friend, of the kind that a sweet little kid can have.  She bends over to scrub her feet; I’ve got her asshole right at eye level. She moves a bit, just a little bit, just enough to give me an even better view of her rear. Thank you! Just what I was angling for. Precisely: on her light-coloured cheeks, those cheeks that always look so perfect under her wrap, I spy black spots, open sores, pustules, rot… Fascinated!

 

Another snapshot:

 

My father promises me whatever I want, provided I’m a good girl… I am no such thing. I don’t want to be. Why insist on pleasing everybody? I let myself into my parents’ room. There, on the nightstand, next to the little green washcloth that the houseboy never ever touches, washes or even looks at, is my mother’s wallet, my father’s wallet… My fingers inch forward… Fascinated!

 

Another snapshot:

 

Uncle M, a friend of my father’s, has returned from the CAR with a woman. A woman older than him, tough and virile. A woman who is not at all beautiful, with scarification marks on her face. Behind her back, people call her Ma Guiriri. They say she handles gris-gris like nobody’s business.

 

She beats her husband as she would a son, follows him everywhere, yells at him in front of other people and no one better meddle with them – especially the fact that she doesn’t bear him a child.

 

The two of us get along like a house afire. She’s my na ngaï. One day, she’s in the shower and the water runs out. She asks me to bring her a bucket. As she doesn’t send me away, I stay and watch her undress. Underneath her wrap is a pair of men’s underwear. A kingana!… Kingana is the name of a Congolese rebel who was assassinated on March 23rd, 1970. His corpse was stripped down to his underwear and put on view at the seat of RTC – Radio Télévision Congolaise – from which he’d hoped to destabilise the government. Since then, the kind of underwear she’s got on has been called a kingana… Fascinated!

 

Another snapshot:

 

In Pointe-Noire, I head up a little gang of kids. One Sunday, I’m on my way back from St Peter’s Church with children from the neighbourhood. We’re walking by a yard and the gate is open. I notice a man who is brushing his teeth, wearing just a kingana.

 

On the spot, I invent a song that the other kids take up:

 

King’s, King’s

Kingana !

King’s, King’s

Kingana !

Papa mé lwata kingana.

 

After a while, papa mé lwata kingana, “papa in da kingana”, gets pissed off, drops his toothbrush and starts running after us. He catches up with the others quickly, but doesn’t stop. It’s me he’s after. But I’m not about to get caught. He chases me hard for kilometres, straight into my parents’ living room – which I fly through, straight into my bedroom and under my bed.

 

A little while later, certain that I haven’t been followed, I come out of my hiding place. Squatting in the hall that separates the living room from the bedrooms, through the keyhole, I watch my parents and my grandfather, just in from Brazzaville. They are completely stunned. They’re standing there, straight as rods, eyes and mouths wide open, staring up and down at this strange man in his kingana who has just flown in behind their little girl, who is running, running away.

 

And there’s the guy, breathing hard and trembling with rage, out of breath and incoherent. I look at his kingana, heavy with sweat, glued to his body… He’s forgotten that it’s all he’s got on… Fascinated!

 

Another snapshot:

 

I’m back from France. My father wanders around our yard at 27 Itoumbi Street.

 

He’s not working any more, flies into terrible rages, his mind is wavering. He beats my mother more and more often, and she lets him. Her family is concerned for her safety and, with much ado, comes to fetch her. My mother refuses to leave her husband, takes it all: the blows, the insults, her clothes that he throws into the street, the threats – he says he’s going to chop the children up with a machete… He’s my husband, what else is there to say? It wasn’t always like this; he’s going through a difficult phase. She’ll leave for two or three days, but not for good. Sissy has sought refuge in the school dormitory, JJ’s gone to Uncle Justin’s, Eric is at my sister Liliane’s, inland, where she has a job as a teacher. Blanchard is with Yvette, the eldest, in Pointe-Noire. The twins leave with Mother.

 

I refuse to leave. I am alone with my father. Barricaded in my bedroom, I watch him through the keyhole. He comes and goes nervously in the living room, opening and closing doors. Suddenly, I see him approaching my door:

 

Mama? Mama?

I open the door.

Mama, you OK?

Yes, Papa.

Have you eaten?

Yes, Papa.

You OK, Mama?

Yes, Papa.

 

I close the door and double lock it.

 

My father… My love… My love… My father…

 

I continue to look for him through the keyhole. I see him exit the bathroom. The wrap around his hips is lopsided, I see tufts of hair spilling out. I spy my father’s pubic hair. My eyes seek out his penis under the wrap. My eyes want to rip off the wrap. My eyes will forever seek out his penis… Forbidden… My father’s penis… Fascinated!

 

“I want to meditate on a complicated Roman term: fascinatio. The Latin translation of the Greek word phallos is fascinus. Chants sung in its honour bear the name fescennis. Before the fascinus, eyes come to a halt. From the chants that it inspires hails the satura – that peculiar Roman invention: the novel. Fascination is the perception of language’s blind spot. That is why its gaze is forever a sideways glance” – Pascal Guignard

 

One Response to Childhood Snapshots

  1. katlego of rurallove March 6, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    Great quirky snapshot, soo spontaneous…love them…

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