The soft sound of purposeful footsteps reaches into my trance and brings me firmly back to the present. I don’t look up from my spot on the grass where he left me, feeling instead his sharp gaze on me. He waits for a heartbeat before dropping to his haunches to investigate my face.
‘Hi Akin,’ I said.
‘Hey you,’ he says gently, ‘What are you still doing here? Your mum called me. She’s getting a little worried. Are you hurt?’
I lift my left hand to look at my wristwatch, more than a little surprised at the time that has passed since Akin left me. My mother would be fretting, but the wedding was not until four o’clock. Delaying my hairdresser doesn’t bother me. Akin has showered and changed into a pair of khaki trousers, and has swapped his trainers for a pair of brown loafers. His brown polo shirt nearly melts into his dark brown skin. I shake my head; my voice seems to have disappeared altogether.
‘Okay. You said you would leave here “in fifteen minutes”. I went home, had a shower and stopped by your house to drop off Daniel’s shoes for the wedding, only to find out that you were still gone. Karina you must tell me what’s happening. I don’t imagine you’re having second thoughts about marrying Tosan, so what’s up?’ I look down at my hands, both laid flat against the grass beside me. Akin’s eyes follow mine, and he exhales impatiently. ‘Wait. Are you having second thoughts?’
‘Karina, please you’re scaring the shit out of me,’ he’s pleading now, hand on my knee. Slowly, my eyes meet his, knowing it would probably be my undoing. I try biting the inside of my cheek to keep myself from crying but lose the battle as my eyes fill with tears.
‘Yes,’ I whisper as I bury my head in my hands, engulfed by emotions. My throat almost seals shut as it aches. My skin feels like a thousand ants are crawling over me. Squinting my eyes shut, I wish that I could curl into a ball and disappear.
But of course, I don’t disappear. Instead, I hear myself sobbing as though my heart would break, my voice like shattered glass, fractured, broken and scattered across the field. Akin pulls me into his arms and rocks me from side to side, kissing my forehead and making unintelligible, soothing noises, waiting for the tsunami of tears to subside. He presses his handkerchief into my clenched fists before pulling me into another tight embrace.
‘That’ll do now, Karina,’ his voice anchors me, ‘it will be alright. Oya stop wailing like a local girl. People will wonder what I’m doing to you here.’ His attempt at humour does little to quiet me, but somewhere in my mind, a little calm begins to be restored.
My ugly crying - complete with rocking - and snot on my face should faze him, but it doesn’t. Even in my state, the fact that he takes it in his stride doesn’t escape my subconscious notice. Right now, he just holds me against his broad chest until my sobbing peters out into a less violent expression of whatever it is that’s going on with me.
Long minutes pass before I become aware of the sounds in the air around us, the heat that’s growing as the sun climbs higher and higher, and the snot I’ve covered Akin’s clean shirt in. How safe and comfortable I feel in his arms as he continues to make those comforting sounds, stopping only to plant a kiss on my temple.
‘You can let go of me now,’ I say with a hiccup.
Akin chuckles, lets go of me, and nudges the hand that’s still holding the handkerchief he had given me. ‘Clean your face up girl,’ he teases gently, ‘you look a hot mess! In fact, I should take a picture to show my kids someday - the day Aunty Karina looked less than her best!’
I roll my eyes while a smile teases its way onto my face.
‘Ah, she’s smiling! Thank God.’ Akin’s wide smile shows his relief and his eyes probe mine. ‘Do you want to tell ‘Uncle Akin’ about it?’ he asks as he settles himself down beside me.
For a few more seconds, I battle my inner demons and try to count the cost of baring it all. Being strong has always been my thing. That’s my shield, my mask. I’m strong therefore I’m invincible. Telling him the truth will take that away from me. Then again, how well has being strong worked out for me so far? In that moment, my decision is made as I open my mouth and words tumble out.
PRAISE FOR KARINA
A captivating read Wow! When I picked up this book, my intention was to read a chapter or two and go back to the one I was reading. Alas, this was not to be. I found myself rushing through all the chores, I had planned so I could get back to “Karina”. Without looking at statistics, I am sure that most teenagers in the 70s through 90s can relate to Karina, either having being a Karina or being close to a Karina. I do also know that many couldn’t share their experiences from fear of being judged or the guilt they felt or were made to feel. I hope that this book helps to instigate and continue the difficult conversations that is required to expose the ills of our society around sexual harassment, victim shaming and cover ups. This is not only a literary breakthrough (the story line is a masterpiece) but a sort of call to action book. High five to the author, Tonye Porbeni Adenusi.