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I remember a day when I was eight years old. Still young, newly scarred. I remember how I sat in that bathtub, still, with my grandmama arched above me. I remember how it felt, the coolness of the acrylic, the warmth of the soapy water pressed against my small backside.

I remember the delicate strokes of her fingers as they washed me that day. So careful, too gentle. She was bathing me as she always did when I was eight. She said I could not clean myself, so she cleaned me.

She scrubbed my skin with that rugged sponge that I still remember, attacking the skin beneath my arms so vigorously, as she did so she hummed. Her humming was soft and high pitched, it was neither joyful nor sorrowful, just a habit. One that I knew well because it was a habit that I had been acquainted with since birth. I calculated her mood by her humming tune. When she was happy, she would hum a yoruba praise song, a song that would make her voice dart joyfully from note to note, the flick in her tone would make me smile involuntarily. When she was sorrowful, she would hum a tune that I did not know, but I recognised. Her sorrowful humming was softer than her joyous hum, it rarely showed itself, but when it did, it made me remember that she was alive.

That day when I was eight years old, my grandmama did not hum while she bathed me. I sat in that bathtub, still, and I knew that she was neither joyful nor sorrowful. I did not know which emotion she felt, or whether she felt any at all. The bathroom felt empty without the presence of her voice, and though I knew that she was neither joyful nor sorrowful, I was glad she was there. I was glad she was alive.

“Yemisi, put up your hands so I can scrub it” she said grimly, and I obeyed, because I could not clean myself. Her voice was loud and sudden due to the absence of her humming so I hesitated, but I still obeyed.

There was a long silence.

“Grandmama” I said.

“Yemisi, omo mi” she replied, sounding neither joyful nor sorrowful.

“Why did you let those women cut me?” I said, a tear streaming from my eye “I didn’t do anything, I was crying and you did not help me.”

She ignored my tear and scrubbed my cheeks hard and rough with that rugged sponge.

“Yemisi” she said.

“Grandmama?” I replied.

“What did God tell Adam and Eve in the beginning?” she asked.

I was reluctant to answer because I hated how my grandmama always answered a question with another question.

“That they shouldn’t eat the fruit?” I said. My voice went high because I wasn’t sure that I had given her the right response and that rugged sponge was digging into my pores.

“That they shouldn’t eat the fruit.” she said in affirmation “And what did they do?”

“They ate it”


“Because the serpent tempted them”

She paused.

“How do you think they could have avoided that mistake, ehn Yemisi?” she said.

I didn’t know the answer to her question, so I looked down at my long brown legs that lay beneath the soapy water.

Ehn?” she repeated. She released the sound loudly from behind her lips and let go of my arm. She watched it drop into the water.

“Grandmama I don’t know” I said, still looking down, my lips tight.

“Don’t worry,” she said, the words flowed sarcastically out of her mouth “I will answer for you. They could have cut down the tree.”

I would have looked up at her and told her that it would have been wrong for Adam and Eve to destroy the tree without God’s permission. After all he put it there for a reason, even if they didn’t know what it was. It would have been wrong to destroy God’s creation because of their own lack of self control. But I did not know that then, so I continued to stare at my long brown legs that lay beneath the soapy water.

“Tell me Yemisi,” she continued “if they had cut down the tree, which fruit would the devil tempt them with?”

“There would be no fruit.” I replied emotionless, eyes on the water.

“And how would they have committed sin?” she questioned.

“They would not have.”

“That is your answer. That is why I let those women cut you” my grandmama said “I was cutting down the tree.”

I did not reply to her because I was eight years old, and I could say nothing to my grandmama. I simply stared into the bathwater and allowed more warm tears to stream from my eyes.

“Now, don’t let me hear you ask me about it again” my grandmama said coldly.

I determined from then that when she did not hum, she was neither joyful nor sorrowful, just cold.

“That was two years ago.” she said “You should forget about it now. If you keep asking me it will keep paining you, it will never go away.”

I wanted the pain to go a away desperately so I stopped remembering it. I kept quiet.

I stood up in the bath and my grandmama stood up with me. She straightened her back, wrapped a cool, dry towel around me and led me out of the bathroom.

After all I was eight years old. I could not clean myself, so she cleaned me.


First published in The University of Leeds Human Rights Journal, Volume 5.

Tife is from London and is studying English at the University of Leeds.

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