She loved the harmattan. It was the only time sand ever clung to her heels, the only time the sky was ever clear and the only time she could remember clearly, their childhood promises. She was six and he was eight.
It was in December, the breeze louder than it usually was, punctuating their every breathe as they played in the sand building bird houses with their legs, carefully moulding it in silence because he had explained to her more times than she could count that it didn’t matter that the birds didn’t live on the ground or that the houses were too tiny for them, what mattered was that she should believe in tiny dreams because they come true when the eyes are closed and she hadn’t believed him.
She remembered how they would sneak rice out through the kitchen door to the back of the house and cook it in a small peak milk tin on a makeshift coal stove made by puncturing holes with nails in a bournvita tin. Even then, it wasn’t the food that made her do it as much as the thrill of doing something she knew she could be thrashed for.
He didn’t seem to mind then; sometimes he would tell his mother and she would give them rice; anything as long as they left her alone to her devices.
She wasn’t much of a mother, his mother. Growing up, she wished her mother would be like his mother and ignores whatever she did whether it was good or bad.
He was the one who taught her how to do many things. They were both kids but he knew things, like how to make crayon from candles, how to make into calico an ordinary white clothe, how to stop an agitated chicken from crowing, it mainly involved choking it as it beat its wings and then twisting its neck round and round until it was dead. Then in the evening her mother would talk their neighbours were savages, killing chickens so cruelly. She would agree with her mother, she always agreed with her mother. Those were the times of childhood when rebellion wasn’t a word she was accustomed to.
One time she saw their neighbour steal her mother’s goat. She didn’t talk because she was not asked, two days later she was invited to his house and served meat, she took it as her price for keeping quiet, her mother never killed the goats anyway and her neighbours, they were forever starving.
It was in December they staked sticks in the ground, put cement bags on them and claimed that it was their house. Every day they would add new sticks, joining them together with nails they found in the uncompleted buildings around the area. They would crawl under the shed, huddle together and whisper to each other meaningless things that at the time had seemed important. He had asked her if she would love to live with him and she had replied yes, their dirty pinkies entwined together and her flat chest rising in ignorant anticipation.
They had been friends for two years, going in and out together, playing with other kids but never forgetting that they were friends first. They didn’t go to the same school, something about her parents being richer than his mother and his father never came home but she didn’t care then. She was still at the age when everyone was equal and had little to no prejudice.
It was in December when they snuck into his house, their tiny hands clasped together. He didn’t care that her hair was braided haphazardly and she didn’t care that he had mucus on his lips. She was six and he was eight. He kissed her and she kissed him back, wet kisses on dried lips, dreams built on groping hands. He touched her flat chest and she let him even though her mother told her it was wrong to let a boy touch her that way. He drew her hand to touch his tiny pintle and she held it in her palms not knowing what to do with it. Then he laid on her, his chest on her chest and his legs on her legs. She asked him why she couldn’t be the one on top and he told him that it was the duty of the husband to be on top.
It was in December when he promised to marry her, childhood fantasies and sloppy wet kisses, it was in December when she gave him her heart, pinky promises and coloured chicken legs, it was in December she promised her hand. Dirty dusty legs and and dried throats, it was a December she couldn’t help but remember.