There used to be stories that only the males who had undergone the painful boyhood to manhood ritual of circumcision were allowed to discuss. Being adults allowed them that privilege. It was common knowledge that the only reason why only young men talked about these things so unabashedly was because they tended to be reckless and uncouth. You could say that they laughed in the face of the culture that had natured them to maturity with each of these episodes.
When the young men talked, it was usually with an occasional wary glance at the boy who might be in earshot. If you were that boy, your only chance of eavesdropping was assured if you pretended that you were not interested in what was being said at all. That is the only time that you would get to hear about the incredible things that a man and a woman do when they are together in private.
If a boy were ever to repeat what he heard, it would be in whispers to his best friend after a confidentiality pact.
Our mothers were the strict custodians of what came out of the mouths of little boys and girls. For us small people, cussing was not allowed, calling the genitals by their real name for any reason was strictly prohibited, and any talk of â€˜doing naughtyâ€™ as sex was referred to was taboo. I cannot then explain how woebegone I was at that age to discover that the mothers of the village were capable of talking about the same things that the shameless young men talked about!
It happened on the week that my grandfather died. During his wake, a group of women huddled around a wood fire in our kitchen on the cold July night. I was in bed in the next room, having been roused from sleep through circumstances I could not explain. With my brother snoring away from the opposite end of the bed, it was difficult to hear what was being murmured, but I got it all right.
The talk started with one woman enquiring about what was discussed at the family planning clinic recently held at the nearby government dispensary. Amongst giggles, it was revealed that the men and women who attended were educated about the condom. Though I was not to encounter a condom for a long time to come, on that night, I got to know of one way it should never be used. Apparently, a couple that attended the clinic confessed that they thought the condom was a man-sized birth control pill. The woman had been faithfully giving her man a glass of water to swallow the â€˜pillâ€™ every evening before going to bed. With another baby on the way, they thought that the dosage might not have been strong enough.
There was a round of muffled laughter that made my brother interrupt his snoring to say something unintelligible before turning over and continuing with snoring, but with a different pitch this time. With the assurance that the kids were still asleep, the women got into the conversation in earnest. And they began talking about the various birth control methods amidst snippets of bedroom activities that even a kid of today would consider very weird. They were well into their â€˜doing naughtyâ€™ stories when my mother arrived to inform them that they should join the bigger group of mourners at a different venue.
I never had the courage to whisper what transpired on that evening of disillusionment to any of my young friends.