The Diary of Queen Shugufta, 16, and Nimko King, 3½
Entry 3: Blood and Tears
I’m on my period today. Just got back from school and now Nimko and I are just chilling in bed with a book. I remember when I first found out about periods. I was nine. I was playing at my Nani’s house with my cousin Safiya, who is over two years older than me and a super early developer. Safiya told me she had a secret to tell me; she told me that women bleed. Every month, for about a week, and they can start at any age between 11 and 15. She said that this was a big secret, and had to be guarded from men at all costs. There was a code word for it: ‘Auntie’. So we say to our moms, ‘Auntie’s coming’ or ‘Auntie’s here’, if we need a pad or something. She showed me her pack of whisper pads.
I was just – amazed. I had a sense in those days that life was full of mysteries and secrets that I had yet to discover, and suddenly, I had been told a huge one. Women bled! Every month. And we kept it from men. I loved being in on the secret. But then, when my own came at 13, it became less exciting, more annoying. I didn’t like having to hand-wash my chaddis when they stained, or wear pads, and there’s always a risk it just starts when I’m not ready and then what? What if it’s at school, and then I stain my uniform, and everyone sees? I don’t like the mess, the discomfort, the embarrassment, the cramps, the acne I get just before. I’ve even stopped liking the secrecy of it. What was the issue? Why was it so shameful? Why can’t we pray or touch the Holy Quran on our period, and why can’t we speak about it with boys? So since my own period started, it’s gone from being this great mystery to this heavy burden – like a kind of shameful secret. I don’t know if I even like the idea of secrets anymore. I guess that’s why I write this diary.
When we first found Nimko King (in a box, outside Bata), we thought she was a boy, and I named her King Nimko. Then we found out she was a girl. I didn’t want to take her title away so I just switched it around to her surname, Nimko King. Anyway, around the time she turned one, Nimko started acting really weird. She started howling and moaning and sticking her bum out in the air and rubbing herself everywhere. She was like this for three days, and then she became normal again. And then, three weeks later, it started all over again. It looked like she was in agony. We took her to the vet, who told us Nimko was in heat. It’s a bit like cat periods, but no blood. It was unbearable to see her like that, and so we got her spayed. And since then, she’s been good. But she can’t have babies. She seems OK about it.
Are you wondering now if I would get myself spayed if I had the chance? Haha. Well. I don’t understand why periods start at 13 when you’re not supposed to have kids till after 20. So if I could have no periods from now until I needed them … would I? Hmm … no, I would not. And this is mainly because of Asma Auntie.
About two months ago, I was in bed with cramps when Mama’s friend from her calligraphy class, Asma Auntie, came over. Asma Auntie is … an interesting Auntie. She wears big flowery kurtas and pink lipstick and bright earrings. She reads a lot and likes to paint sometimes. She has a loud voice and sparkly eyes. And she’s always paid attention to me, even when I was very young. She gives me precious presents on my birthdays, like little lockets or jewellery boxes or books. She has two sons, younger than me, and two dogs. Anyway, they came to check on me while I was in bed, and Mama told Muneer to get me some chai. Asma Auntie put her hand on my forehead and said, kya hua? Not feeling well? and Mama, whispered to her, that time of the month. Then Asma Auntie said, very loudly, oh, periods?’ and Mama and I turned a bit red, cause there were so many people in the house: Papa and Farhad and Muneer. And then I whispered to Asma Auntie that I wish I didn’t have periods.
And she told me periods were a gift. That they carried our creative powers, and that we could harness these powers, make them grow and develop, and achieve all kinds of things this way, even magical, impossible things. She said these cycles were linked to the moon and the tide, and around that time of the month, we have a special sensitivity, and a connection to ourselves, to the earth, and to God. It sounds a bit crazy I know, but I felt my eyes and my brain go wide, they way they had when I’d first been told the secret by Safiya, and I thought, shit, what if there’s something there? I asked her, how can we harness these powers? And she said, first step is to make friends with your period. Then she pulled out from her bag – a mooncup! It’s this little cup thing that she puts inside her when she has her periods and then empties it at the end of the day, and she said, when you’re ready, you could start with using one of these. She also said, maybe I should name my – thing. Like, down there, the vjj part. She said women can have a lot of shame around this area, the area down there, and that’s not good for our relationship with our area, if we can’t even name it. Dekho, she said, we have no problem naming our other body parts, arms legs kamar sar waghaira, laykin iss area, iss super important area ko ham totally ignore kartain hain. That’s not fair to it, is it? There’s nothing embarrassing down there.
So, she said, give it a name, your own personal name. This made Mama and I giggle a lot. She said, no, I’m serious. She is the centre of our desire after all, we should probably make friends with her, he na? And then Mama said, Ok, bas now, but Asma Auntie looked me straight in the eye and said, Batao, what’s her name? I said, I didn’t know. She said, ask her. So I did. I closed my eyes and put my hands over her, and asked her. And then I said to Asma Auntie, Shakti. I don’t know where that name came from, it was just what popped into my head. Asma Auntie laughed with delight when I said it, and she hugged me and said she’d known from when I was born that I had special powers. She’s so weird and silly, but it felt good to hear those things, and more importantly, it felt true. I don’t fully get it yet, but my conclusion was, I’m OK with having my periods and Inshallah, one day soon, I’ll make friends with it too.
This story is part of a series, which is updated weekly. You can read the previous entry here.