Small Town Matters

I grew up in a small town where you can always find the neighbors, especially the aunties, in everybody’s business. I hated that in my hometown, everybody knows everybody and their business.

I couldn’t wait to graduate high school and go to university so I could escape my father’s anger and the neighbors who had nothing better to do than band together and talk about other people’s lives, as if theirs were any better – albeit temporarily.

It was very annoying that everyone around those aunties couldn’t exist in peace because of them. But, as I got older, I realized just how little space is created for women like them – housewives, sisters, daughters, nieces and perpetual mothers to their parents, children, siblings and husbands – it made me proud that those aunties were able to create and own their space. Although I’m sure my opinion of them didn’t really hold much weight. 

Growing up, I hated those aunties. But now that I’m much older, I hate that whatever little space women have created is always being reduced to size. I hate that whatever little space women create or take up, and whatever that space symbolizes is always being subjected to mock and ridicule. “Oh, they’re gossiping again,” society would say. As if there weren’t sociological and anthropological evidence that gossiping is an essential part of civilization. As if gossiping weren’t a form of social accountability. 

It was through those little gossips that I found out that my close friend from primary school got pregnant when we were seventeen and got so sick that she almost died. I had no way of knowing; I was away and I didn’t own a mobile phone. It was through those little gossips that I found out that my high school English teacher who encouraged me to write was getting married. At thirty-nine! When I was nineteen, I thought thirty-nine was ancient, so imagine my surprise when I found out she was getting married! At thirty-nine! It was through those little gossips that I found out that someone I went to high school with was almost beaten to death by her boyfriend when she forgot to thaw the chicken because she was soothing their wailing baby.

Funny how time and experience about navigating the world as a woman shift one’s perspective.

I believed that those aunties forming cliques was just a small-town-thing and that the moment I left for university, I would be free. My senior year in college, I didn’t come home for the entire semester because I was so busy and was struggling a lot with studies. It was through those little gossips that I found out that I was getting married to a boyfriend I didn’t know I had. Those aunties were smart and creative. Oh, to be able to come up with a story out of thin air.

Through those aunties, I learned that there are stories that should be told and shared to women only. Those aunties would tell these stories of illicit affairs that may or may not be true, scandalous pregnancies that occurred before marriage, emotional breakdowns of people who seemed to have everything figured out, and sudden deaths of the people they barely even knew. They would share these stories in a lowered voice, as if they were trading secrets. Sometimes, the stories could be rich in details that may or may not be factual. Other times, the stories were just stark. Those aunties would nod solemnly, widen their eyes and look around, lean forward, cover their mouth as they gasped, depending on what kind of stories they were sharing among themselves.

Through those aunties, I learned that there are stories that shouldn’t be shared with  men. Men shouldn’t be told stories that might upset them, such as communicating with them that something they said or did to you made you feel bad.  Men shouldn’t be told stories that might upset them, such as men being the number one perpetrators of violence and abuse, how they’re often quick to say they’re one of the good guys while being complicit in the aggression and violence against women. Men shouldn’t be told stories or hypotheses that might provoke them, such as how when wives get murdered, they’re likely to have been killed by their husbands. 

Through those aunties, I learned that stories that may upset men shouldn’t be shared to them because when men get upset, people literally die.

Through those aunties, I learned that some stories, no matter how crazy they sound, are true. 

I didn’t realize that I’ve grown accustomed to women creating and taking up space for their stories, never mind that most of them were borderline juvenile. Maybe this is why I fancied myself a storyteller. 

I grew up in a tiny house that didn’t give me enough room and space to be a child and a teenager, that was why I loved spending most of my time inside my dorm room. It was tiny but quaint, and I didn’t have to share it with three siblings. It was my own tiny sanctuary.  Growing up in a house with an angry father, I didn’t want to exist loudly. I did not want to take up space and I would always tiptoe when walking around the house because our floor was creaky. I didn’t want my father to know I was awake or that I was there. I didn’t want his anger to find me. 

Unknowingly, those aunties had taught me to unapologetically take up, if not create, space. 

They were unapologetically loud. Maybe someday, I could be, too. 

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