…or my first lesson in masturbation and shame. Hands ( International Business Times AU) I was thirteen, I think. And I was in Aflao. I had traveled to spend the holidays with my cousins who moved to Togo to spend time with their father, and after a month there, were making their way back to Ghana. We lodged at a distant relative’s house. It was a 3-story building and my cousin and I had been assigned a bedroom in the top level which had a staircase to the side leading to the roof. I can’t remember what we did during the day, but that evening we watched a movie, probably Indian, I don’t remember exactly but the music interlude stuck in my head is highly characteristic of Indian movies. Senyo, my cousin, and I were sharing a bed. In the night, Senyo sneaked in the daughter of Uncle Kossi’s best friend. She was a family friend, but more importantly also Senyo’s girlfriend. After the movie ended, we switched off the light to sleep. My cousin and his girlfriend lay on one side of the bed and started whispering to each other. I tried to pretend that I didn’t hear them but I wondered what the silences between their whispering meant. We had been given sheets to cover ourselves and I could hear their rustles. The bed creaked slightly with their movements. There was a faint sound of skin against skin. Were they touching? Kissing? I wondered if they wished I weren’t there, but I thanked God I was there, because then they wouldn’t be able to “go too far”. The thought of going too far was scary for all of us, as we’d been taught since we had bald-testicles that any boy who went too far would be ruined. We didn’t understand what this ruined meant but we didn’t want to find out. I had never had a girlfriend. Despite being the first one to “develop” among my cousins, I was the last one to get himself a girlfriend years later. I was shy and awkward. I found it difficult to talk to girls. I had crushed on a few though, and right then it was one of my cousin’s friends. It was when I was around her that I felt the throbbing the most. After a few minutes of trying to sleep, I became aware of the throbbing. The Aflao air was thick with heat and a ceiling fan pushed against it lazily. We had left the windows open to give the fan support, but the heat was stubborn and we didn’t get much relief. I was hot and restless but I tried not to toss about; I didn’t want to disturb the couple. I could feel my pajamas stick to my back and thighs. I lay still and continued listening to the couple and the night sounds. Up to that night I had ignored the throbbing because I didn’t understand it. I was afraid. It felt urgent and out of control. But that night, maybe because of the heat or the whispering and touching couple beside me, I couldn’t ignore it. I felt it start from between my legs. A soft buzz at first, it got more persistent as the minutes ticked by. It felt like a question, but I didn’t know the answer. I got restless, tossed and turned until my cousin whispered my name. I pretended to be asleep. “Na mia yi goto,¹” I heard the girl whisper to Senyo. A few moments later I heard them get off the bed and slowly steal out of the room. They went up the stairs to the roof. I imagined what they were going to do there; imagined them kissing and touching freely now that I was not there, and the throbbing grew more insistent. Did my cousin feel the throbbing? Was he touching her because of it? I didn’t move for a little while to make sure they were not coming back. I hadn’t used my sheet because it was too hot but I now took it and covered myself, from neck to toes. I turned and lay on my side, facing away from the door in case the couple came back. Underneath the sheet I slowly lifted untied my pajamas, pausing to listen out for them. When my pajamas was up to my waist I put my hand inside and grabbed my throbbing member. “This is wrong,” I thought. The guilt made me tremble. If it had been daylight I’d have seen that my whole body was a shameful red. I lay still for a moment, but the questions between my legs were too loud, they sensed and called my hands. I needed answers. I moved my hand around my engorged penis, treating with such curiosity as though it were foreign to me. Breathing heavily, I made my way up and down the shaft, and quickly figured that the throbbing was painfully pleasurable at the tip. I rested my hand gently on the tip, and waited. I don’t know what I expected but nothing happened. I decided to go back to the rhythmic movement up and down the shaft of my penis. As I was pulling my hand back, a sudden and intense surge of heat spread up to the pit of my stomach. I sucked in my breath loudly and snatched out my hand in fear. I knew what I was doing was wrong and that it had something to do with “going too far.” I thought of my embarrassment if the couple were to catch me, but the questions grew even more urgent. I put my hand on my chest and waited for my heartbeat to slow down, then I put my hand back into my pajamas, this time confident, knowing. I found the place I had touched before and started moving my hand around it, testing, querying. I was lying on my back with my legs pressing against each other thigh to thigh. The rubbing felt good, it eased the throbbing and increased it at the same time. But my hand, though sweaty, was beginning to feel dry and abrasive. Instinctively, I brought my fingers to my lip and let out a silent spit of saliva. My fingers felt slippery. I didn’t know what to do but, with an instinct that must have been embedded in my masculine body, I moved my hand a little faster, trying to answer the questions. My hands were everywhere in that small wet space, searching, exploring, looking for answers. Where the most intense feeling was concentrated, I rubbed there, circled there. Blood rushed to my head. I squeezed my legs tighter and grapped my penis even harder. The sheet was an untidy bundle near my feet. Lost in sensations, I was moving my body, my waist following the rhythms of my hand. Gasping, I forgot that I hadn’t wanted to make any noise. I didn’t know when it happened, but I was using my other hand now. One hand caressed the tip of my penis as another danced around my testicles. My body was tensed and numbed, yet I could feel a tingling all around me. My body was burning and I didn’t know how to soothe it. I could feel sweat trickling down my face. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into, the transformation my body had undergone. What was this? I was torn between wanting to stop and a feeling unlike any I’d had before. There was tension building inside me, and I felt that I was getting closer. Closer to what, I had no idea. My eyes were closed, my body spread, and my hands occupied every part of groin when I heard my cousin’s shocked voice: “Herh, nukae wɔm ne le²?” I froze, my heart plummeted, and something within me shattered. But it was too late, alas, I felt liquid heat shoot of my engorged member. It felt painful; it felt liberating; it felt nice. The answers I sought I could feel the answers at the tips of my fingers. But these answers came at price of shame, paid in perpetuity. I was the gbegblevi³ ¹ — Translates to “Let’s go outside” in English from Ewe (Èʋegbe). The Ewe language is actively spoken in the South-Eastern parts of Ghana and part of Togo. ² — Translates to “Herh, what are you doing?” in English from Ewe (Èʋegbe). ³ — Translate to “spoiled child” in English from Ewe (Èʋegbe). A spoiled child is a term used to refer to immoral children in Ewe culture.