By Sheba Anyanwu

American girls don’t hand wash their pant and all the other rubbish you’ll hear when you’re not paying attention.

I see London, I see France, I see American girls don’t hand wash their (under)pant(s).

Pant.

Such an annoying word. At least this is how I feel now. The breezy feeling of that missing “s,” though so important, but still never rolling off your tongue while discussing underwear amongst ourselves. Ourselves, of course, being Nigerians.

“You guys call it pant? Like pants? Trouser pants without the ‘S?’ WHY?” my friend Irene asked with a solemn look on her face. We are leaving a body splash drained Victoria Secret store on Fifth Avenue. Turning out of the store, we are greeted by a smothering heat. I am finding both the heat and her endless questions to be extremely unbearable and annoying.

“Look, I don’t know,” I reply, placing our bags down and wincing as a sharp corner on the bag pokes into my skin. I didn’t mean to snap at her. The truth was, I honestly didn’t know. For some reason, we had always referred to underwear as “pant.” We again, being Nigerians. Memories of peers in primary school screaming at each other, “I can see your pant” flicker in my mind like a fluorescent light fixture experiencing low current. I had said the word for so long and never questioned the origin out loud until now.

I have no reason to refer to underwear as panties, as I often hear amongst Americans. It was difficult to transition to the word “panties.” It felt creepy saying it in public or hearing it muttered against my neck in the darkness in the arms of a man. Pant had been the mothership. The colossal ascending umbrella over everything that could possibly fall into the underwear category. Even the word “lingerie” could not escape that darkening cloak of the word “pant.” It touched everything. I remembered asking a friend in London to order me some select “lingerie” from La Senza, and her sole reply was,

“You’re asking me to buy you pant?”

We both knew what lingerie was, of course, but in her joking manner, we had reverted back to a place where things were stripped down to their functional origin.

I looked back at the lingerie again and decided that perhaps I did not want her to buy me any. The word “pant” had a way of debasing even the nicest things. It was a deconstructor. Always stripping away lace and lining. As far as the evolution of the word pant, these days, the word has also transitioned to an insult. For example:

“That guy is such a pant.”

“It’s just what we’ve called it, who cares about the rules,” I state, as we make our way into the subway car. Later that night, as I sit on a rumbling washing machine, throwing back a really strong homemade margarita, I watch Irene throw in her laundry, pulling out her pant(s) and flapping them in the air before throwing them in the dryer.

“You don’t hand wash your pa- I mean underwear, you don’t hand wash your underwear?” I ask, eyes gaping open.

“Nope,” she replied, now climbing another washing machine.

I nod and sip my margarita, questioning if this, too, was something I had to re-examine. I never really discussed “washing pant” with my friends. We all comfortably assumed that if we had vaginas and wore pants, we hand washed them both. The list ran through my mind of the numerous roommates in college with overflowing laundry baskets, sweaters at the bottom and pant on top, vaginal lining mostly exposed. Towers of clothes with underwear clinging to the top, like a giant gorilla perched on a towering skyscraper. In our world, there are haves and have nots, and I guess there are those who wash their pant with hand or washing machine or both.

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