Odyssey – 22

ODYSSEY 3

The caption of this blog (19th Street) is ‘let’s explore memories of life’s experiences’. It is not enough to just explore, we should also learn from the experiences. I did not type all these words so people can comment on how sad it is. This part is a “moral of the story’ piece and I am confused as to how to start.

We all hope to be mothers and fathers one day; some of us already have kids. Permit me to generalize and say parents (especially Nigerian parents) are too dismissive of their kids. Your son is scared of Aunty Bola, have you taken your time to ask him why? Do we actually listen to our children or we just hear what they have to say and pen it down to an over active imagination. Children see things and we often underestimate their ability to understand these things. They know more than we can imagine. Asking questions and listening actually goes a really long way. I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if I had been asked why I always ran after my mother’s car whenever she was to leave the house. Listening to your children does something else; it makes them find their voices and gives them the confidence to use it. I am not going to say do not let relatives live in your house or do not leave your daughters with them. The truth is I have some pretty awesome uncles and cousins and I know I have friends that think the world of their nieces and nephews. Being cautious is good but asking your kids why and meaning it goes a long way. I read a story about a girl who cried every school morning; her parents thought she did not just want to go to school. If they had taken their time to ask they may have learnt that she was scared of a classmate of hers who kept threatening to kill her. Listen to your children, even when they say the most ridiculous things like the house girl turned to a snake. I mean you will be shocked. Recognizing that they have something to say and taking your time out to hear them shows clearly that they matter and you can see them. Not listening is equivalent to not seeing them.

Our former gateman was always reporting my little sister to my mother; he said she was always rude to him and refused to greet. She was nine and a generally pleasant child. When asked her explanation was that she did not like him. Do not blame me but in my eyes everybody is a pervert until proven otherwise so I kept on asking her what the problem was. Finally she said she did not like the way the gateman looked at her and he was always ‘talking rubbish’. Early one morning I peeped through the window as she tended to my mother’s birds. The gateman made several comments on how big she was; he said she “just dey grow like agric fowl”. That statement some may say is innocent enough but not to a nine-year old girl who is the biggest in her class and is growing faster than her age.  The transition from being flat chested and having no worries is hard enough. But your entire body changes too and all of a sudden you always have to wear a shirt and then the alien bra comes along. This stage is very delicate; uncles and family friends and the likes that never fail to point out how you are growing do not make it easier. We all see the growth, shut up about it. I don’t take all those ‘my wife’ jokes kindly, call it paranoia or whatever but I have quite a number of younger sisters and it is my prayer that they do not see half of what I have seen. Call any of them your wife in my presence and you will have to explain to me when you paid the bride price.

Child molestation is horrible and difficult to imagine but it is real. It happens more often that we care to admit. I think boys get molested more but somehow they find ways to joke about it.

You may be reading this and you have a similar story or you know someone who does. There is nothing to be ashamed about. It even has to be a sin for you to take the blame for this. It is not your fault, you do not emit freak pheromones; there is nothing that you could have possibly done that makes it okay that this happened. Guilt kills. Trying to understand it is like gradually digging your grave, you would never understand why it happened and accepting that is so hard.

Rape has to be the most hidden crime of all. The victims do the hiding and please do not blame them. Proving rape is hard. How do you explain getting raped in a boy’s house? These days going to a boy’s house is synonymous with asking for ‘the D’. It is sad that people think this way. I wish there was a way there was a way to get people to come out. The need to keep it secret is like admitting guilt, you cannot tell anybody because you did something bad and you are ashamed. I wish I could preach the sermon of go to the police, report to whomever will listen but that will be hypocrisy on my part. Honestly, if I get raped again I don’t think I will do anything differently.

This is hard because on so many levels I am not past it. I want to say be careful because every boy is a potential rapist but that sounds bitter even to my own ears and it is the height of generalization. Well, maybe I am bitter. Just be careful, listen to yourself, and never ever ignore your instincts. Never. When it comes to physical strength, except the Lord saves you, you are no match for a man in a state of testosterone-induced madness. It is best not to get there. If this has already happened, can you please forgive yourself and move on? I am speaking to myself too. Your life is not over and it is not based on this. It is impossible to forget so do not act like you have. Remember it and find a way somehow to use it to your advantage. Somehow.

Daniel went to South Africa three days after he raped me to start his masters program. He said he was in love with me and the thought of being so far from me drove him crazy. He said since sex was out of the way, we should just date so he could prove his love to me. I see him in church whenever he is in the country and when he is not I see his sweet mother every Sunday. She sends me plantain through my mom and gives me twenty naira every Sunday. Every Sunday, even though I smile as she ‘chooks’ twenty naira inside my purse for offering, I lose a little bit of my sanity. I have all the twenty nairas stacked somewhere and I think that is crazy.  This year Daniel sent me a long letter though his mother about how he has not had a good night’s sleep since it happened and that he needs my forgiveness. To prove that I have forgiven him, I am to give him a call since I never pick his.

Uncle Emma got married three years ago. I was at the wedding and I smiled and shared rice. Now the doctor says his sperm count is zero so he can never father a child. His pastor says that someone he offended in his past has not forgiven him. So my uncle literally stalks me now, begging for forgiveness. I have said in all the languages I can speak that I have forgiven him. He says I have to lay hands on his head and pray to show it. That’s when I pause. If I have forgiven him why won’t I pray for him? Why won’t I give Daniel a call? What does it mean to forgive? Do not let me get started on how I feel bad and somehow want to carry the guilt for this.

Be careful how you treat people.

Advertisements

Odyssey – 11

ODYSSEY 2

There are things that happen that define your entire life. You start to think of yourself in terms of before and after that event. You try to pick yourself up and move on because shit happens and it is part of life and dwelling would do you no good. You know all those skirts or dresses that refuse to stay down when it gets windy. You take a step forward and the wind hits you and your skirt is up in your face. Then you have to stop whatever you are doing and hold the skirt down to cover your nakedness. This is probably not the best analogy but it is what comes to mind. What has happened has happened, and you try to move on but the wind blows. There are things that remind you, take you back without your permission. Then you find yourself stopping to put yourself together when all you really want is to forge ahead and get on with your life.

    I will be old and grey and still have that scene playing in my head. I want to know what changed, when it changed and why it changed. Was it something I did or said? How do you go from laughing and talking about how you had such a nice time to fighting for your life? If as I lay in my bed one night, my family had been woken up by the workers of violence and in the process of robbing us an armed robber had taken me aside I would have chalked it down to a senseless act of violence by people who live by violence. I still have not been able to put this in a box, to understand it and put it in one corner of my brain forever because I have finally figured it out. I was nineteen and I had known him for fifteen of my nineteen years. My earliest memory was of him carrying me on his neck to see what was happening in front of church. I remember the pink dungarees I wore; it had this big white rose in front. My mom said I had owned it since I was about four years. Fifteen out of nineteen is basically all my life right? So you can understand why I did not think twice when he called and told me he was in town. I called a cab and paid the cab my own money with my own hands to take me to my nightmare for life.

   He is the last born and he always told me I was the little sister he never had. We met in church and he became inseparable. Our parents became friends because of us. Whenever I was home on holidays from the boarding house he was the first to come visiting. Never, in all our years of friendship did he even hint that he wanted more. Not even when I had a crush on him and I used all the versions of my name and his name to do flames till I finally got lovers. Be careful what you wish for right?

  It was a Wednesday and I wore a black skirt and a black blouse with green flowers on it. The blouse was a new one. I remember how giddy I felt. I had not seen him in two years. He was waiting for me outside his house. I alighted from the car and jumped on him with abandon. The first thing I told him was that he was fat and he said my head was still big. Thinking back now, I tell myself maybe I hugged him too tightly. I have questioned every detail of that visit because I want to know why. When I entered the first thing I asked was where his mum was. He said she went to see her sister. Even the house girl was not home, she just left to the market. Now I ask myself why the bells in my head did not go off. I mean we were home alone. Was I just determined to not see all the signs?

  You are lying down on the long chair laughing and watching something being described to you then the next minute you are struggling to lift what feels like dead weight off you. No warning, no time to prepare or even negotiate. Oh I screamed and shouted and cried and begged. I reminded him over and over again who I was. I said my name in case he had forgotten. We fell off the chair, rolled on the floor. I got away once and raced to the door. But my legs felt like lead, I couldn’t get there fast enough. He got there first, locked the door, slid open the window and threw the keys down stairs. That moment when you realize you are doomed. I looked into his eyes, hoping to see something of the person I knew, a flicker of conscience. There was nothing. I did not know those eyes. Lying on the floor, my legs trapped beneath me by Daniel’s, hands tied together above my head with his belt. I still cannot recall how the belt got there. Time that day seemed to leap like an antelope. I phased in and out. I remember even begging him to let me come back prepared the next day, that it did not have to be this way. I could almost see the wheels in his head turning as he contemplated whether or not to let me go, and I prayed in my head and begged God. The he said “No, I don’t believe you”.

    I asked him why. I was tired of fighting and I could barely see through one eye and I just wanted to know why. He said “You have been asking for this for as long as I can remember. Do not act like you do not want it.” I want it, I like it; those lines echoed in my head over and over again. I do not know if it was the fatigue or what he said but I gave up. I stopped crying, I stopped struggling, and I stopped trying to free my hands from his belt. I just gave up, accepted my fate.

   I had withdrawn into my head, wishing I had not worn my new shirt. Scolding myself for not eating, if I had maybe I would have had the strength to fight. I was thinking about basically everything else but what was happening at that moment. I thought I had hidden away safely in my thoughts when I felt pain. It felt like my brain was split into two and I actually saw red. Then everything went black.

   I woke up to someone crying. It was that slow kind of waking up when you become aware of things one at a time. You feel your feet then wiggle your toes, then you flex and extend your fingers to make sure they are still there. Then just before you open your eyes you try to remember who you are and where you are. I opened my eyes and asked Daniel why he was crying. I was lying on the long chair; where it all started. He was kneeling on the floor and I can remember feeling sorry for him. He looked broken. He cried and said he was sorry; he had a little to drink before I came and he could not believe he did this. I comforted him. I told him I was alright and it was okay. He called a cab for me, gave me a white t-shirt and blue shorts to wear. I insisted on taking my torn clothes with me. He said he was sorry over a million times before the cab man came and for each “I am sorry” I responded with an ‘it is okay’. I do not know how to describe how I felt; in fact I think it would be safe for me to say I felt nothing. It was like my system had a sensory overload and then shut down.

   I still remember the song that was playing when I entered the cab. ‘Shout out’ by Whitney Houston. I had not heard the song before but I recognized her voice. I asked the driver to put the song on repeat. I listened to Whitney give shout outs to the people who made her who she was all the way to school. On getting to my hostel, I met a classmate of mine in front. He saw me and asked if I had been in a fight, and I told him I had just got raped. He laughed so hard and told me I was such a clown. I found myself laughing. That was the day I realized human beings do not like the truth or recognize it.

      I honestly had no intention of hurting myself. Or maybe I did. I just wanted to take a hot bath. The water was smoking hot but I did not care, I needed to stop the things that crawled on my skin, I needed to wash away the imprints his fingers left on my skin. I mean what else to wash me clean if not hot water? My sponge became a weapon; I scrubbed and scrubbed till I saw blood and even then I did not stop. I had to wash it away. After scrubbing with the strength I had left, I rinsed with hot water. I wonder if my mother or anybody else believed the “I changed my soap and the new one burnt my skin” story I peddled.

  Describing in detail the months that followed would turn this into a book. In summary, I was in darkness. I am not saying that because I think it sounds fancy; the pit of depression I felt, I wouldn’t even wish it for my enemies. Every single thing about me changed, up to the way I dressed and the music I listened to. Don’t get it twisted, I did not start covering up more after, I started covering up less. I was too shy to wear tank-tops without a jacket before but after, I could trek the length and breadth of my school in bumshorts, and I still cannot explain it. My attitude was in direct opposite to how people raped are supposed to act. I went clubbing for the first time, drank alcohol for the first time and made a habit out of it. I became promiscuous too. I was supposed to be scared of boys and freak out whenever a boy touched me but I went down the other road. I meet a guy and I am thinking “don’t try to act like you are interested, let us just fuck and say bye-bye.” I got so angry when they called after sex; I could not understand it because in my head it went ‘you got what you came for so respect yourself and shift.’ The trail of broken hearts I left behind me was unbelievable. Every guy I met then wanted more but I did not have more to give. Never in my life have I attracted so many men, they came from all corners, with all sorts of promises and it nigh drove me crazy.

  I stopped going to school, I just stayed in my room and watched series after series. Read novel after novel. My friends were worried about me but as far as I was concerned I was more alright than they were. My explanation for locking myself indoors was that I did not ‘feel like’ going anywhere. I did not attend a single lecture in four months. I had no problem going out at night; going during the day was another ball game. I remember waking up to my wet pillow and telling myself it was sweat because the night was so hot. I was so much in denial that the tears only came out in my sleep and even at that I still denied they were tears.

  Then my period refused to come. Two months of no menstruation. I knew I should do something, a pregnancy test at least. But that would be admitting that something happened so I just sat on my ass and watched more Criminal Minds. I told myself I was ‘almost’ raped.  Google became my friend, I googled and read everything I could find about rape. Then one day I came across some statistics, one stood out. It said victims of rape have an 85% chance of being raped again. There was an explanation after but I cannot remember it, I just read that one line over and over again. 85%? Was it cancer? Does it mean after being raped the first time you emit ‘please come and rape’ me rays? Is there not a God? I was scared and angry at the same time. It was like a sentence, a reassurance that it would happen again. I was barely surviving the first one then I was supposed to go out the next day knowing there’s an 85% chance of my world falling to pieces again? My world was already in pieces.

   That was the first time I cut myself. It was the same blade I had just loosened my hair with. It was there on the head side of my bed and I was crying and I couldn’t stop and I just wanted to stop. It was like I was two persons, the person that picked the blade and slashed her thigh and the person that was shocked and asking “why did you do that?’. I stopped crying and I looked at my blood. I thought about my whole life as my blood seeped out, I realized then that I was a ticking bomb. I did not want to self-destruct. I picked up my phone and called Daniel, I asked him if he had ejaculated inside me. He said “I started but I realized you had fainted so I did not finish.” I do not know why I found and still find this funny. I mean you started and you did not finish? Na sack race? I went to the pharmacy and bought a pregnancy strip. I begged God and made all sort of deals, I even involved blackmail.

The test was negative, that time.

I would be a liar if I say things took a turn for the better and my life went back to normal. Some days were good and some bad and on some days I seriously contemplated standing on the express, but I am still here. That counts for something.

  In case you are wondering, I never told.   

   

Odyssey – 0

ODYSSEY – 0

     The home in which I grew up was a happy one. Five siblings, strict and loving parents. We were not rich then; my dad was a lecturer and my mom taught in a secondary school but they did the best they could for their six children. We went to the best schools and what we lacked in possessions my mom more than made up for in stories and kisses. The point I am trying to make is that I had a good childhood, I was not maltreated or anything. My parents openly declared their love for each other and although I saw them fight time and time again, I also saw my proud mother kneel and apologize when she was at fault and I saw my dad rub my mother’s back and pinch her cheeks till she smiled; that was his way of apologizing I guess. My home was balanced, my parents weren’t scary. My mom especially was and still is very approachable. Why I chose to keep secrets even as a child I cannot explain.

   I was not a child for long. I realized early on in life that not all smiles were genuine. I met my dark side very early. I was the timid child. I would spend minutes behind doors crying when I was told to go and greet the guests in the parlor. Give me a book and I was happy, I did not see the point in relating with anybody that was not my immediate family. I did not want to be seen or heard. So whenever Uncle Emma came to visit and he lined up my sisters and I and told us to dance for him, you can imagine the buckets of tears I cried. Thinking back, I think that was why he picked me, I was the least sharp and he somehow sensed I would be too scared to tell. Or maybe there was something I did that made him see that I would be the one most likely to hide advances.

  In 1997, I was seven and my fourth sister (let’s call her Anita) was about six months then. She was such a troublesome child, all she did was cry. Even then I had a way with kids; I pick up a crying child and dance a little and the child goes to sleep. Babies don’t cry in my arms. I somehow knew how to get Anita to stop crying so I understand why my mother always felt more at peace leaving her at home with me whenever she had to dash to the market. Besides I was too fragile, my immediate younger sister was more useful to her in the market. I don’t know if I have forgiven her for never taking me to the market with her. Every time she had to go to the market, I cried and cried and ran after her blue Volkswagen beetle till I lost sight of it. Then I walked back to my house knowing what was waiting for me. Could she not have sat me down one day and asked why I cried so hard? Why I so badly wanted to go to the market? Maybe then I would have explained that I did not give a damn about where we went, I just could not be in the house with him alone. She thought I was being jealous because my younger sister got to go and I did not.

     Uncle Emma was my mom’s step brother. He was studying to be a lawyer then and my mom was putting him through school. He was in my house a lot. In as much as I loved ice cream, nobody understood why I always rejected the Jamil yoghurt he was fond of buying for my siblings and I. Or the biscuits. I knew what awaited me the minute he got me alone. I remember the first time clearly, this brain of mine never forgets. I had just rocked my sister to sleep; I placed her on my mom’s bed and lay down by her side. I was drifting in and out of sleep when I heard my name. I stood up from the bed and went to meet my uncle. He asked what I was doing and I told him I was about to sleep. He said I did not have to sleep beside Anita, that I was spoiling her and she had to learn early to sleep alone. You are not to argue with your elders so I obeyed and went to lie down in the parlor. After about ten minutes he came to sit on the sofa I lay on, he lifted my head and put it on his laps. I knew then that something was wrong. My seven-year old mind knew it was not right. I lay still, maybe I stopped breathing. He reached inside my shirt and rubbed my back. I closed my eyes and shouted for my mother in my head, I prayed that somehow she would feel me or hear me and rush home. For the first time since she was born, Anita slept for two hours without making a sound. I lay down there, my head held in place by one hand, the other hand rubbing my back rhythmically for the longest two hours of my life.

   I could feel it; the hardness beneath my head. As he rubbed my back, he made these sounds and pressed my head harder to the hardness. When I squirmed and tried to shake free, he held me in place more firmly. The sounds he made intensified, like he was gasping for breath, then I felt wetness beneath my left ear. His hand on my back stopped moving. After about two minutes he lifted my head off his lap and stood from the chair. He walked away without looking back. It was four pm.

   That was just the beginning. It progressed. It was like my silence urged him to do more. I remember him telling me to say I liked it. He would make me say it over and over again. “Uncle, I like it”. I wanted to tell, I practiced how I was going to say it, I wrote countless of letters to my mother. Then I tore them. If I told, he was going to tell them that I enjoyed it then everybody would see how dirty and evil I really was. I just wanted it to stop. I prayed every night, I cried. I prayed to God, when it became clear that God had not answered me then I prayed to Jesus, then to the Holy Spirit, then to Mary. I ran out of options so I started praying to Angel Gabriel, asking him to help me beg God to help me. Help did not come and I was too scared and insipid to help myself.

Rubbing my back progressed to pinching my nipples. I was as flat as a dining table, so I still wonder what he was pinching. From there he graduated to massaging the mound between my legs, then one day his finger went in. this went on for two years. The closest I came to telling was writing “Help me” on the walls of my primary school toilet. I wrote it on the wall every day for two years, every single day.

When I was nine, my mom got a house help (let’s call her Maggi). Maggi was bad in many ways, lazy and what not but in a way she was my super hero. I followed her everywhere. The only time we weren’t together was when I was in school. Heck, when she bathed I cried till she left the door slightly ajar so I could see her and we could talk as she bathed. My uncle hated her. With time I confided in her, told her how Uncle Emma touched me and I did not like it. Maggi told my mom, even after I had expressly told her not to. She did the right thing; she did what I had been too chicken to do for two years. I cannot explain the sense of betrayal I felt and still feel. She had promised not to tell. Things had changed, primary school had ended and I was going to the boarding house the next month; I had this perfect plan in my head that took me away from my uncle forever. The fact my family now knew my dirty little secret made me feel all the more dirty. My mother’s tears and the confusion in her eyes as she asked me “Are you scared of me? I thought we were friends why did you not tell me?” made my head drop closer to my chest. The shouting, anger, tears and then the quiet filled with grief that followed. My parents never looked at me the same after. My sisters never looked at me the same. Maybe it is my overly vivid imagination but I could have sworn the space on the bed between my younger sister and I got wider.

   The next day my mother called me to her room. She told me to lie on the bed and pull down my skirt. I knew what was coming next. I do not know what made me cry, the impact the cane had on my bare bum or the fact that my mom cried harder with every stroke of the cane or my confusion. After ten lashes she told me to stand up and go. I looked at her and I asked “Mommy why?” She said “You have to know that what you did was wrong.”

  I did not need her to flog me to know what I did was wrong. I knew that already.