The night is dark today. The sky is a shade the color of coal as no stars are out and the moon prefers to hide beneath the cover of ashen clouds. With the wind biting the skin and pinching the eyes, you can tell it will rain tonight. But you never can tell in this part of the world. Nothing ever goes as you expect. Nothing ever goes according to plan.
I will not have you think of me as rude or impolite or whatever word you may have in your store of adjectives to bless a person who dives in their speech without doing the courtesy of introducing themselves. But I prefer to remain anonymous. My story. What I’ll tell you tonight. It’s not special. It’s not particular to me. It is a fate many of my kind suffer around here, but I am one of the few who dare to kick or, at least, speak against it. But that does not mean I wish to advertise my publishing of it.
I will not tell you my age either, but I can tell you that in the twenty-seven years of awareness I have enjoyed on this planet, I have seen the same theme play out time and again. I will only tell you of what I have experienced though. So, I want you to follow carefully as I make you see from my perspective how untoward my human neighbors are in their treatment of my kind.
I was a kid. All of my childhood innocence blinding me to the reality that has always been around. It was my fourteenth year on the planet and I was just starting to appreciate the points and dents in my frame. You must have guessed already, but yeah, newsflash: I’m female. The little barely noticeable stubs on my chest at twelve were now a magnet for boys, my hips which were once on the same plain as my waist had now become shapely, swaying this way and that as I, conscious of my new found power, lifted my legs with all the swagger of Cleopatra’s cat. This, of course, made my butt—which had just begun to stop blending with my back—bounce with the rhythm of an African cymbal.
The only daughter of my father, and the last child, I heard the news that was to break my heart but steel my resolve. I would stop going to school that year. It was my final year in High School and I had hopes of going on to study some engineering course at the university. I sat on the mat watching my mom and dad tell me that two of my father’s friends had asked for my hand in marriage for their sons who had recently graduated from the university and would appreciate a pretty and sensible woman from a respectable family.
But I am not sensible. Not by society’s standard, anyway. I fit the bill in the other respects, but I did not hold the same limiting beliefs as my mother, or most other females. I preferred to wear skirts above the knee. I enjoyed looking myself over in the mirror, seeing my curves and predicting how I would look come five, ten years. Even now, after the horrid event that marred my teenage and nearly put out my light for life, after all these years of adulthood, I still cherish my body and love to dress unconventionally. Above all, I wasn’t ready to submit to a man’s rule.
So, the moment my father made his verdict known to me, I blurted out “No. I’m not ready to get married.” He was shocked. My mom was aghast. They had undoubtedly seen the signs of high intelligence and independence of thought which had set me apart from my peers early in life, but never had it occurred to them that I could be bold enough to negate my father’s judgement. Never indeed had my mom known a girl to disobey the dictates of her father let alone do it to his face.
“What did you just say?” Dad spat out, his anger evident in the creasing of his forehead and the widening of his eyes. He does that a lot.
I faltered under his ferocious glare, but I regained my beat and repeated, “I’m not ready to get married.”
“Is this madness or what? Do you hear your child, woman?” he turned to mom. “She is not ready to get married.” He spread his arms, let out a chuckle. “Like I asked her opinion.”
Mom looked like she aged twenty years in that meeting. I guess she had the shock of her life. “What you say is unheard of,”—she mentioned my name here, but I struck it out for you-know-why. “How dare you tell your father you won’t do his will?”
“I’m sorry, mom,” I said, and turned my attention back to dad. “I’m not ready to get married, and you can’t make me.” I said and headed to my room.
There is one thing I must say in my father’s favor. Never once did he raise his hand to hit me. He could rant and rage and take out his anger on his children in different other ways, but never the whip. I have never understood why, and the other children envied us this.
I locked myself in my room till the following day and only came out when my mom told me dad had promised not to force me into marriage, and I should come prepare for school. Well, as you can guess, this didn’t go well with any of my two suitors and they scorned my father for not having control over his errant daughter. This hurt me, but I couldn’t sacrifice my dream just to keep my father’s ego.
One fateful day, coming back from the stream where I used to go envision my future and let off steam from the stress of my everyday reality, two men accosted me. It was not yet dark, but it seemed they had staked out the place and established that it was deserted enough. They told me they were under instructions to keep me for their boss who wished to have a chat with me. You can imagine my trepidation. My lips shivered, the blood ran out of my feet, the sparks flew through my spine as I wondered what was to become of me in a few seconds. I’d heard stories of girls being held against their will, but never had it happened to someone close to me. I wanted to run, but my brain refused to relate the urge to my legs. I wanted to scream, but I realized how futile that would be in such a deserted path toward town’s edge. I considered begging them or reasoning with them to let me go and have their boss come get me at my father’s house, but again, I knew it would fall on deaf ears. They were under instruction, and that was all that mattered.
Before long, one other man arrived, and I recognized him. This allayed my fears a bit. He was a family friend. He wouldn’t hurt me, would he? But was he the boss? I didn’t yet know. I guessed right. He nodded at the two men and, nodding back, they flanked me on both sides as the man, whose name I withhold, stood before me.
I think I can tell you this much—he was one of the unhappy suitors.
He smiled with half his mouth, his eyes barely registering it. It was a smile that was to haunt me for years to come. He came nearer and said in the basest of tones, “You refused to marry me, you spoiled brat.” He exposed perfectly set teeth that shone in the crimson of the evening sun. “You have the guts to disobey your father. Here, I will teach you the difference between a man and a wimp.”
And just like that, like he flicked a switch, my fear returned in torrents. I could feel electricity move through my veins as pictures raced through my mind of what the guy would do to me in that remote place. My legs shook—imperceptibly though—and I swallowed spit repeatedly, trying to muster up enough courage to reply him. If I could unarm him with words, I could escape some thrashing—that was all I was willing to expect from him. A thrashing.
“I refused to marry you because I have my future ahead of me. You have finished with your education, should I not have mine?” I said to him. “Besides, why should my father decide who I should marry? If you truly liked me, couldn’t you have come to me directly?”
His chuckle vibrated through my frame, sending cold chills all over me. “You’re bold. I like that. And here I am in front of you, asking myself. Do you still refuse?”
“Of course,” I said. “I'm yet to achieve anything in life. Why would I want to tie myself up to a man at this stage of my life?”
“What would you achieve in life, you wench?” he asked me. “Dressing as you do, you don’t think it a service, a favor, that I even desire to wed you?” His look took on a mean stance. He seemed to think me less than worthy of respect. “Would any man wish to marry a hard-headed bitch like you?”
That hit me. I actually did an internal check of myself and wondered if there was any truth to his claim. But a voice in me said yet he wants you. And that’s what I echoed. “Yet, you want me. And not only you,” I told him.
That could have been a big mistake, because although he hadn’t expected the come back from me, he had worse in stock. “Oh, you’re a sight to behold, I give you that, and foolish is the man who doesn’t wish to bed you.” He lifted my chin with a finger. “And that’s the only reason I consider you for wife. I only wanted to respect your father by asking for your hand in marriage instead of taking you at will. But now that you have proven your father unrespectable, I take back my respect too and will take you nonetheless.”
“You will not lay your filthy hands on me!” I said with the emotions welling up in me as the gravity of my situation dawned on me. Before I could say any more, I felt a silky thing creep over my mouth at the same time strong hands gripped my arms from behind. After having tied the thing safely behind my head, the hands held my legs which I’d begun to thrash in protest to being held. And I stood helpless, lacking the strength to struggle against three strong men. And watched as my father’s friend’s child took my flower, without a care for my pain, with feverish urgency, till he was spent.
They left me there on the side of the road as I bled, weeping, unable to stand, my womanfold aching with the force of entry and the bruises impacted on it. There I lay till dark when my father came in search of me, mom in tow, and bore me back home.
The greatest hurt was yet to come.
After nursing me to health, feeding me and letting me rest, my parents came into my room to inquire what had happened. I told them everything. My father went silent. I could tell the wheels in his head were turning. Grinding against one another. I could see the sparks flying in his head as the wheels met with friction in processing the information they had just received. The moment the wheels caught, I knew. I saw it. I saw his expression go dark, a cloud covering his face as he rose silently, went out of my room and headed out of the house.
My father went in search of his friend’s son, gun in hand, knife in band. He demanded to take from his friend’s son what the boy had taken from his daughter. His manhood for my womanhood. Dad’s friend, after several pleas which never reached my father’s heart, resorted to counterforce, choosing to protect his son than do restitution. The fracas got the attention of the community head to whom every party eventually headed. I was sent for, as well as the rapist son of my father’s friend. My father recounted what I had told him and every mouth opened in surprise. They had all began to tell off the untoward conduct. But one voice from the council of elders asked to give the boy an audience before judging him.
He was oratory. Smooth. He launched into his tale of how I had been a magnet for eyes all over the town with my skimpy and tight dresses which showed off my curves and silky, smooth skin which was also clear “as the eastern sky in the heart of summer”. Every man in the town wanted me as bed mate, and he had done the rightful thing by asking for my hand in marriage. But I had disobeyed my father and brought him shame and scorn among men. And he would not hear that he didn’t get what he wanted, especially if it was a girl who was soon to be everybody’s bitch, and who had brought shame to a fellow man.
Like magic, his words altered public opinion. Everybody agreed that I got what I deserved. How dared I refuse my father’s wish? How dared I run around the neighborhood in suggestive clothes? How dared I think to be different than other girls who married early? The judgement was passed. As we were, both families, Christians, the law of Moses would hold. The respected deacon of the community church read out the scripture in Deuteronomy which directed that a man who rapes a virgin must pay her dowry and take her for a wife. That would be the punishment for the man, and serve as a lesson for other girls not to provoke the base instincts of their masculine neighbors with indiscreet dressing. I begged my father to send me to his brother in another state instead, and he did.
That singular kindness from my father saved me from a life of frustration and despair, and endeared him to me my whole life. Here I am now, well to do, a chemical engineer working on my PhD at a foreign university with money my family could never have afforded if I hadn’t gone ahead to the university under the care of my uncle.
I still remember the hurt of hearing the society’s verdict against me instead of my rapist, and although I have moved on and forgiven the guy, it hurts still to know there are many others in similar situations all over Africa, denied justice on the basis of their gender. I cannot help wondering if there ever is anything I can do to stop this menace. If there is, I will start by lending my voice, my story, to the pool of experiences posterity can learn from.
Thus, here, I lay my soul, bare, for the world to see. My horrid past.