A short story by Sbeba Anyanwu
She pushed the rusted gate and it shrieked open, swinging slowly like an aged person. Red lines trickle down her leg like colored spider webs crisscrossing over her calves, ankle, and eventually her sandy feet. Her rubber slippers now sport calcified blood on the heel and in between her toes. She was unaffected by this discomfort. What she experienced before this moment, she knew would beat any sort of hardship life would throw on the table in the future. Clutching her torn skirt between her thighs, she steps inside the building.
She is welcomed by a dimness, a rather unfortunate and maligned consequence of power failure in Nigeria. It didn’t occur to her that police stations, too, did not have constant electricity. She was surprised that they, the Nigerian Police Force, the infamous scoundrels who terrorized people on the streets, hopped into cars in traffic with irate passengers, suffered bribes from the young and unemployed, that they, too, suffered like the rest of them despite their numerous grievances.
Walking into the waiting room, to her sudden happiness and then a rising anger, sat a policeman, sleeping. The lull of a small radio with a broken antenna filled the silence in the room, echoing a BBC Hausa special into the darkness. It was quiet still, with the exception of the sound of tossing and turning, a sound she could not make out with all the surrounding darkness. In the back of the room, a space that was so far removed from the light of the lantern that she dared not step any closer towards it, she sees a rusted metal gate enclosing a small space. Five men in their underwear, and a small girl child appear to be sleeping, wrapped into themselves, cocooned from the world like children.
“What do you want?” a voice inquired. It sounded tired, as if just like her, it, too, had been stretched beyond its emotional limit for the day. She turns around, looking at the man at the front desk who is still fast asleep. No, it couldn’t have been him. She squints again, feeling more blood slide between her thighs. A small thought blossoms in her mind. What if she died here from blood loss, what would happen to her? Who would tell her mother?
“Aunty, please help me,” the voice begged. Edging closer towards the source, she sees that it is the small child speaking to her. Her small hands grab the bars gently, with dark eyes beckoning her to come closer. Ufoma could make out the budding shape of her breasts through the thin vest she was wearing. Her hair looked to have been shaved off forcefully, as dark welts adorned her scalp, as if an animal had forcefully clawed at her head. She nearly screamed. What was a small child doing in a small prison with five men.
“Will you shut up and sit down!” a voice barked. The policeman was awake now, adjusting his collar and turning the volume of the radio down. He pulls at a chain on his neck, where a lone key hung, swinging gently from side to side. She assumed that he was also the “prison” guard.
“Yes, can I help you?” he inquired, as though he had been awake the entire time, and she had not been standing there, not waiting to receive the constitutional gift of judicial protection one receives from the police.
“I am… I am here to report a rape incident,” she stammered. She clears her throat, and forces down the urge to weep that is buried in her chest. She must appear strong. She must not appear emotional. She will relay this story as it happened. She will tell the truth because she has not made anything up.
“Madam, first of all your dressing… no good! Why a woman like you dressing like this?” the policeman inquired, scrunching his face at her, then pulling out a container of what appeared to be boiled white rice and tomato stew. He placed his gun on the table.
She stood there, silent, the small anger inside her snowballing.
It happened the way other women told it in the numerous stories she had read and heard. A poorly thought decision to walk alone to her car that night, leaving the sound of a still going strong party behind her. Her tipsy sway on thin heels, which she was now sure was the giveaway for her predators, who probably watched her the way one watches prey to search for their blind spot, anything to exploit weakness. An almost cliché frantic bag search for keys that lay at the bottom, a discovery she will learn after the deed is done. The feeling of fear and apprehension, an almost sixth sense feeling that you are being watched, and then the eventual grab. Seized from behind, mouth closed and stabbed in her thigh, she is dragged behind her car, muffled male voices whispering, “my turn first.” The sound of zippers unraveling, the unhooking of belts, the smell of sweat and alcohol, voices reeking with excitement and desperation, the smell of her own fear leaving her body as urine, all a chained melody of rape and depravation.
She crouched and vomited on herself when they were done, crying it out, until she was sure that she had enough. Until she was sure she could draw blood from the hoarseness of her throat. She had refused to close her eyes, and forced herself to remain stiff like a corpse while they took turns, but even her body, governed more by biology than her own will had betrayed her. Lying there on the dusty road, she thought to get back up and walk to the party, ragged clothes and all. Someone there would help her. But the thought of walking in again in the presence of men who had expressed interest in her, and the probability that now her “market had spoiled” as Nigerians liked to say, deterred her. Her value here in this county, ultimately decreased by rape, left her feeling helpless. She could not publicize it. No one could know. Because her eyes were open, and she remembered the name of one of the attackers—“Tunde”—she heaved herself up, felt in her purse for her keys, hopped in her car, and drove to the police station she passed on her way here. The entire drive, she could feel the coldness of her seat, and she wept again knowing that it was her own blood.
So standing here in the police station, in the presence of this man who chastised her “outfit,” she felt a sudden surge of anger.
“Are you saying that this is my fault. That this happened to me because of the way I am dressed?” she screamed. “How dare you!?”
“Why are you shouting? Madam look, you can come back tomorrow when the Chief Officer is in. We don’t take such complaints in this police station,” he replied.
“Next time, dress like a woman who has proper home—”
She snatches the gun off the counter, and points it at him.
“Take that key off your neck,” she barked. She heard the men in the prison, awake now and cheering her on. Her bloody hands, which had been scrunching her skirt between her thighs the entire time, are shaking. What am I doing? I can’t shoot this man? They’ll drag me here and lock me up in this cell, too.
The officer smiled and waved his hand at her. “You’re a woman oh, you can’t shoot me! Ahh!”
A deafening sound, lurching scream, and blood spatter on the walls in front of her, covering letters on posters labeled THE NIGERIAN POLICE IS YOUR FRIEND. WE ARE HERE TO SERVE. She is still pointing the gun at him, watching smoke leave the pistol, as the policeman topples off his chair, holding the side of his head where an ear used to be, screaming.
So these guns they carry around actually work?
Walking towards him, gun in hand, she snatches the chain off his neck leaving dents in his skin. She runs towards the darkness, her shaky fingers ramming the key in the rusted lock of the gate where the girl with the scars and the worn vest is still standing. She is clutching the gate screaming, “Aunty, please! Aunty, please help me!” The men beside her stand up, sure that they will also leave the station, too. She points the gun at them, pulling the girl out by the arm, positioning her behind her. She notices that on the girl’s underwear, a small patch of blood is visible on her bottom. She starts crying.
“No. You stay here!” she barked, still pointing her gun at the men who are now huddled in the corner. Backing out slowly, child in hand, they leave the station and run towards her car. “Lie down!” she says hurriedly, as the little girl climbs in the back seat, lying down in a fetal position. She starts the car and backs out of the police station, chucking the gun out the window into an overgrown gutter.
This piece is an excerpt from “The Nigerian Rebel Girl” an online curation of written work created by Sheba Anyanwu.
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