‘When I want something from a man, I know exactly what to do’ was the look she conveyed as she narrated her latest escapade. We could not exactly be described as an unwilling audience as we crowded round the speaker who was our 14 year old form mate to hear more.
Though my dreams were quite different from hers, it did not make the narration any less exotic. I admired her for defying most of the rules that were drummed down my ears by society while growing up. These rules ranged from ‘Close your legs. A woman should sit properly’ to ‘dress decently so you can find a man to marry’. The speaker though still a teenager was years ahead of us as she could read between the hypocritical lines drawn by society. She seemed to know that if one got wealthy enough, nobody would be concerned that much about how the individual in focus came about such wealth. She also knew that wearing revealing clothes could attract the attention of even the most ‘respectable’ man. Even though she had a boyfriend who was in his twenties and in the university, she was never short of male attention from much older males.
On this particular day, she described how her male admirers were allowed to come to the house to pick her up in the full view of anybody that cared to see.
Such blatant attitudes are not that unusual in Benin-City the city I was born. A walk through the major streets would reveal houses built by teenagers who started with using their bodies in exchange for favours locally before they decided to embark on international trips to get favours from men in other climes. Such gestures get them a lot of admiration in the country where the majority live on less than two dollars a day. However, not all of them end up sending their male siblings to school or building apartments for rent to help their relatives, some end up under the sea or in an equally traumatic circumstance.
In November, 2017, the bodies of 26 teenager from Edo State ranging from 14 years to 18 years old were fished out of the Mediterranean Sea as they were attempting to migrate to Europe. This incident was confirmed by Marco Rotunno an Italian Spokesman of the UN Refugee Agency. The local media got in a frenzy and took up the story from there. One of them reported that the mother of one of the victims used to get cross with her ‘for giving her body to boys in the neighborhood for free when she could get paid in Italy for doing same’ (paraphrased) Unfortunately she bowed to the wishes of her mum as well as the conflicted society and as a result gave a last bow on this side of the divide.