I have had a very tumultuous life. I have been homeless, penniless and unemployed. I have also been sexually abused, physically abused, and raped – twice. For the larger part of my life I was mostly a victim of my cultural conditioning. But there was one time in my life that I fought back and won. This is the story.
It is a vague memory now but I recollect that we were encouraged to participate in a theatre performance that gave meaning to months of studying Nigerian Oral Literature. 'We' here comprised mostly 2nd year students in the department of English and Literature, Linguistics and Theatre Arts in the University of Benin, Nigeria.
We finished rehearsals late that day, about 11 pm or later. In those days we had to steal whatever time was available to rehearse, on whatever stage was available. Usually we rehearsed at the campus annex that was very close to my parents home, so it was easy for me to walk home afterwards. On other days, like this one, our rehearsals were at the main campus, which was quite a distance away from my home. Our stage director was a lecturer in the department of Theatre Arts. An old man with a drooping stance and long white beards that surrounded his very light complexioned skin. His very exotic looks combined with an almost palpable devotion to the Arts, and his no-nonsense attitude to work formed a major part of the attraction for us.
On that day, the director, knowing it was late, was particularly concerned about the safety of the cast and crew, especially the girls. He wanted to know where we were would sleep and how we intended to get there. He organised people who were commuting to a similar location in groups. A few people who lived on that campus offered shelter to others so they would not have to travel home that night. I and another girl got an offer from a boy named Femi, one which I gladly accepted because I was not willing to face the barrage of questions that my parents would have for me if I arrived at home at that time of night.
Suddenly, as we walked towards the boy's room, my friend changed her mind and decided to head home. We tried to dissuade her but she was determined to and even asked that I accompany her. I declined because I felt it was safer to stay on campus. She then left for home alone.
As Femi and I made our way to his room, I must admit I had some concerns about being alone with him. I voiced them by asking him where he would sleep. He said this was not an issue as he would stay in the room of one of his flatmates. I was satisfied with that answer - in those days I was very trusting- and followed him to the room.
The official hostel accommodation was grossly insufficient for students and mostly run down. So some students pooled together to rent 3-4 bedroom flats nearby. Each person was allocated a room but everyone shared common facilities like bathrooms, kitchens, and living rooms. My host's room was a very small affair with a ceiling fan, a carpet on the tiled floor, a clothes rack that hung just beside the door and a mattress on the floor, against the wall. The regular student furniture. It was a bit untidy and dank, and there was no electricity but I was grateful for the favour.
When we arrived he appeared quite the gentleman, running around and getting water for my bath, laying out his tee shirt for me to change into, and stepping out while I undressed and dressed up. But I began to become increasingly uncomfortable when he did not seem to be making any attempt to leave the room for me as I settled in to sleep. I asked him several times when he would leave and he responded that he would go eventually. After a while he said he he had decided to sleep on the floor while I took the bed. This made me extremely uneasy as there was little demarcation between the 'bed' – which was just a mattress- and the floor. More out of exhaustion than ease, I began to settle down to sleep, making sure that I moved to the extreme end of the bed, and, as much as was possible in that space, out of his reach.
I must have fallen asleep for a few minutes when I felt this hand on my breast. I woke up startled and pushed it off. He pretended to be in deep sleep but his hand somehow managed to remain heavy on my body. I struggled and pushed it away, moving myself farther from him and hoping that this would strongly indicate that I wanted no part of whatever he was planning. By this time of course the fog of sleepiness had dispersed from my eyes and I was just lying still praying for morning.
His next move was to roll slowly onto the 'bed'. Noticing this I shifted away even further, although there was not much space for me anymore as I had backed up into the wall. Again he placed his hand on me. This time on my torso. But it was not a light touch, it was a firm, heavy grip. As I wrestled his hand off, he rose and tried to lay his full weight on me. That was when I went crazy.
I began to punch, kick and bite every body part of his that was within the vicinity of my hands, my legs and my teeth. I remember biting his ear, his fingers, kicking his groin. I punched and poked his eyes as he trashed helplessly in the dark trying to contain this obviously wild cat. I must have dealt him an exceptionally wicked blow at some point because he suddenly stopped trying to attack me and rolled over to the floor where he had been previously. But I was not done. I continued to kick him, bite him, scratch him, all the while calling him names like 'bastard', 'idiot', 'fool' until he had no choice but to run out of the room through the only door. Thereafter I locked the door and went to sleep.
He knocked at the door several times in an attempt to make me open it, pleading that he was sorry or that he needed something from the room but I totally ignored him. In the morning, once I was certain that it was bright enough for anyone to see if he attempted to touch me, I put on my clothes from yesterday, picked up my bag, opened his door and left for home. I did not say word to him or anyone else in the flat as I walked out.
I look back at that day and still marvel at my courage. I know now where it came from though. I was a painfully shy young woman with a serious lack of self esteem, growing up. And, like most Nigerian girls I had been brought up not to be expressive. But all those evenings of drama and dance rehearsals, the clumsy attempts at traditional dances, endless repetition of lines, cues and blocking in the stage play, etc., in full glare of an uninvited and unforgiving audience had developed my confidence. And more importantly for that brief period, it had given me my voice.
The director's words to me when I related the incident to him was proof of this. Despite the spirited fight I put up in Femi's room, I was very deflated by what had happened. I stayed away from rehearsal for a day. When I showed up a day after I was given a public scolding by the director for not turning up the day before. I then pulled him aside and told him what happened. He was so apologetic and very scandalised. I consoled him by telling him how I fought and bit off this potential rape attempt.
“Good!” he said, as he raised his head to looked directly at me his eyes clouded with anger, “ You should have bitten his *manhood* off”.
*Manhood is Nigerian parlance for penis