Blurred Lines: A Short Story.

‘Oya Oya, Dami… Gist me’

‘Is that the new way to say hello?’

‘Dami, don’t play with me like that’

‘Nigerian men have a problem’ I reply, nudging the phone between my shoulder and my ears,while unhooking my bra,  taking off my jewellery, wiping my makeup, washing my hands.  My daily ritual once inside my room.

‘Nne, you are hot. That is their problem’ Amaka replies, excitement bubbling from her voice. I had sent her a message on whatsapp a few minutes ago. It had read ‘I am having an office romance (?) with one of the senior associates.’

Amaka is that friend with whom my friendship solidified over a painful heartbreak caused by her own closest male friend. He had spent 7 months wooing me. I was 19, had never been in a relationship and was afraid of trying it out.

‘I dont think I have time for this? It is too much effort. Too much committment’ I would tell him.

‘But there will be two of us, it will half the effort. It will make the commitment easier, Damilola’ Maleek would say

I gave in after 7 months and after the first date, we went to dinner, and on his persuasion went to my hostel accommodation and had sex, on even more extreme persuasion.  He never called after that. When I did, he was never with his phone. I ran into him during Amaka’s 20th birthday and the dinner conversation was as stale as bread which had sat on the counter for an entire winter. Amaka later became privy to my heart break, listened to me cry about how he was my first and was going to be the last; how I screamed during sex not from pleasure but from intense pain. I told her I was raped as a child. I told her it felt like being raped, again. She cried at that point.I was the one holding her. Consoling her. She was the first person I opened up to, about being raped. She was the last. I do not know how to relate my feelings or emotions. She broke those walls and so with her, and only with her could I relate the darkest crevices of my life on which the sun does not shine, ever.

‘Hellooooo, but nne this guy is hot oo’ Amaka hollers down the line. ‘And you said he is 36?’

‘Yes Amaka. He looks incredible for his age.’ I reply, closing my door. I didn’t want my father walking in on this conversation. He had made a few high profile calls to get me this high profile internship.

‘Oya gist me now. Warrapun?’

‘I dont even know how to start this story.’

‘Start from what you wore on that the first day, what dress, what shoes, what lipstick…’

‘You know I wont do that!’

‘Dami, what is the point of this gist now? Are you not just burning my credit?’ Amaka hisses down the line, while I listen to the faint click-click sound in the background; she was still facebook stalking him.

‘Amaka, I don’t even think this is an office romance to be honest. You know I put the question mark right next to romance.’

‘Yeah I saw that. What does that mean? Okay, just start this gist from the beginning now. You just know how to kill a niggress’ vibe’.

‘I have told you I don’t like that word’

‘Really? Dami? Are we doing this now?’ Amaka says, an edge of irritation rising in her voice

I sigh and prepare to emotionally offload on her; unlike Amaka who gets pleasure in sharing details of her life with me, in finding out mine; I dread every minute of it. I unload the details of how I met Obi to Amaka. My father had pulled a few strings to get me an internship at a law firm. The first 3 weeks of the internship I had been working peacefully. Obi is a senior associate at the law firm. My conversations with him bordered on ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’. We never really spoke, unlike some of the obviously prey-like male associates, he never made comments on anyone’s appearance or made unnecessary conversation. He was the most mature and the most liked amongst the other interns.

‘So on the low he was eyeing you now, Dami?’ Amaka giggled girlishly; as though we were 12 years old and talking about our school crushes.

‘I wouldn’t say that Amaka. I mean I think everything changed the day another lawyer, asked me to go find out authorities for how on when the word ‘may’ when used in a statute actually connotes ‘must’ or ‘shall’. You know this is what is really interesting about words- not just in law but in every day life….’

‘Hian! Dami, you know I don’t give a shit about your law. If I start talking about Economics  now, you will get lost. Just tell me about Obi now?’ Amaka chided, ironically ignoring the fact that most of our university days I had spent my time studying for two degrees,  hers and mine, writing her cumulative essays and preparing her for compulsory exam questions.  ‘I just want a 50’ she would say, while getting restless during the tutoring. ‘Pass mark.  I am not too greedy’, she would add, taking jabs at my need to be perfect,  in everything I did,  especially my grades.  While I concentrated hard on getting our two degrees,  she concentrated hard on stumbling in and out of clubs and Afro-Carribean society events around London.

‘Anyway’ I said, realising that Amaka had little interest in lexicon and semantics.

I relieved to Amaka how I spent the day I was to be doing library research in conversation with him the whole day. Amaka thought that was abnormal because I had about 10 sentences to say each day,  even to people I love. I told her how the next day, he had envelopped me in a very unexpected  hug when I walked into the office library, and during the hug, broke off the hug to let his lips trace my face with kisses, down to my neck and back up, meeting my lips. Amaka squeals with excitement.

‘Why do you always get the juicy love stories?’ She exclaims! You are the cynic but you get all the Suits action.

‘This isnt Suits action Amaka. I can’t decide if this is a case of sexual harrassment in the work place. I definitely did not do anything to encourage this… I mean he just should think he can do that.’

‘But you did not stop him?’ Amaka says interjecting.

‘No, not really. I mean he is an attractive guy. I was attracted to him. In fact the first day I was introduced to him, I made a mental note of his hotness. But it stopped at that. I didnt go groping him in the office after that…?’

‘Wait Dami?’ What is your point? That if this happened outside the office you would be fine?’

‘No! The point is that he is in a position of authority; I am his intern, who happens to be female. But I shouldnt have to go through that; I shouldnt be treated differently from Erasmus…’

‘Who is that one now?’ Amaka pitches in

‘The other male intern in the office.’ I respond, hurrying back to my point. ‘Point is that he took advantage of that position, as well as jumped into conclusions kissing me, in the office library, merely a day after he met me.’A part of me feels I am being taken advantage of Amaka.’ I say, the last sentence, coming out frailly.

‘I see your pont Dami….’

‘But I didnt really stop him. I let him kiss me the first day. The rest of the days in this week, we have been having our little office escapades,  I come in some minutes earlier to work because I am trying to beat traffic or on our way back from court…

‘So he is forcing himself on you?’ Amaka says taking on her motherly protective instincts

‘I wont say he is. I never initiate the kiss. But when he kisses me, I don’t push him away…’

‘Rightfully so, the guy is fucking  specimen of beauty.  Finally I have seen one hot Nigerian lawyer, because you people always look like struggle….’she teases.

‘Babe, see the fact is that I don’t think a guy should just assume he could do that, whether in the office or out of the office.  He feels entitled to me and my body.  Like he hugged me and kissed me based off of this entitlement…’

‘Abeg Dami, you have come again. This your feminism will not allow you find husband or boyfriend sef. Didn’t you just tell me you were attracted to him too? Maybe he could tell that you were feeling him too and he was feeling you and that was the result. All this talk about entitlement or not, and yet when he kisses you,  you kiss him back finish and come here to give me lecture on entitlement’ Amaka lectures in mock derision.

‘Amaka, everything in life is not about finding husband. Sometimes take time to appreciate the niceties of issues before you link it to husbands, please’ I respond, mocking her too.

‘So what is happening now?  Is he asking you out or what? ‘ Amaka continues,  ignoring me.

‘He just keeps asking for us to hang out outside the office during the weekends…’

‘Dami, that one sounds like a booty call o’  Amaka says defensively.

‘That is exactly what I thought….’

‘Do you like him though? ‘

‘Amaka He is 36. I am barely 25.’

‘And your father is currently married to a woman 30 years his junior… So what is your point?. Abeg, do you like him? ‘

‘I think I do.  But a part of me is scared because what happens when he makes more demands that I don’t feel comfortable with. Moreover this is highly unprofessional.  He is a superior at the office…Mehn I don’t know babe. ‘

‘You should go out on a date with him. Just make sure you drive there and have vex money. If he makes any funny moves, text me to give you an emergency call…’Amaka rattles on and on.

‘I don’t know Amaka. We work in the same office…’

‘Man must sha find husband somewhere.  Whether work or church… Stop over doing this feminism thing’ she finally says before the network cuts us off.  I knew she would call back immediately.

Of Catcalls and Fragile Egos…

I am walking down a street,
It is dark, fruitlessly  lit by dim yellow street lights
I am wearing my sports clothes
They are wet and clinging to my body
I am uncomfortable; because they show contours of my body I am trying to modify in the gym

I walk past you, you are standing tall with someone else beside you
right in the middle of a narrow road with cars double parking all the way down the street
‘Fine girl’ you call out, as I squeeze past, my head down and my eyes glued to my phone.
You are convinced I owe you an answer
Or perhaps you are slighted by the fact that
a woman would not indulge your careless and thoughtless attempt
at sexualising her on a random street

With bitterness in your tone
You call out ‘you cannot answer? Will it reduce you to answer?’
For a second, the jab at my insecurity startles me.
There is snickering from your companion. You are encouraged
‘See as you be like man.’
‘See as you be like Taribo West’ you call out and your partner snickers all the more.

I am tempted to turn around to yell out the obvious, which the log sitting comfortably in your eyes would not permit you to notice.
The fact that you, an adult ‘man’, are standing in the middle of a darkly lit street,
In front of a provision store by day, turned beer parlour by night
Wearing a jersey that is at least 2 sizes too small
Not considering your 6-month-pregnancy-sized potbelly squeezing through the shirt, Occupying more space on the street than the entire frame of the other grown man standing next to you

Yelling out invitations to a young woman, rather a form,
for the street is too dark to make out much else,
whose attractiveness or lack thereof
Whose charm or lack there of,
Whose character or lack thereof
Is unknown to you,
And whose silence stuns you to stupefaction and bruises your fragile ego
That all you can do to maintain your ego and masculinity
Is to assume that she looks like a man.

The irony.
Or perhaps you must be on to something though.
I must look like the man, because you, with your football sized head and swollen beer belly have the semblance of a heavily pregnant woman.

I snicker at you and your perceptiveness.
I raise my head from my phone, chuckling,
The insults you pelt to mask your mental and emotional fragility
Rolling off my back, like water off a duck’s back.
I glide more gracefully  down the road.

 

Oh how that must have hurt you to see
Oh ye of fragile ego
Whose masculinity is threatened by the silence of a random stranger
Watch me sashay away’

‘Dress like a Lady’

Disney Princesses

My alarm rings at 6:30am. I have to be at the hospital at 9am, I have some few minutes to drift in and out of sleep. I swing around slowly on my bed and with my head tightly pressed against my pillow, I hoist my body weight on my right hand and fumble around the table with my left hands for my phone.

‘Work Hard! Play Hard! Work Hard Play Hard! Work, Work, Work,…’ the alarm goes as I continue to drift in and out of consciousness while searching for my phone. I know it will be much more efficient if I got up and looked for my phone. But as a young over worked public hospital doctor, I value my limited hours of sleep disproportionately more than the average person. My fingers run into a couple of keys and my forefinger gets stuck with the key holder. I clumsily continue to fumble around the table till my fingers make contact with my glass of water which I intended to drink from the night before but had slept off.

‘Aunty, drink a glass of water early in the morning and immediately you go to bed, this your pimple go clear’, a cashier at the bank had offered her unsolicited advice while I ran a bank errand for father. Her effrontery irritated me and yet I found myself following her advice, which I had heard previously, followed and discarded. At least she was not rude about it. I had heard worse; ‘Aunty, how you be doctor and still dey get pimple like this?’ the man at the convenience store had said while I attempted to buy some cotton wool last week. I hiss angrily and perhaps, in transferred aggression, move my hand a tad forcibly away from the glass. Somehow, it colludes instead with the glass and it clatters noisily unto the tiles on the floor!

‘Merde!’ I scream and swing my feet off the bed and let it hang mid air while observing the mess I have made on the floor. I had a habit of cursing in French; it is the only aftermath of my relationship with Martin. There was nothing spectacular about the relationship; no highs and no lows.  Four years of my life spent dating a french guy, the alleged most romantic men on earth and my verdict is … I have no verdict. It was uneventful. I wonder why I stayed. Actually I don’t wonder. I stayed because it was just enough escape from medical school and the mountainous responsibility I faced.

I stayed because it was that point in my life where as Tonye describes, ‘everybody and their mothers are in serious relationships’. It felt like secondary school all over; like Jss3 every girl’s breasts seemed, like flowers in the hands of a very industrious and zealous gardener, to sprout and blossom. Except mine! I felt as though this gardener had forgotten about me. There was no sprouting and no blossoming! Boarding school was hard. I wasn’t going to do that all over as a grown woman so when Martin came around, I stayed with him. When I broke up with him, he simply said, ‘Okay’. I didn’t even need to give a reason for the breakup.

I move my eye from the floor back unto the table, the water on the table quickly soaking up my the papers on my table while some of it drops noiselessly unto the floor, amongst the shards of glass scattered across the floor.

Mer-de!’ I repeat, a bit more drawn out now as I pick the larger pieces of glass off the floor and dust my flip-flops to ensure that the tinier particles are not stuck to them. Although I have my slippers on, I still tip toe out of the room, as though I was stepping in a mine field.

Downstairs in the kitchen, Garuba is  refilling the water dispenser.

‘Good morning sister’ he says, his eyes fitted low, away from my eyes. I have been home now for over 2 months and Garuba refuses to look at my eyes while he speaks to me. When he speaks to me, his eyes are trained down, as though his eyes are being drawn by a magnetic force or they obey a force of gravity that the rest of world’s defies.

‘Garuba, you know, you don’t have to look down while you talk to me?’, I had offered during my first week of being home. I haven’t been home in nearly 4 years. I had been in the UK getting my first degree qualification. I am now a Dr and my father insists on using me as his little show puppet. He takes me around everywhere, to the bank, to the filling station, and to friends’ houses. Everywhere he introduces me as ‘his daughter, the Doctor’. When he had asked Garuba to unload my luggage from the car when I got home, he had said ‘Pick doctor’s bag from the boot’ he had said.

Although I am very proud of my achievement, I know the effect to which my father used those words, and they did not make me proud. He used it as a term to put in bold, the societal lines between us and the rest of the world, as though a mansion at Banana Island and various houses in Abu Dhabi, London and New York acquired through his various government contracts did not draw them well enough. So when I asked Garuba to call me by my name Halima, not Doctor and when I asked him to speak to me with his eyes raised, I was attempting to blur those lines. Moreover, Garuba was a grown man, in his mid or late twenties. He didn’t have to refer to me with exaggerated respect just because he worked for my father.

However, I soon came to find out that Garuba had a habit of starring down, not because he respected me but because he had a habit of starring at my legs. It didn’t matter what I was wearing, shorts, skirts, jeans, a wrapper or a long or short gown, when I was within sight, Garuba would stare at my length of my legs, at the space between my thighs and the width of my thighs. I know this because he stares at father and mother and Abubakar in the face while he is addressed.

Today was no different. He stared at my legs while he said good morning, while I picked up the broom and the dustpan and while he offered to do the cleaning for me. He starred, not for one minute stopping to blink his eyes, or to meet my gaze, although I spoke directly to him. He kept his head lowered and stared at my legs.


‘Halima? Halima? Halima?’

‘Yes daddy’ I say while I stand at the door of my parents’ room, my arms against my chest and my feet crossed at the ankles.

‘So you want me to run downstairs, this early morning and scold a house boy, to scold Garuba for staring at your legs when you have refused to cover them up’  he says, peering at me through his glasses, running his eyes disgusted down the length of my pyjamas.’

‘Papa, so I am supposed to walk around my father’s house wrapped up like an Egyptian mummy so that Garuba will not stare at my legs? It isn’t only about today and these shorts. It is a routine. I have noticed it since I came home this summer.’

‘And since you came home this summer haven’t you run around this city in shorts which are not your pyjamas either? You spend seven years abroad and you forget your values eh? You seem to have forgotten you are a woman! Walking up and down Lagos bare- legged. Now you want me to warn Garuba for staring at your naked legs!  After that do you want me to pick fights with every man on the street too who stares at your legs as well? My friend, go and find something to do with your time.’ he says, with a wave of his hand in dismissal and his tongue laden with disgust and mockery.

‘Papa, I do not run around the city in shorts. As a matter of fact, I have worn shorts once, out of this house and that was last Saturday when I went to the beach with Tonye. When I go to my placement at the hospital Papa, I wear a black skirt and a white shirt. That is the mandatory outfit. But daddy, that is not the point I should be able to wear anything that makes me feel comfortable, especially in my father’s house without a man starring lasciviously between my thighs.’

‘I am not here to argue with you young lady. When you go back to London, you can dress like a harlot if you want! But while you are in this house, under my roof, you will dress like a lady!

My anger boils from the sole of my feet upwards and up to the top of my head. Yet I am unable to find words to convey to my emotions. I wish Tonye were here now. She was quick with words. She would know what she would say to father that he would have him balling in shame over his present attitude. I had watched her severally demolish man after man who to his  ultimate misfortune grabbed her ass at the club or assumed that she wanted to be taken home that night because she came to the club dressed ‘so  goddamn sexy.’

Why did you leave your house dressed so goddamn sexy if you did not want the attention?’ Tonye knew what to say that got the guy apologising the for half of the night and the other half seated at the smoking area with Tonye having a chat about sexism and women. I should have been learning from her so that I would be able to tell my father that I reserved a right not to be groped or mentally undressed by any man irrespective of what my dressing did to or for him. But for now I can’t figure out my words quite right or put them in words profound enough to shame my father, so instead I start towards the door.


‘Sister, I don clean the water. I comot the glass too’, Garuba mutters, head bent as I storm back to my room. I stop for an instant, looking at him brush and dustpan in hand, big pieces of glass neatly stacked on the dust pan like I had picked them earlier.

I close the gap between him and I in a few step and now I am inches away from his bent head. There are a few inches of height difference between us too; I am taller. ‘You should know…’ I say picking up one of the bigger pieces of glasses off the dustpan, my face is now a kissing distance from his. His eyes dart around frantically, bouncing off the walls of the corridor like he was there for the first time.

‘Garuba’ I continue, slowly, not in a hurry. ‘I have a message for you’

‘Anything Sister’ he responds his eyes now trained at my fingers and the piece of glass between them.

‘Anything bah?’ I repeat

‘Anything Sister’ he says nodding his head slowly.

‘Garuba, any day I dey talk to you, and your eye dey down here’ I was saying using my left hand to indicate my thighs and the length of my legs while his eyes run down the length of my legs quickly and a bad performance at surprise follows.

‘I repeat am oo, Garuba, any day wey your eye dey down here, or any other place wey e no suppose be, you see this glass wey dey my hand so…’ I say indicating the glass in the big shard of glass standing aggressively between the fingers.

‘I go use am design your face…’

His mouth drops.

‘After I don use am commot your eyes, the two of them!’ I conclude while his mouth shuts and drops repeatedly like a drowning aquaphobic.

His eyes finally meet mine after he finally recollects himself. I don’t wait for him to speak the words which have finally formed on his lips. I walk away with my piece of glass.

This is way quicker than figuring out what it means to dress like a lady!

Apparently, I am a ‘BIG BLACK BOOTY’

Last week, I was walking down town and walked past a group of primary school kids. I think they were about 10 or 11 years old. As I walked down, past the kids, I heard a bold little voice say, loud enough for me to hear…

‘Big Black Booty’

There was giggling, and then there was another voice ‘shhing’ him.

‘What it is true? Big Black Booty’ he repeated amidst further giggling.

It took me a few seconds to realise the boy was referring to me. I was mortified and flabbergasted. My head felt very light, my heart beat faster, my steps becoming heavier. Here I am; a victim of a racist and sexist attack, combined- two things which I have for which I have the least tolerance. My gut reaction was to turn around and slap the racism and sexism out of this person. It didn’t matter that he was just a child anymore, barely 10. I just hoped that I would slap him so hard so that if he woke up from the coma he would never use those three words simultaneously again.

My steps got slower and then my heart beat faster, and this time with a sharp pain. I realised that I was never going to be able to do that- not that I couldn’t slap someone into a coma. But I wasn’t going to be able to do that because I live in a country where child protection laws are even more strident than terrorist laws. Slapping a child is akin to bombing the twin towers. I decided instead to turn around and address the boy and his giggling friends. To tell them that it was never okay to look at any woman, and ascribe to her those 3 letter words to me. I wanted to teach them that about how demeaning it was to look at me, a grown  woman, who has a lot more than my sexuality or colour of my skin to offer the world and to reduce me to that.

I wanted to do all of this but I did not trust myself. I did not trust myself to speak in a controlled manner, to speak without screaming at these kids. Situations when I have been that offended, so deeply offended, I have failed to remain calm. I did not want to speak to kids, who were so rude to utter that in the first place. They would probably walk out on me, taunt me more or laugh at me more, and with all this, I couldn’t trust myself not to revert to my gut reaction or to say things which could be considered hate speech against the whites or to break down crying.

Furthermore, the more I contemplated speaking to them the more the reality of the situation dawned on me; a young black woman against a few innocent looking white boys. They had each other to back themselves up, who would back me up? Even if there were 100 black people who witnessed the event, against the 5 white boys, I knew that possibilities were that they would believe them. They were kids, and they were white. A friend once told me the story of a young black man(his brother) who was assaulted by a woman on the streets of London with absolutely no prior provocation. The woman rained insults on him while he drew money out of a cash machine.

‘Go back to your country, nigger. Whose money is that you are drawing? ‘she said amongst other insults. At first the boy ignored her, till she got more vehement, and physically abusive, hitting him across his back, even as he walked away. The boy then called the police reporting the situation. When the police swooped down and witnessed the scene, they pounced on the black boy, squished his face across the ground and his arms were handcuffed backwards while he plead his innocence, and his ‘victimhood’. Not until another white woman spoke up for him was he released, given a weak apology and was the other lady given a ‘firm’ warning. I believe sociologists have a name for this situation- White Affirmation? But the questions remain- why wasn’t she handcuffed or why wasn’t he given a firm warning? This wasn’t London, this is a small English town. It was my word against that of 5 white boys. The odds were not in my favour.

I decided to walk away, with a sharp pain in my chest. The little boy walked away from the situation thinking it was okay to say what he said to a black woman. I am a grown black woman, who is a stranger, and he had the guts to say that to me? So what does he say to the little black girl in his class? Does she feel the same pain in her chest as I did, and still do even as I reaffirm this story? Or does she take it up to the teacher? Does the teacher give him a ‘firm’ warning or does he make sure he is disciplined? Does he always get away with it? Did he say it knowing that he would get away with it- that the odds were in his favour? Who are his parents? Where did he learn to equalise a living entity to 3 letter words? Would his parents laugh if he said this in front of them? Or they be mortified? Is he the bad egg of the current society, the outlaw, or is he a representation of the modern society? Are other people just more discerning, better able to  hide their feelings while thinking the same thoughts or do they get appalled by likes of this boy? After relating this story to a friend of mine, she told me of the day a group of primary school kids of similar age to the ones above, laughed and pelted stones at her on her way back from lectures? She walked away too! Has the society of black women who ought to make a difference all walked away? Have we in our shock shied away from responsibility?

I don’t know the answers to these and that is why I suspect that the pain in my chest remains. I still feel shame for walking away, and I feel anger that a little boy thinks it is okay to use those words on women. As I crawled into my bed that night and relieved the incident, lines from Kofi Awoonor’s  Songs of Sorrow came to my mind:

‘I am on the world’s extreme corner,
I am not sitting in the row with the eminent
But those who are lucky
Sit in the middle and forget
I am on the world’s extreme corner’

Black women are on the world’s extreme corner- we are black and we are women; victims of racism and sexism combined- the worst end of the bargain!

Contrary to the feelings we have when we face bad situations, I wish there is a next time. I wish this situation repeats itself. I hope I don’t walk away again. I hope I say something, reasoned and effective. I am tired of being at the corner; it is time we, black women, pushed the boundaries.