Queen Bessie: From Victim to Queen

Her palms were sweating through the handkerchief she held in them. She tapped her foot on the tiled floor nervously. Her heart pounded so loudly that she heard every beat. She shifted in her seat, glancing towards the door. She figured she could make it out of the restaurant fast enough that she would not run in to him on her way out. She pushed her seat back with her and was preparing to get up and run when the waitress came to her with a smile, “Can I get you a drink while you wait? Maybe some bread for the table?” She leaned back, looking at the waitress while she made up her mind. “Actually, yes! Can I get a cocktail?”

“Which one? We have our house cocktail ‘the club special’; we also have a Pinacolada that has won some awards. Oh and….” The waitress was overly eager.

“Which is your strongest?” She cut her off rather crudely. She definitely was not interested in their award winning cocktail ingredients.

“Well, it kind of depends. We make them very mild to suit everyone but we can increase the alcoholic content at your request. Say! For instance……”

“Ok. Good! Get me your Club Special with the maximum alcohol content you are allowed for it.” She cut her off again. She wasn’t in the mood for friendly human interaction.

“Ok, Ma’am.” The waitress was still at it. “And may I ask? Do you prefer a slice of……” She had really had it with this perky cheerful drop of freaking sunshine waitress so she gently placed her arm on hers.

“Sweetie. I know you’re doing your job and you know what? You’re great at it.” The waitress’ eyes sparkled, indicating that this was not a thing she heard very often. “But I’m not in a chirpy, hyperactively good customer service mood. So get me your club special, lots of booze and no ice. No fruit, No vegetables, nothing. That’s it! Can you do that, honey?” The waitress nodded and skipped away.

She turned towards the door again. She was now facing a new variable to her calculations. She was now evaluating the possibility of escape before her drink or her date had arrived. She got out her phone. It is was 15 minutes past the hour. He was late, a little but still late. She didn’t know if this fact brought relief or anger. Did she want him to be late? Did this momentary lapse of punctuality raise a red flag that she was not yet aware of? Did this mean he was always late and she should get used to it? Was he standing her up? Had he forgotten about her? Or did he hear something from someone about her? It must have been something he heard or something he researched. With Google and online government databases, not to mention that ‘the incident’ was indeed public knowledge, he must have found out. Once again she regretted it; the party, the assault report, the dreadful court case, everything.

It had been exactly 2 years, 8 months and 13 days since she was raped by men, no monsters, whom she had assumed were her friends and she had never really been the same afterwards. Maybe it was the betrayal by friends she’d held dear, or the unnecessary intense scrutiny she had received reporting the case, Maybe, it was the case itself and the way her school’s publication followed every motion, every ruling, Maybe it was just the rape. The whole thing had changed her so much. She was once outgoing, overly social and extremely friendly; the real life of the party. But one fatefully rainy day in November, her charismatic strengths led her to her impending doom. She in her third year of Veterinary School and so far she was enjoying every part of it. Her grades were good, she was sufficiently involved in campus activities and she had made friends, most of the male variety, but only because not a lot of women glamorized the care of farm animals like she did, but it wasn’t something that had bothered her much. One Friday in November, she was invited for a small after-school get together. The message had said, “Lots of food, music and drinks. Bring your own girl.” At the time, she giggled at the sentiment that each was to appear with a female companion. At the same time, she was relieved that she wouldn’t be the only female attending this party. Friday evening rolled through swiftly, she walked with a few of her closest study buddies to an off-campus residence apparently belonging to a friend of a friend. They said he didn’t mind a bunch of strangers partying at his house, he actually enjoyed it. On their way there, Bessie did what she assumed was research; diligently asking Kobe if he knew this guy enough to trust him. He didn’t really know him. She asked Patrick and Phil (Short for Philemon) the same, they gave no more detailed answers than Kobe. She stopped dead in her tracks, the boys soon after she did. She said, “Guys, are we sure about this? I mean I love a party just as much as the next girl but I don’t know how I feel about this.” The men were quick to calm her with words like, “You’re going with us aren’t you? We’ll make sure nothing fishy happens. Don’t worry. He’s Jay’s Friend. We’re all friends, aren’t we?” Looking back, she now knew that was the moment she should have turned back and walked straight to her hostel a few paces away. She wished she did, but instead she believed these friends of hers and walked on towards her personal Armageddon.

It was twenty minutes past the hour now. The overly cheerful waitress returned with her drink and enough sense not to say much to her. Her date was now twenty minutes late and counting. She stirred her drink with her straw before she took it out and took a large swig of her drink. It was strong but for the kind of day she was having, it wasn’t strong enough. She would need a few more if she was to make it to the end of this evening and even more to spend the evening on this date. You see, Bessie had been having a totally normal day when she received a message to a friend with a link. “Gang Rape at Veterinary School: Do you know what you’re children are doing while away?” Her heart had sunk at the moment when the headline popped up on the screen. It hadn’t returned to normalcy yet. She knew the court case was public record but she had never assumed that some journalist would use it. Apart from her rescuer and a few friends, no one knew what had happened. The school publication had been smart enough to redact all facts that led to her identity. Despite this fact, she had not returned to school after that. She dropped out and convinced her parents that she was more into entrepreneurship now. She wished she had let her parents know exactly what happened that November Night. But now the damage was pretty much done. There was no saving face or damage control at this point. The stage at which she had arrived required truthfulness and courage to relive the incident every time she told it. It was excruciating to think about. She hadn’t read the article all the way through, just the headline was enough to send her stomach into painful knots.  She got out her phone. It had been off since she read the headline; she wasn’t quite ready for the mental torture. She would see if she was now. She powered it up. The tiny aluminum colored device began to dance on the table violently; everyone was looking for Bessie. Her name must have leaked in the article as her phone vibrated violently seeking her attention. She ignored the messages, she wasn’t in the mood to be pitied and judged all at the same time.

The headline had already made it to her browser’s news reel. She clicked on the headline. As it loaded at what seemed to be a snail’s pace, she could already tell that even though the headline seemed generalized and informative, the article was specific to her case and vindictive. For why, even though he thought he was serving the greater good, would a journalist publish her name and all the particulars of the case without asking if he should share or conceal her, the victim’s identity. The first thing that she saw on the website was her school ID picture. She must have been 17 when that was taken. The caption read ‘Beatrice, now 20, was forced to drop out after she was unable to convince the school administration that her rape was not her fault.’

“What?” Bessie exclaimed loudly. Everyone turned in their seats to look at her. She did not notice. She began reading the article. And as if the publicity surrounding her rape were not enough, the author of the article all but asserted that Bessie caused her own rape. He used quotes like ‘A girl like Beatrice is known to play hard to get in the daylight and let too loose in the evening. These girls tease our boys then get intoxicated around them expecting them to express nothing but self-control and awe for their tiny outfits’ Again, her inner voice reminded her that reading this article would cause nothing but harm and emotional trauma. She had to police her heart, her therapist had always insisted. You mustn’t allow yourself to be exposed to triggers for your condition. That’s what he called it, a condition. At first, it had bothered her so she asked that he called an illness meaning that it was curable. He had declined stating that it was in fact incurable but optimistically he added that it was a treatable condition.  She stared at her phone. She should have been calling the therapist or at least her date but instead she kept reading the foulest words she had ever heard or read about herself.  This time she focused on seeing if any of her rapists had been mentioned. Then another quote ‘Your sons like these young men charged with the alleged rape of Beatrice are being lured like snake bait and then arrested for giving in to their most primal urges. Ludicrous!’

“Ludicrous?” She was laughing now while she spoke out aloud. “It’s not ludicrous to be a rapist in the first place?” When she looked up from her laughter, her date stood before her gazing at her. She composed herself quite quickly and said hello. He replied taking his seat across from her.

“Why you’re in a good mood for a girl whose date is half an hour late. What are you reading there?” He gestured at her phone. She instinctively covered the phone not wanting to bring up the whole article or rape thing and looked straight in his eyes. They gleamed with curiosity behind the gleaming was a sparkle that you could not miss. The sparkle in the eye of a man about to crown his queen. This man had been obsessed with her for a few months now and she couldn’t figure out why. They never did anything other than meet for meals and talk. He had always been a gentleman and never even asked why he was never permitted to ask her out on a more intimate date. Most guys gave up at around the third month of expensive lunches and fancy coffees but here he was, eight months later, with that damn sparkle in his stupid big brown eyes. Why didn’t he just give up? Why didn’t he just run!

“So? What’s so ludicrously funny?” He leaned forward, placed his hand over hers and looked deep into her eyes. She was uncomfortable, blood rushing to her face. She began to breathe heavily, deeply as if taking him in, all of him.

“It’s nothing. Just this article.” She wasn’t going to say anything more but somehow it just slipped out. “It’s about me actually. I made the news.” His face lit up.

“Can I read it?” She glanced at his hands over her hands over her phone. It felt like a crude metaphor for what would be of their relationship when she showed him. To reveal what had happened to her, would require her to detach from him first; for her to see him, not as a potential lover, but as a stranger or a plutonic buddy. In her mind, there was no way for them to continue down the path of love after he knew what happened to her.

“No. You can’t. I shouldn’t be reading it either.” His face cringed, he withdrew one palm from the table then the next.

“Why?” The look in his eye was less loving and more curious now. Bessie looked him genuinely trying to decide if her rape was coffee house conversation or pillow talk or one of those ‘never’ conversations. How would this man react to hearing what he wants has been had over and over again by force over her screaming and kicking? He could tell she was battling something deep within. He reached out for her hands again. She withdrew, leaving him to cuff her wrists. She tried to break free, the sensation of his hands around her wrists feeling oddly the same as that night. A feeling of restraint, not affection. Phil had held her down, just like that. She tried again. He wouldn’t let go. He was looking at her squirm and obsess like a caged animal. It seemed absurd, since he didn’t mean to restrain her but to keep her from withdrawing from the conversation. He let go eventually with a heavy sigh; he gave up trying to pry it out of her.

“I read it, Bessie.”

“What?”

“I read the article. It’s everywhere, I’m sorry.” She looked away, fighting back tears with every fibre of her being. He continued speaking, “Frankly, it was distasteful and in my opinion, downright disgusting.” Bessie buried her face in her hands, realising that she couldn’t fight the tears anymore. “I know this is not how you wanted to break it to me. I know maybe you didn’t want to break it to me at all. I know you’re scared that what those animals did to you will follow you forever. I know this article kind of reinforces this fear.” She looked up now, scrambling for a napkin to dry her eyes. He continued while she blew her nose noisily, “It’s not your fault. It can’t even be. I wasn’t there, I know that but I also know you. You are kind-hearted and cheerful and no one!” He took her hands in his, looking her directly in the eyes which at this point felt like a dagger to her soul. “No one, Bessie, least of all you deserves such hostility and injustice. They tried to strip you of your soul, your being and your essence, yet here you are standing tall exuding strength and bravery that I could only dream of. I know you thought I’d run; for a hot second I thought I would too; but how? How could I leave a gem just because it is buried somewhere beneath the surface? I couldn’t possibly leave when I know that I will not, no, cannot find someone as brave as strong as the queen who sits before me. “

Breaking Chains

Advertisements

Why I became a Feminist.

When I was younger, much younger, there were two simple distinctions in human beings. You were only one of two things; a grown-up or a child. Growing up, I never really felt the difference between being born female and being born male. To young me, it was just random allocation like being born with a birthmark someplace; it didn’t really matter. My male friends and cousins and I were never really that different to me at that age. They were just like me, kids hobbling across the earth laughing at silly things.

Then at the age of two and a half, I joined school. Sometimes, I wanted to wear shorts to school. I don’t know why! For a change maybe. It never really made much sense that boys wore shorts and trousers while girls wore skirts and dresses. Still, it didn’t seem like much distinction to my infant brain. Again, I assumed gender was a just small distinction in my life. At that age, we played rough games with boys and enjoyed them as much as we would playing Mud house games with girls. We were just kids, innocent and pure. Hobbling around, discovering silly things

I remember Standard 3 a little too vividly. I had just joined a new school, a preparatory (It sounds fancy but I still don’t know what exactly that means.) New places, new faces, new slang, new fads, new culture. I don’t know if it was the new school or the age we were at but something changed. I was suddenly made aware that life wasn’t all easy and hustle free. I was a lady in the making. Believe or not, It began with an elder schoolmate pulling aside from a parking lot football game ( I loved being the goalie!) and proceeding to let me know that it was uncouth and damn near barbaric that I, in my sky blue school dress, was parading myself in front of these boys. That the only reason I thought I wanted to play football with them was to get their attention and attraction. Attraction was a loaded word when I was in Standard 3 like adolescence or reproduction. Suddenly, I was uncomfortable being myself in that parking lot. I felt exposed, naked like my dress was too short or my hair was too shaggy. I didn’t know if I wanted the attention. I was a child I couldn’t possibly discern my emotions at the time. The truth is my dress wasn’t too short, my hair was always nappy and shaggy and those boys didn’t care that they were playing with a girl; they were just happy they had a big goalie. Needless to say, I have never played football since. I began hobbled around overthinking silly things.

My Standard 5 teacher must have regarded herself a saint, ranking with the Mother Teresas’ when she said this to us. She called a female forum one lunchtime. We were crammed into a classroom while the female teachers hovered around us and silenced for some life advice.  Then the saint stood before us and proceeded to tell us that we NEEDED to be careful how we carry ourselves especially *wait for it* around our fathers.  Yes! She said that we were and I quote, “Too old to be hugging our fathers. Or even be in a room alone with them.” That If we kept ‘being close’ to our fathers, then we would be raped. Yes! I left that room knowing that if I hug my father then I shouldn’t be surprised if he rapes me. I was smart then but not that smart. Naivety was still a close friend of mine. So I stopped hugging my dad. (And I really love my dad) I became obsessed that all men wanted to rape me and if I gave them a chance, they would. I was always on the lookout. I would not be left alone in a room with men and if I was I lamented until this was corrected. I was now hobbling on, paranoid about silly things.

I begged my parents to take me to boarding school when I was around 11, mostly because I hate housework. They obliged. Boarding school reinforced this distinction between how we treat girls and boys. Even though our school was ‘mixed’, we did everything with a measure of distinction. We never saw things from the same perspective even though we were all age mates going through similar life experiences. I was now at the age where girls were blamed for boy’s lack of control and wayward boners. I remember one weekend two boys took to fists and kicks all in the name of a fair lady. Of course, there was a disciplinary meeting but it was only attended by us, girls. We were accused of stuffing our bras to attract boys (We did not! Ok, a few did but that was hardly a reason to carry out a physical inspection of our breasts in an open field like we were prisoners hiding contraband after Family day in the Yard). We were taught how to little ourselves so we would not distract the boys’ education. We weren’t to sing in class, our sweet voices distracted them. We weren’t to walk too fancy (I don’t know what that meant but I believe they implied that there was a limit to how much sway your hips could have.) We weren’t to unbutton the top button on our shirts no matter how hot it was, our soft skinned flat chests distracted them. Our jeans were too tight, our skirts were too short and our shirts too translucent. Oh, and my favorite, they made us all buy bras at 11 even though you were as flat chested as the boys you were protecting.  They also blamed the girl for the fight. I have never seen a better expression of female oppression than I did that day on her face. Given she was asleep on the other side of the school in the girls’ dorm when two dimwits decided to decide her fate over a brawl. She didn’t even desire any of them. She had just matured earlier than us all. She had hips and breasts at 11 but that was hardly her fault. She was punished. The boys, nothing, not even those who fought for women. (Yes! This kept happening.) We made ourselves more conservative for the sake of the minds of young men, too fragile to control themselves, too privileged to be taught how to. They didn’t care that the boys played a perpetual game where the one who spanked the most of us won. We just hobbled around boarding school, worrying about silly things.

As we lived in boarding school, we began to grow up, become women and men. Adolescence, they called it. By standard 8, the proportion of those who had hit puberty tramped that of those who had not. (You already know I had not) As we grew, we floated apart and girls banded together to gossip while the boys banded together to ogle at us or whatever else they laughed about behind our backs. We began to realize that some of us were prettier while others were smarter (the latter did not matter much) at the time, beauty became something you work at. I found myself alienated because I did not want to learn how to use makeup, or texturize my hair or shorten my skirt. I learned that women should be malicious and conniving and we were always meant in perpetual competition. Who’s smarter, who’s prettier, whose parents are richer, and who gets the most male attention? Everything was a competition and I was losing. It became harder to keep female friends. It wasn’t hard making them because it was always a plot. Suddenly I was introduced to a stereotype that I did not fit into. A stereotype that I grew to hate, which at the time meant to hate all women. Now I was stumbling around, caring about stupid things.

I have to say, I was excited to join high school at first. It meant primary school was over. No more bullying, silly competition and gossiping, right? Wrong!! I was bullied more than ever. People loved to make stuff up about the introvert and spread it around. Don’t even get me started on silly competition. That didn’t really matter, I was used to it. My first function out of school, however, shone a light on something that had never bothered me before. That puberty we talked about earlier, she visited me all of a sudden in the first year of high school. From the infamous flat chest, I moved to a double D cap. I had no sports bra phase, it was horrifying. The worst part was watching boys I had known a long time ogle at my chest. Most just conversed with my breasts. (Yes! We see that!)  It carried on to be a large part of my life, men talking to my breasts instead of me. A discerning factor even but not something I believe I should have to go through. From a young age, I have had to tolerate men’s blatant objectification of me. Always having to prove that I am more than my breasts and thighs.  But here I am stumbling by, noticing people do stupid things.

Growing up hit me hard after high school. All the ‘You could be great’ speeches changed tone and message.  First, ‘you should be great but remember your family life. Your family life depends on you!’ Then, ‘you are great but are you a good wife? Can you cook for your future husband? Can you clean a house after he ignorantly walks around? Can you pick his clothes off the floor he left them on and clean them the way he likes it? How much dowry will you fetch? When you will be ready to put yourself second and help your man succeed? Are you moral enough to be a wife? Will you make him happy?’ Suddenly, the subject of my life and all I do is the man who I am yet to meet. I am not only judged for all my actions, I am judged with respect to this fictional character I am not sure exists yet. I wonder if he is receiving this pressure. Does he have to go home every weekend to assure his people he can still cook chapatis? Does he stay in on Fridays because he may embarrass himself out of a good future wife? Does he not eat breakfast even though he can afford it to look good for me? Does he have to explain to relatives why he lives alone yet he is childless and unmarried? The answer is No. Because apparently he was born with that privilege. The privilege to never second guess playing football. The privilege to never worry about what he is wearing and how it makes other people feel. The privilege of hugging both his parents throughout his life without someone putting insane prejudice in it. The privilege of growing up not having to worry about tempting others. The privilege of having care-free, competition-free relationships with other men. The privilege of never catching a woman sexualizing you in the open. The privilege of following his dreams and his career wherever they take him without second-guessing how it will affect me in future.

I do not have that privilege, never have. Yet those that have all their lives fault me for being a feminist. From a young age, it’s always been about what I shouldn’t do because girls don’t do that or how I should think because I am a woman. Let me just confess in the case of all those memories above it felt like I was being told that I think too big, feel too big, act too big, for a girl. It felt like I was being told that I am on this earth to compliment the male; we cannot be equal, or equivalent because you are second. It’s not just the memories these things are subtlety whispered to me throughout my life. And they call me a feminist but I just know that it’s not true, it’s not right and it’s not fair. So yes, I guess I must be a feminist because I refuse to think smaller, I can feel no smaller than I have already been made to feel and I can act no smaller for the male than I already have. I will settle for no less in my life but equivalence. Even on the smallest scale, I wish for the day that we realize it’s not about being equal, but being equivalent, of the same importance. Maybe, we teach men to control themselves from a young age. How about we don’t allow them to get away with stupid things like objectifying women the minute they hit puberty. How about you let women live their lives without assuming the greatest thing she could do is reproduce and cater for a man. How about we stop fighting all the time amongst ourselves for stupid things like male attention and admit that every woman is different.

I know we love to call feminists in this country bitter. But can you blame us? Between the culture that glorifies men and the misconstrued religion that belittles women, a woman could easily feel oppressed in this country. And it is just absurd that you expect us to take some of these things in 2017. And that’s not even touching the deep issues like rape, FGM, domestic violence and the trafficking of women; all of which are a problem in this country. Why do you still hate the feminist? Matter of fact, why aren’t you a feminist! How are you guys OK with this! Feminism may be in its third wave but a lot needs to change in Africa for some of these global goals to pan out.

EmmBoldened: A Philosopy

When I tell people about my site, they almost immediately and instinctively ask what’s it called. I promptly and almost too boldly answer “EMMBOLDENED“. It is simply derived from the English word ‘Emboldened’  which means to be made bold or to be courageous. I have conceptualized a lot of things in this life, I’m also pretty witty. But in all my days, of all my quips, the birth of this site and its name is one I am most proud of. I’ve been a writer since I could speak. I always had this thing for words; like a strong love affair. When I was younger, I read anything and everything I could get my hands on; promptly asking my father what new words meant and remembering them so that I could incorporate them into normal conversation. My compositions were nothing short of legendary and my high school poems still make me tear up when I read them. I am a writer, always have been, always will be.

However, I have always been shy to share, shy to air out my laundry even if it was grossly extrapolated and applied to a fictional character, afraid to be vulnerable enough to show people around me that I was not just intelligent, witty and stubborn, I am also a writer with an unusual way with words and an overactive imagination. I’ve had about five blogs before this; each with its own theme and style of writing. Each with a portfolio of poems, rants and short stories. I didn’t share any of them. I always reassured myself, “I just need an avenue for my amazingness.” and this in its own right is true; my writing is and always ha been my favorite way to work out life’s hurdles.

My writing is a haven that I don’t like to share; my heaven. I didn’t crave a regular following or a fan base; I still don’t. Even now, I still walk around with pieces so good they would launch my unfinished novel and my writing career, yet so deep I would crumble if you criticized the characters’ actions. This blog, like the five or six before it, is not solely for commercial gain, rather artistic therapy for me; and now for you. I write about those things that irk you deep down; those that you never speak of because you can never be sure any one else has ever felt the same way. I write about the things that excite you even if you know they shouldn’t; issues considered taboo to speak of, scenes too gory to show without an advisory.  I write deep! That’s just it. I write too deep sometimes; other times not deep enough. I write what resonates in me; the feelings so deep that you don’t wanna share cause you fear a bout of emotional diarrhea. But unlike this site’s predecessor sites, this is not a place for fear or shame; not for judgement or prejudice either. This is a place of emotion and imagination filled with all stories happy, sad and painful. A place where those who are unafraid to feel so deeply can dwell. Those unafraid to allow themselves to be enraged by a think-piece, unafraid to cry at a piece of poetry and unafraid to laugh out loud at a short story. For to live is to feel, and to feel is to live. This site is fearlessly and perfectly named as it is the home of courage, Emm’s courage. It is Emmboldened.

So stick around; open your mind and heart to the stories and experiences that I will all too lovingly share. But most importantly, be enlightened, be empowered, BE EMMBOLDENED.

cropped-cropped-img-20160629-wa0000.jpg