In light recent conversations on rape or the sexual assault, I share the story of the night of Imani’s 9th birthday. Sometimes people confuse rapists with good people, so allow me to clear up your confusion. Growing in a big family, Imani’s home was always crowded. To ease the space issue, her mother would send one or two of the children to sleep over at her uncle’s place. Dinner then trek to the mattress on the floor that would be their bed.
On the evening of her 9th birthday, after an uncomfortable dinner under the lecturing of their father, Imani and her younger brother headed over to their “sleeping quarters”.The two of them always fought for the side of mattress we would sleep on, and this time Imani won, her brother got to sleep closer to the door. Small victories. She was always tired after a long trek to school and back, She was out as soon as her head hit the pillow-less mattress.
Toss and yawn… her bed had suddenly gotten warmer! Maybe she was dreaming, because her brother had transformed into a much a larger body. The body always has a way to protect itself, and as her mind woke up Imani realized that her body was some sort of danger. It was one of those sensations you get when you know there is danger lurking in the shadows, but you have not yet realized how much. Her heart went cold when when she realized where she was. It was first the strong alcohol breathe right by her ear, then the wicked whisper in her ear, “Shh, go back to sleep.”
At that instant all her senses were on alert. Imani was hyper aware of her brother’s snoring right next to her, if it was a dream she was going to kick her brother the following day for invading her dreams. The next thought, She had not seen her uncle’s wife at all on that day, and it had not occurred to her to ask. For Imani and her brother, their only business there was a place to lay their heads. Either way, they were alone with their uncle. And he was on their bed.
The fingers moving down her pants were surely never in any of her dreams even if she never remembered them! “Shh, you’ll wake your brother!” Without notice, Imani was lifted off the mattress. Just like a predator after a successful hunt, the intruder was taking his kill elsewhere.
“Uncle! What are you doing?” Imani shouted, but it came out as whisper. It is like in one of those really horror dreams when you open your mouth to scream for help but no sound comes out but nothing comes. In that instant you know you have surely fallen prey.
“Don’t be afraid, you will enjoy it. It will feel good” Imani lay still hoping that her predator would get bored and go away. What was the “it” he was referring to? All she could remember was that her mum had said she should never allow anyone to touch her there, maybe if she told her that he would let go.
But she lay still as he removed his pants, and smirk swept across his face as he held his “thing” to her face and whispered, “you will like it.” He took his time with his prey. He was in no hurry, after all he had the whole night, and his prey did not seem to be fighting. Some people’s fight-or-flight instincts get activated in danger, right? Why was she unable to move?
She managed to repeat “Hapana! Hapana!” But in this instant no seemed to mean yes, because he continued to stroke every part of her body. It was a strange sensation. Then his thing was suddenly in her mouth. Everything in her mind went dark…
It must have been 3 am, Imani found herself sitting outside her parents door. The ever noisy slum seemed fast asleep. George, the village drunk sung as he made his way home. He will probably wake up in ditch somewhere, she thought and laughed to herself.
Her laugh was interrupted by the sudden realization that she was sitting outside by herself in the dark. Through the thin walls Imani could hear the snoring neighbors. One of the sleepily staggered past her to go to the public pit latrine. On her way back Mama Jamila stopped in her tracks, “Why are you outside? It’s late, child, you should not be outside by yourself!”
“I will go in soon, I just came back from the toilet.” Imani replied, aware that she was looking down at my bare feet. With one more glance she head back to her house. For some reason Imani jumped when she heard the door close behind Mama Jamila. Her senses were fully activated now. She shook like a leaf in the wind. It wasn’t cold otherwise she could not be sweating at same time. She contemplated knocking, but what would she tell her father. He would definitely not like being woken up, and would wake the neighbors when he started reprimanding her. She thought it wise to not do it, she curled up in a small ball on the veranda.
“Imani, what are you doing sleeping on the veranda so late? Why are you not at your uncle’s? Where is your brother?” In response Imani must have stared blankly or something because all she remembers is her father taking her by the hand and saying “You will explain this tomorrow.” Their couch became her new bed.
The night never came up until 10 years later…