Satan Drives a Sedan
I don’t like White anymore. When I loved white, the last thing I owned of that color was a silk night dress. I wore it with pride. I loved the way it rippled like a consistent caress across my skin. The way it moved with my body, lending a regal air to my steps. I loved how it matched my brown skin. Seyi must have loved it too. He loved it so much he corrupted the dress with his desires. He loved it so much, he took all the affection I had for the color and replaced it with horror, anger, shame and sadness.
It happened when I was twenty-three. In his living room, in the bungalow on that quiet street on that popular road. It happened on a routine visit to the city where I had ignored the warnings of a family member and decided I would sleep in his house rather than get a hotel. It happened on my third visit. By then we had developed an easy routine. He was not like the other people I called family. He was cool Seyi. Whenever I visited, he stocked the kitchen to my taste, and to my great appreciation, often left me alone without questioning my movements the way families did to their young unmarried daughters.
I would prod my aunt and ask her “why are you so against the idea of me sleeping in Uncle Seyi’s house? Isn’t he family?” My memory of uncle Seyi stretched back long enough to encompass my childhood. In all the time I’d known him, he was always an adult. For all of primary and secondary school, he had been the neighbor to my mother’s best friend. He didn’t need permission before he became family. I grew up running between the two houses. I grew up knowing his wife and their eventual children. I grew up complaining about the poop of new babies and the stress of cleaning up after them. I grew up under uncle Seyi’s gaze, but I did not understand that the gaze would shift into something fearful.
My aunt’s answer was always the same. “He’s not family. He is also a man and you’re not a child anymore.”
The day before it happened, he brought wine home from the supermarket. I passed on the offer to drink, but I joined him for dinner and a conversation. I expressed my appreciation to him on his lack of fixation over my movements. I joked that he was the first relative who didn’t spy on me for my family. He laughed. “You’re not a child anymore” he said. We talked about many things of interest, films, culture, politics, family, love. When I went to bed, I thought maybe he could be the rare person in my extended family that would understand my largely atypical perspectives.
The day it happened, he texted to ask if I needed him to bring food home. I said no. He replied with “okay darling.” I ignored the itch in my head, questioning when I had become a darling. Don’t overthink it I said. When he returned home, he asked me to join him in the living room. The rest I have tried to forget quickly, the rest are memories over which I have spilled red and blue ink repeatedly. The rest I remember is forced fragments.
I remember Uncle Seyi coming to sit so close to me the sides of our thighs touched. I remember his hand touching my thigh. I remember the offer to share his bed, shared in a tone so casual, he could ask me to pass the remote in the same pitch. I remember his brief exit to pray. I remember locking myself in the bathroom, I remember feeling the force of fear through my loud heartbeat. I remember packing frantically, dashing outside and sweating at 9pm with a half-packed bag, dialing my phone, asking for anyone who could take me in and cover my fear with safety. I remember the barrage of messages from uncle Seyi. “please come home, I won’t be able to sleep, I miss you, I can’t stop thinking of you. Why did you leave? Where are you?” The messages came in till 5am, steady unflinching, painful. I remember I was wearing white that night.
According to the Nigerian minister of women affairs and social development, two million Nigerian girls and women are sexually assaulted annually. Contrary to pop culture logic, these women are not raped by deviants and beasts. They are raped by ordinary men. Men who eat, sleep, work have dreams and desires, and contribute some good things to their society. Seyi is a banker. Seyi was married, then divorced. Seyi has two children. Seyi has two degrees, from Nigeria and the UK. Seyi drives a sedan. Seyi lives in a bungalow in a nice part of town. Seyi has lived in that bungalow for the entire time he has existed in my memory. Seyi is no different from the upwardly mobile middle class, middle aged Nigerian man. Seyi is also my uncle. What he tried to do to me is not what uncles are supposed to do to girls.
In a country with less dismal sexual assault statistics, maybe Uncle Seyi would have been punished. In a country where a culture of female harassment was less prevalent, perhaps there might have been some deterrence from the society. But this story is not one with a simple resolution. Seyi faced no queries, or scolding. He lost nothing. The burden of the experience, and its consequences lay solely on my shoulders.
On many days, I think I have moved passed it. But sometimes I see a sedan, or go into the supermarket he used to buy me groceries, or hear something about the bank he works at in passing. And for a second, I am terrified again. I look around, examining the men in my life. My coworkers, colleagues, acquaintances, friends, comrades. Men who are well educated, who drive good cars, who have wives and girlfriends who treat me like an adult. I wonder what women they have hurt. I wonder if they too have looked at me wearing red lipstick, smiling at them, giving our hugs freely, and thought of what combination of conditions would turn me into their prey.
The YNaija Rape Culture Special Series will run from September 15th to September 30th. Visit YNaija.com/Specials to catch up on all essays and excerpts from our Instagram interviews.
Alithnayn Abdulkareem is a writer between Lagos and Abuja. She writes literary fiction and nonfiction covering memoir, art, film, and development issues. She is a 2015 Farafina alumns, and is longlisted for the 2018 Short Story Day Africa prize. She has been published by Transitions, Nataal, Africa Is A Country, The Africa Report, Saraba, Kalahari Review, etc.