“You know what you’re carrying behind you, you should expect things like this. Nor be wetin you dey find? (Isn’t that what you’re looking for?)” he said. I was offended, angry, and worst of all, defenseless.
Here’s a little back story…
When I was little, people would always make comments about my big ‘behind’. Strangers, teachers, uncles, aunties. I would shy away most times. I always tried to walk slowly, very conscious of my butt and trying so hard to prevent it from moving so much. I’d look in the mirror and wish there wasn’t so much fat there, so that I’d be left alone, so that I’d be able to jump and play around, like other kids, without caring that there was something behind me bouncing along.
As I grew older I started to feel more comfortable about it. No, the comments didn’t stop, but it went from teases to compliments, and each time I looked in the mirror, I didn’t complain, it wasn’t really a burden anymore. It’s beauty, but even beauty has consequences.
I was interning at a law firm in Marina, Lagos, and I had never entered a danfo ever in my life. I had heard different stories about the craziness of taking a bus in Lagos. The good things, the bad things and the funny things. I didn’t know what to expect, but I also didn’t expect it to be this.
That day, it was drizzling and I stood at the bus stop, hoping that the rain won’t get heavier before I get to my destination. There were other people there, taking shed under a partial roof. I folded my arms as I shivered a little and secretly wished I brought a sweater. People here seemed prepared. Prepared for the cold, and also prepared to fight to get into the bus. I had never entered a danfo, but I had experience when it came to struggling for a bus from my days in school. I remember my top getting torn once due to the struggle. It wasn’t a nice memory and I hoped it wouldn’t come to that now.
There was this particular man that kept staring at me, and each time I turned to look, he would turn away. He was average height and had on a papas cap (Flat cap), a tshirt and jeans. He put both hands in his pockets and kept biting his lower lip. He looked like the stalkers/murders in crime movies. I was uncomfortable, but there were other people around, so I shoved the feeling away. A bus drove by and the conductor was yelling “Marina, Marina”. People entered quickly, and I followed suit, but unfortunately for me, only the back seat was free. The strange man was sitting there, staring ahead but I still felt like he could see me and was waiting for me to take a seat beside him. I sat away from him at the back seat, while the bus weaved through the light traffic.
The bus was quiet, apart from the occasional honking. The rain had become slightly heavier and I took pleasure in watching people in their cars, drinking coffee, eating, yelling at their kids, and nodding to music. It interested me to look at different people with different lives going to one direction. The woman in front of me who kept humming Christian songs, the girl with heavy makeup whose phone kept buzzing loudly to notifications, the fat woman in her car, who kept yelling at her kids, and then the man beside me, who continued to steal glances at me.
We had just passed the Lekki toll gate and I subconsciously prepared myself to adjust for more people. We approached another bus stop and people rushed towards the bus as the conductor yelled “Marina, Marina. Mu ayipada re duro (hold your change)” A man stepped in and asked me to shift in order to make space for him. It was a 4 seater. I shifted closer to the strange man, while the other man sat at my right, and a woman with her toddler at the end. I was sandwiched between two men and I wasn’t comfortable about it.
We continued on our way to Marina and each movement the strange man made, I became more alert. I no longer watched people in their different cars, I simply looked ahead, waiting for the Eko bridge to come in view.
The man kept adjusting himself, to my discomfort. The driver was hurling insults to other drivers occasionally. “o ya werey. Agba iya (You are mad. Old fool)” I’m not Yoruba so most times I don’t understand what they’re saying. But I knew that once I got to my destination, I had to say “o wa oh” loudly, or else the driver wouldn’t stop.
My thighs were touching the strange man’s thighs and I closed my legs together tightly, in order to avoid the contact, but it wasn’t really helpful. I don’t know if I was delusional, but I felt like there was a bulge between his legs. I could’ve been wrong though but I have a strong feeling I wasn’t. He put a hand on his thigh and the back of his fingers grazed my exposed skin. I was wearing a knee length pencil skirt that rode up when I sat down. He rubbed his thighs up and down, his fingers grazing my thighs continuously. I put my hand between my thighs and his, blocking any contact between them. He stopped rubbing his thighs when I did that and looked away. I grew irritated but I kept quiet.
The woman sitting on the same seat as me, brought out her breast, and I didn’t miss the stolen glances she got from different men in the bus, including the conductor and the man beside me. I remember one time on social media, women were insisting that breastfeeding in public places should be normalized. Women shouldn’t have to get weird looks from people when they brought out their breast to feed their children. I agreed with what they said, but I couldn’t help myself when I looked at her. Her toddler was crying and she just swiftly lifted up her top and removed her breast from her bra, exposing her nipple. The toddler started sucking immediately, covering her mamilla, but her bosom was still in display, and she didn’t try to cover it.
“What’s your name?” The strange man spoke for the first time. His voice didn’t sound like that of a murderer, but how would I know? I don’t meet such people often.
I stayed silent and pretended like I didn’t hear him. How could he have the guts to ask me what my name was after what he tried to do? I resisted the urge to throw him a dirty look as I felt his eyes on me.
“Blackie” he said. Now this sounded more like an agberu (nuisance). His voice was deep and rough. I didn’t like being addressed by my skin color, it irritated me so much. I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little insecure about my dark skin, and being addressed by it was something that could make me dislike a person instantly without even knowing them, although I already disliked this man by a far bit.
“Are you talking to me?” I made sure the disgust I felt was prominent in my voice. He bit his lip once again, like he was enjoying my obvious irritation.
“Yes, you.” He smiled, his gap tooth coming into view. “You think I can’t talk to you?”
“Everybody hold your change oh” The bus conductor interrupted.
I kept quiet and ignored the man. I could already see the Eko bridge, I’d be at my destination soon, no need to entertain this nuisance, but he kept looking at me like a prey.
Initially, I thought this man was acting really weird. I’d tag him as a thief who wanted to steal from me, or just someone who was dangerous. Later on, he was acting unsuitably but I would’ve never believe that he’d outright touch me inappropriately. So when he groped my thighs and slid his hand upwards, I was in a state of disbelief.
He grabbed my thigh with one of his large hands and moved it upwards, pushing my skirt out of the way and exposing the skin of my laps.
“What are you doing?! Are you okay?!” I pushed his hand away almost immediately and drew my skirt back down. The other passengers looked my way but they had missed what had happened.
“Oga you dey harass the girl?” A middle aged woman asked. She was a Muslim and had Yoruba tribal marks on her face.
“Alhaja face your front. Nobody call you” The strange man said.
“Why you go touch am? Something dey do you?” The man at my right side said.
“Why she go wear this kin skirt?” The strange man argued. Then he turned to me. “You know what you’re carrying behind you, you should expect things like this. Nor be wetin you dey find? (Isn’t that what you’re looking for?” he said. I was offended, angry, and worst of all, defenseless.
Passengers in the bus kept trying to defend me, but I just blurred out. My eyes were teary and I felt so ashamed, so angry, so helpless. Till this day, anytime I think back, I always feel bitter, so bitter. It was an experience I didn’t tell anyone about, I couldn’t. But from that one experience, I understood how important it was for women to take stands together. I understood why women march in a riot against the sexual harassment. I understood why women rioted in Yaba market, against male traders groping them. It wasn’t enough to just simply tell them to stop.
I was groped by a man who told me that my big bum was the reason for the harassment. Should I have worn a longer or loser skirt? No. I don’t think that that would’ve changed things. I wasn’t the problem, he was.
If I felt like that, then how would someone who was raped, feel? A thousand times worse I’m sure. If I couldn’t talk about this because I felt so ashamed, then a rape victim would feel a hundred times more silenced. From that moment, I started to see people who spoke about their rape experiences as strong people. I say people because men included.
I look back and I always wished I had done something to defend myself. I wish I had pepper spray, or even a small pocket knife. Maybe if I did, I wouldn’t feel so bitter towards not only him, but myself as well.