by Louisa Lum
Most people are shockingly callous when it comes to discussions about rape. Angie knew this because she had been a victim, and in her community being a victim was tantamount to guilt. She remembered the humiliation and insults she suffered from several quarters after the unfortunate act. It started at the hospital when the doctor was dressing her bruises and doing a general checkup. Angie was scared and distraught and the last thing she wanted to do was to allow another man touch her. Angie held herself from screaming as the doctor wrapped a bandage around her arm.
He was wearing the caring face that doctors in the movies are wont to put on, he encouraged her to talk about the encounter telling her that it will be therapeutic. Angie was distressed but she forced herself to dredge up the repressed memory for the first time. She remembered how she had awakened to the blinding light of torches and before she could open her mouth to scream, a rough hand covered her mouth and was soon replaced by a smelly rag.
Nothing enrages thieves more than a poor house.
They had been obviously surveying the house, determined to come away with something, when there was actually no money or valuables to loot. This was what (she thought) had encouraged the brutal assault. They dragged her around the house prompting her with slaps and kicks to remember where she had actually hidden the imaginary treasure. It was raining really hard and though Angie was gagged, the racket the thieves were making could not reach the ears of neighbors.
Finally they stopped dragging and kicking her around and dropped her on the sofa like a rag doll. Angie tried to sit up but the effort yielded too much pain and she had to lie still for a moment to catch her breath. She made another attempt and finally leaned on the arm of the sofa. Her hands were tied behind her and she tried free herself but the knots were too strong. She lifted her head when she felt a presence in the room, one of the thieves had returned. Angie didn’t grasp what was happening until he came upon her and dragged her to the floor. Angie shook her head violently trying to plead without words, new energy entered her body as she resisted but it was futile – it only seemed to add his pleasure. He threatened her as he shoved into her and kept goading till he started groaning.
Angie laid listlessly on the floor for a long time; she had blacked out for a while but when she finally came to herself she felt her spirit fleeing her body. She was completely broken and found no reason to live. A curious neighbor finding the door opened at the curious hour found Angie on the floor and untied her. He called the police and took her to the hospital.
Angie finished the story feeling really exhausted. The doctor with the pasted actor concern looked really worried and opened his mouth to sympathize with her.
‘I am sorry my dear, please don’t cry, were you a virgin?’ He asked.
‘Does it make any difference?’ It suddenly dawned on her and she cried some more. The doctor had made it clear that she was overreacting; she had been having sexual intercourse in the past so why should she cry now? He is a man, thought Angie, I guess he would think differently if he was a woman.
The doctor sent Angie to the laboratory for a blood test where she was met with some chattering nurses who were forcing their sympathy on her. Angie sat silently and waited her turn while the woman dug up stories of robberies and rapes. The problem with hospitals in her area was the fact that no one had privacy, everybody’s business was laid out to dry in the sun. A new nurse entered and her colleagues were quick to fill her up with the latest gist. She turned and regarded Angie as though she was a new specimen meant for the local zoo. Angie looked on the walls and wished she was in her grave, anywhere but the brunt of such scrutiny. The nurse finally caught her eye and said in a very loud voice.
‘Please don’t cry my sister; at least you also enjoyed yourself. Some people go for ages without getting any,’ she said finishing off with a sound laugh.
She stopped when she realized that no one was laughing with her. Her colleagues seemed embarrassed and quickly busied themselves with what they were supposed to be doing. That was when Angie discovered that a woman always gets the blame when she’s raped.
She attended a support group for victims and learnt that other women had even suffered worst from the remarks and less than charitable responses they got from their communities, even from their own parents. There was a particular girl who finally left her home and was currently staying with her grandmother because she had been consistently raped by her stepfather. When she summoned the courage to tell her mother, she was accused of being possessed by a demon. The pastor was called to exorcise her while everyone took the side of the stepfather who was handsome, appointed and generous.
Angie was still suffering from the residue of the trauma; stuff like that never really leaves you. You just learned not to let it control your life. Angie had always found jokes about the suffering of others despicable and vulgar but making jokes about rape was on the top of the list. She refused to entertain jokes about such. The irony was that some men thought it was actually virile to make rape jokes.
The conversation had cropped up as a result of a program on CNN. It was what was trending at the moment, the Strauss-Kahn scandal.
A few years later when a ‘gentleman’ friend would say…
‘Take Strauss-Khan for instance. He is rich and handsome so most women already desire him. Then this cleaner comes in and meets him in a sexy bathrobe and fantasises about him. Maybe she starts cleaning in a provocative manner and maybe the gentleman who is horny and reading the signs from the lady accost her. Initially she resists not because she is immune to his charm but maybe because she wanted to be wined and dined by this famous man.’
He said this getting in the mood of what he thought was a great line of argument.
‘Then when this comes out solely because the young lady in question didn’t get what she thought was her just reward from the bargain, she blows a fuss and other women from other parts of the world trump up charges. Fancy a woman who claims that Strauss-Kahn sexually harassed her daughter twenty years ago but she didn’t report the crime because she was protecting her daughter from the trauma. What trauma.’ He said gearing up to go further.
Angie was so shocked. It all seemed so surreal considering the fact that she had actually thought the dude was a gentleman. To hear what he was saying actually eroded any attraction that she might have hoped to feel for him. The way he was talking he could be a rapist.
‘Look at the case of Bill Clinton’ he said.. ‘He slept with a lady and she told everyone and it became a scandal. What is the problem with you women?’ He lambasted.
‘Please can we change the topic,’ Angie said trying to be polite.
‘No let’s not, I want to hear your take about this topic.’ He insisted.
‘I cannot share an opinion with you because it will only result in insult to your line of thinking.’
To actually think she had considered him handsome and charming. Sexy men my foot – there is no smoke without fire, she thought bitterly.
It is men like Strauss-Kahn who hold the belief that they are demigods and little women were theirs for the having. Angie was certain this idiot considered himself one of such sexy men. He had come with a bottle of wine, how gallant. Angie was sure he was only thinking about sex. Let him go and fuck himself. She heard his voice ringing out from the sitting room, he was making a point and she pitied her friend Jenna who had to listen to him.
Angie took out a bottle of water from the fridge, poured herself a glass and drank slowly. She was making a conscious effort to calm herself. It was inhospitable to insult your guest even a belligerent one, but you could politely ask him to leave. There was no law against that.
She entered the sitting room and changed the TV channel, then began making small talk with Jenna.
‘As I was saying, women overrate this idea of rape and I just get mad whenever…’ he hadn’t taken the cue.
‘Please can we not go there again?’ said Angie, being superficially polite.
‘No I want you to spill it, I see you are fuming with indignation’ he said with gusto.
She exploded – ‘You know what mister, the problem with this world is men like you. You think you are God’s gift to women and that it is our place to slave and bend over backwards to make you happy. Anyway we are just women right? We don’t have emotions, we do not deserve a thought. We are receptacles for your pleasure. We are all presumably educated people who think that there should be rights for all humanity; but the woman is excluded because she is not human enough. I guess you are wondering how come I’m not falling over myself and begging a sexy man like you to rape me. Please leave my house and do me the favor of never returning.’ Angie was shaking with anger.
‘Hey chill girl, you should not take things too seriously, I merely expressed a view and if I exaggerated a little it was only for fun.’ He said trying to save himself with charm.
‘You know what buddy, I begged you to change the conversation yet you were obstinate. I even left the room in an attempt to divert this argument but you still persisted.’ She fumed.
‘So you left the room to avoid the conversation?’ He asked completely subverting the point.
Nothing he said impressed her anymore; Jenna had left the room when the conversation became unbearable. The bottle of wine stood almost untouched, Angie could not bring herself to touch it. His way of thinking had mucked his gift. She said nothing further, he fidgeted with his phone, made a few calls, drained his glass and finally stood to leave. Angie locked the door with relief. She went in search of Jenna and found her in the bedroom, she was sobbing on her pillow.
Angie went over and took her into her arms. She had met Jenna at the support group she started attending to deal with her assault. Jenna was very beautiful and full of life; it took a lot to actually make her cry. Angie cursed the sordid bastard she had invited into her home. Appearances were completely different from reality. She had met him at work, he was educated and well-traveled and they had gone out for lunch a few times with other colleagues. This was the first day he had paid her a visit and to think that she was could so misread his character…
Angie loved Jenna like a younger sister, so she couldn’t bear to watch her cry. It had taken a long time before Jenna had told Angie her story. She had been raped by her elder brother’s friend, one that she looked up to for guidance. He often came visiting and brought gifts for the whole family whenever he came around. That ritual had continued even after they had grown up and had careers out-of-town. Yet every time he came to visit his parents he also visited Jenna’s family. He sometimes slept in their house when he was in town. Jenna respected him as she did her elder brother and would often run errands for him when he came to town.
Brother Simon came visiting as usual and was going to spend a few days with them, Jenna found it a little disconcerting that he kept looking at her. She was in form three then and her parents had finally found the courage to start telling her about the birds and bees. Yet she didn’t think Brother Simon was thinking of that when he looked at her. But it was such a curious way of looking at one though, she just kept her distance.
Jenna awoke from sleep with a keen sense of danger, everywhere was silent when she saw a shadow moving towards her. Paralyzed with fear, Jenna at first thought she’d seen a ghost. Then a very life-like hand clamped over her mouth cutting off any attempt at shouting. Brother Simon whispered in her ear that it was him and that he was not going to harm her. But there was nothing un-threatening about the situation. Jenna tried to get away but he anticipated the movements and cut her off like a cat playing with a little mouse. He ripped off her nightdress without ceremony and was soon trying to shove his penis into her. It was quite an effort but he finally succeeded. Jenna sobbed as he pounded into her and when it was over he stayed to make sure that she didn’t alert the household. He did so effectively by threatening to kill her if she ever told anyone about the act.
Jenna lived with the torture for so many years but could not voice it to anyone. Then one day when she was in university and living with her brother, Simon’s name came up in a conversation. Jenna sat very still for a few minutes then she went directly to the wine bar and brought out a bottle of whiskey, everyone was shocked because Jenna was not a drinking person. She exhibited an amateur’s know-how when she poured a glass and emptied it in one go, then she started coughing but that did not stop her from pouring another drink and throwing it after the first one. Jenna tried to go for a third glass but her brother had snapped from his paralysis and dragged the bottle from her hands.
Slurred and weak her brother carried her to the sofa. She was muttering something inaudibly but her voice grew stronger as the alcohol took hold. ‘He raped me and threatened to kill me if I ever told me… Why did he have to that, he was my big brother, why, did Brother Simon rape? He promised to kill me if I told anybody…’
Jenna’s brother sat astonished…then he began to cry, watching his baby sister suffer from the hideous crime committed by his friend, someone like his brother. To think that he had shared everything with Simon – only for him to betray him by raping his baby sister. How could he help his sister? There wasn’t much to do. There were no support centers for people suffering and psychiatrists were for mad people, not…
Eventually he would start a center, surprised by the number of shattered women who turned up. Angie had met Jenna while she was volunteering there.
‘Stop crying baby,’ said Angie stroking her hair softly.
‘Why are men so wicked?’ She broke free of her sob.
‘You know… there are negative people out there but that does not stop us from believing in the goodness of the world.’ Angie said gently.
When Angie encountered her colleague at work a few days later, she did not greet him in the normal way… “I don’t do rape jokes!”
Louisa Lum is a writer and blogger from Cameroon, Central Africa.