PART 3: UNCLE DELE
I grew up in Maryland. Then, our estate was relatively safe. As a child, after school I would eat my lunch, do my homework and practically fly to our neighborhood park. Once there, I would play hide and seek and ‘tenten’ with the neighborhood kids. We would ride our bikes, climb the trees and visit each other’s houses. By the time my brother and I got home, we were usually exhausted. That was my life. I was a happy open child.
Then a new family moved in; they had twin boys who went to my primary school. They were two classes ahead of me but in the same class as my brother. They were the cool kids. While the rest of us rode bikes, they had scooters and skateboards. When we were still celebrating our birthdays at Mr. Biggs, they had pool parties. Everyone wanted to play with them but for some reason, they hit it off my brother, which meant I got to tag along with them and tag along I did.
I became the little sister they didn’t have. I followed them everywhere. I especially got excited when we went to Ikoyi Club, the then coolest spot in Lagos. We would play in the playground for hours, have swimming lessons then watch their father play lawn tennis. After that, we would settle in with our club sandwiches, suyas (barbequed steaks) and chapmans. I was living the dream.
Everything changed in the summer of my primary 4. It was the summer I met Uncle Dele. My parents agreed I could stay in the twins’ house for two weeks so I could prepare for a junior swimming competition even though my brother and the twins’ were in boarding school at the time. The first time I met him, he was so nice. Taiwo and Kehinde’s parents were going to be home late and they left instructions that I go to bed early but Uncle Dele allowed me to watch television with him.
He told me I could sit on his lap while we watched TV. He told me he was proud of my outstanding swimming skills. He even nicknamed me ‘fish’. He talked to me like I was an adult, unlike the way my annoying ‘brothers’ treated me now that they were all in secondary school.
It happened two days later. It was in the afternoon while I was waiting for the driver to bring the maid back from the market so I could go for my swimming practice.
Uncle Dele came into my room to find me in my swimsuit. I was surprised and shy. He asked if I had a pen. I quickly gave him mine but he didn’t leave. He sat on my bed, ‘maybe you will teach me how to swim fish,’ he said. I smiled, ‘you are too big,’ I joked. After several minutes of him staring at me, I started to become uncomfortable. I tried to wear my t-shirt over my swimming trunk but he stopped me before I could, saying, ‘Do you know what, I don’t think you look like a fish in this swimming trunk.’ By then I was aware something was wrong, still I asked, ‘What do I look like?’ ‘A mermaid,’ he said, coming closer.
‘Wait let me show you,’ and like magic he was in front of me, towering over me. He pulled down my trunk so that my chest was exposed. I’m not even sure I had breasts then, but he started to touch my chest. I stood frozen with fear. I pushed his large hands away but he kept coming closer and I kept moving back until there was nowhere to go. With my back against the wall, he had to bend to touch me. I should have screamed, I knew I should have screamed but I couldn’t. Even if I did, no one else was at home. I couldn’t move or breathe. Something wrong was happening and I didn’t know what to do.
Uncle Dele started to talk, ‘why are you crying, aren’t you a big girl?’ he snickered. ‘Ok, you want to be a baby,’ he continued. ‘Oya, come over here baby, today you will be my baby’
And just like that I was on the bed and he was on top of me. I started to scream then, but my screams were engulfed by his horrible stinking breath. His mouth was all over me. His finger was in my privates, forcing its way through. I screamed into his chest and tried to push his sweaty body away but he just laughed and moaned. My tears mixed with his sweat, my thighs hurt from being spread too wide.
‘Come over her baby, I know you’re enjoying it’.
And just like he started, he stopped. He stood and smelt his bloody fingers before disappearing into the hallway; he didn’t even bother to look at me.
When the maid got back, I feigned illness and refused to go to for my swimming practice. All through that night I whimpered at the corner of my room in fear, my underwear stained with blood, wondering if Uncle Dele would come back, but he didn’t.
The next day, I convinced the twins’ parents to take me home, ‘I am too sick to swim,’ I lied. Before I left, in the presence of his elder brother and his sister-in-law, Uncle Dele joked that maybe I’d started my period and was too shy to say, he told me not to worry, ‘you will feel better,’ he said with confidence. ‘It is a normal thing women pass through.’ The twins’ parents sent me home with the driver and my worst nightmare.
He never said a word to me in the car; he didn’t even give me a sideways glance. When we got to my house, he told my mother I must have eaten too much; after all I was fine yesterday. That was the last time I saw him.
At home, my mother asked me over and over again if I was fine. She hugged me and told me I would feel better soon. I wanted to tell her, but each time I opened my mouth, nothing came out. How could I tell her that I made a mistake? That I allowed a dirty thing be done to me? Eventually, I felt well enough to go to school, to sit at the table to eat, to laugh when someone said a joke, to pretend that everything was fine. I never went swimming again though.
When I met Tobi, I thought my prayers had been answered. Finally a decent guy had shown up. There were times I thought of telling him my past while we dated. Times when he was at his most vulnerable, professing his unending love to me, but just like the times I tried to tell my mother, nothing ever came out. I was too ashamed, overcome with fear of rejection. I thought if I told him then he would finally see I wasn’t as good as he thought. As time wore on, I taught myself to forget, but at the most unexpected times, times when I should have been filled to the brim with love and pleasure, I would remember that unfortunate afternoon. I would smell his breath and taste his mouth. At those times, no matter what my husband did, I would become paralyzed with pain and disgust, unable to reciprocate his love. I knew I was hurting him, but I didn’t know how to heal.
I clean my eyes but more tears fall. I can hear Tobi begging me from outside the bathroom, making promises he might never be able to keep. I stare at myself in the mirror and I see the little girl I was. I weep for her and the secret she had no business carrying. I weep for the young woman I am now, unable to love wholly, recklessly. I weep for my husband and what he has become. I weep for the man that took away my innocence and the experiences he had to have become that person. At last I weep for all the other happy open girls, the young hopeful youths, for all the women that feel as hopeless and worthless as I do.
I open the door to the bathroom and my husband falls into my arms, embracing me, his tears mixing with mine. Maybe there’s hope for us yet, maybe we will learn to move past my recurring nightmare.