I stopped crying when the third one climbed me. I knew they would all take rounds and there was nothing I could do to stop them. By the time the fifth one undressed, I was dead to the pain. I waited quietly for death to come, to take over the show from there. But the betrayer that he was, he betrayed me for the second time, the most needed hour. I had called on him once before, when I had lost my four-year old child to malnutrition in a dingy two room apartment hospital. I had run out of the place half-naked, my wrapper left behind as a shroud for the bony dead child. I ran into a bike coming but it swerved and missed me. So, I ran straight to the front of an on-coming Mazda car but it stopped inches from me. Betrayer! The lots of them! I saw death a couple of feet away from me, mockingly smiling! Enjoying his little game! I had screamed obscenities at him, challenged him to play the game my way if he wasn’t a coward. Yet, he watched as the nurses dragged me back to the hospital.They removed the wrapper from my child. I watched as they carried him, naked with bones like branches of a young dogonyaro tree towards the small store room they called mortuary.
That was four years ago, a past I would have loved to keep where it belonged. I willed my weak mind to return to the moment and to note the present; to archive the memory of the animals grunting and moaning as they humped the hill that was me. There was no hatred in me for these rich drunk bastards. No, there was something else that filled my soul, something primal and raw, a great fury. Had I not been bleeding, weak and in a state of semi-coma, I’d have summoned death again and fed him not a meat but eight, mine inclusive. But I lay helpless; eyes wide open in a death worse than eternal sleep,staring at them.
“Is she dead?” the fattest one of them asked, with the same tone he would have used to ask if the wine cup was clean.
“I don’t think so, but she is bleeding!” another one answered. I stared at them from where I lay naked and dying on the floor, seven drunken bastards in a semi-dressed state; seven uniformed-men, seven upholders of the law.
“What the hell was in that drink we took anyway?”
“The ‘hell’ in that drink was that it was an original 1956 Baronde Korais. It’s a fucking antique you know? Fifty-four year old wine!”
“Oh!” another one groaned. “I’m going to be having a hell of a hangover tomorrow!” And I’m going to be dead by tomorrow. But that doesn’t seem to be their utmost concern.
“What do we do with her? We can’t let her talk,” the youngest one in the group asked.
“And who will believe her if she does? She is after all a prostitute.”
“Where do you get her from anyway?” the oldest asked the one who took me from the club earlier that night.
“She is one of the night girls. I was hoping to keep her for the night after this meeting, but I guess she is too good for me alone.” He laughed, a strange, loud laughter, and the others joined him.
* * *
Their laughter kept ringing in my head months after, as I sat in the witness box in the court recounting my ordeals.
“Ms. Ibinabo, if I understand you, you are saying these seven military men raped you on the 16th of April last year, and there was no record of your being treated in any hospital or any report of the crime recorded by the police. Or are you saying that you got up, dusted your wrapper and walked easily away after being raped by seven hefty men?”The defendants’ lawyer asked mockingly. A ripple of laughter ran through the court audiences.
I closed my eyes and willed myself to be calm as I tried to remember the dark suffocating small room where I was kept for three days. I remembered the doctor they called Dr. George, coming and going, attending to my wounds in the careless way one would mend a broken table. I remembereda male voice telling the doctor, “…just take care of her, she can’t die.They recognize me in the bar I took her from.”
I opened my mouth to talk, but all I could do was stammer. I couldn’t remember how I got to that doctor who treated me, neither could I remember how I got out. I just found myself at the gate of the hotel where I worked.
“It’s obvious my Lord, that the palm oil seller will definitely be searching for the man with the white garment.” Their lawyer raised a paper up. “Evidence from her former hospital revealed that she starved her little son to death, because she couldn’t point to father for the child and that on more than one occasion she had attempted suicide. Evidence from the government psychologist proved that she is mentally unstable and should be put away to prevent her from harming innocent citizens. I think this court should not waste her time attending to a mad woman, I hereby rest my case.”
I watched helplessly as the judge gave her verdict; as the law beasts shook hands with their lawyer and walked away, as the police bundled me into their car and delivered me to the psychiatric home where they bound me to a bed “I’m not mad!!!” I screamed, when I saw a nurse approach with a syringe.
“She is a violent one!” The nurse turned to the other nurse behind her.
“Prostitution and drugs,” I heard the other reply.
Maybe I was wrong; maybe I’m mad after all!
So I watched helpless, as they shut the doors and windows, to sanity, to justice.