MONDAY, MARCH 10th, 2014.
Dunni glanced at the wall clock in the class, she knew it was too early to be bothered about the time but she couldn’t help it. She had made up her mind to see Funmi today and was only in class because the first class was Mr Fakorede’s. His classes were not something to toy with and besides, there was an assignment to submit. She bit her lower lip in impatience.
She had earlier checked on Funmi in her department but had been told by Agnes, Funmi’s class rep that Funmi had been skipping classes lately and had actually been absent for over a week now. ‘I should be asking you about her whereabouts, not the other way round,’ Agnes queried as Dunni laughed it away, her words stuck in her throat.
She knew she couldn’t postpone going to Funmi’s house any longer after Bode’s call had woken her up so early on a sunday morning. His message was clear. ‘We’re both in this together Dunni, and don’t for any reason believe I won’t go name calling.’ He threatened. ‘I don’t have that kind of honour.’
‘Bode, you don’t have any honour,’ Dunni retorted, seething with rage. ‘And what will you say I did? I didn’t ask you to rape her, did I? Or did I ask you to make a video of it?’ She asked into the receiver, her palms burning the plastic cover of the phone as she plastered it to her ears. It was unbelievable that she would have talked to Bode in that manner in normal circumstances, but this here, was not a normal circumstance.
‘Nope,’ Bode quipped, not sounding offended in any way by his younger cousin’s seeming disrespect. There was too much at stake to be distracted, ‘But you delivered her to the party after accepting a bribe and you helped drug her,’ He stated calmly, ‘at-least that will be my story, whether it’s true or it’s not, is a case of debate. Dunni, I don’t want to do this but if you continue to be unreasonable, then I don’t have a choice. You’re actually beginning to sound like a broken record with your repeated moans on whether you asked me to make a video or not. What I ask is simple, just follow the plan like I explained and nobody gets hurt. How hard can that be?’ Bode asked, his voice smooth and sounding every inch like the devil he was.
Dunni was quiet. No matter how much she wanted to wish this away, she knew she was already neck deep in this case and sounding the way he did, she knew Bode was ready to drown her along with himself.
‘I know you don’t want to end up like that girl on TV who got fourteen years for setting her friend up to be raped. She was named an accomplice,’ Bode said, letting out a gravelly laugh.
‘That case has not been decided yet Bode,’ Dunni replied irritated.
‘Thank God you’re following the case, you’ll soon have your face splashed on all media fronts and the blogs would definitely feast on it.’ Bode enthused.
Dunni remained silent. She wanted to tell him to shut up in the loudest way possible, she wanted to rebel and not heed in to his blackmail but she remained silent. Bode rambled on for a while and ended the call with, ‘the earlier we go about our plan, the better for us. You know what to do, do it quick.’
From her few sessions in sunday school classes, she knew those words resembled the words Jesus told Judas at the last passover and she couldn’t help but feel like a Judas. Her mind drifted back to class as she watched the seconds’ timer tick away lazily in the clock on the wall. She wondered how the first few minutes with Funmi would be, awkward she could imagine, especially after having not seen her in well over a month or spoken to her for as far back as two weeks ago, after she had called in to report the ‘video’ situation, awkward was definitely an understatement but just like always, it was something she had to do, she had no options.
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MONDAY, MARCH 10th, 2014.
The reception was very comfortable. Funmi looked around the office and tried to familiarise herself with the pictures of people she guessed to be important dignitaries to the centre, hung closely to the pictures of the President of the country and the Governor of the state. It was a tradition in most companies, for what reason, she couldn’t tell.
‘You can go in ma,’ the receptionist said, putting down the receiver of the phone. ‘Take the staircase up, the door with ‘HCG’ tag on it. She’s expecting you.’
As Funmi got up from her chair, a middle aged woman walked into the reception. ‘Good-morning,’ she greeted Funmi, ‘Ngozi, please if Femi comes, tell him to see me before he goes to drop the mails, I have something for him.’
‘Yes ma,’ the receptionist replied.
‘I guess she’s the young woman to see me right?’ The woman asked the receptionist.
The woman beckoned to Funmi to come with her. Funmi followed her up the stairs, into a lobby and then into an office with the ‘HCG’ tag. She liked something about the woman that she couldn’t place a hand on. Maybe it was her poise or maybe it was the fact that she smiled when she talked, whatever the reason, she felt a little more comfortable than she was some minutes ago.
‘Please do take a seat,’ the woman said. ‘Tea, water?’
‘Water ma,’ Funmi replied. She ordinarily wouldn’t have accepted anything, but she could feel really comfortable already as this woman’s smiles were working a magic on what would ordinarily have been a tense situation.
‘I’m Mrs Funmi George,’ the woman started and I’m the Head Care Giver in the centre.
Funmi’s face creased into a smile, no wonder she took to the woman so easily, they were name-sakes. ‘I’m Funmi too,’ she said. Happy to mention it.
The woman smiled again, ‘oh! I see, we’re name-sakes. I knew you had to be a ‘Funmi’ because those eyes look really familiar. Only Funmis have curious eyes like that,’ she joked handing Funmi a bottled water.
Funmi smiled. This was going to be easy. She settled in her chair as she took the first gulp. She wasn’t so sure how to start her story. ‘It’s my fault I know but I….’ She stuttered, her voice breaking in the middle of the sentence.
Mrs George stared straight into her eyes, there was no sign of judgement in them, just a smile…not a mocking smile but a warm, strengthening smile.
‘I was drugged and raped by a friend’s cousin,’ Funmi said, searching the eyes of the lady in front of her for signs of condemnation and disgust but finding none of these, continued her story. Pausing momentarily to take sips from her bottle while surprised at the intensity with which Mrs George was listening to her story.
‘First of all Funmi, I would like you to get it clear, that rape can never be the victim’s fault. You are the victim, stop judging yourself,’ she said, stretching forth her hand and closing Funmi’s hands in hers. ‘Did you say he has put the video on the internet?’
‘He said he will,’ Funmi replied. ‘But he has not sent me the link yet so I really don’t know if he really did or it was just a threat.’
‘Does anybody know of this yet, like family members?’ Mrs George asked what you could see were routine questions.
‘Just my sister who is in London ma.’ Funmi replied. ‘I have the video on my phone though.’
‘Our support services include counselling, legal aid and shelter. I don’t know how much of help you will require but if you say he’s blackmailing you, then I believe your best shot is to fight back and the best way to fight back is to expose him. Blackmail only strives in dark places, when you shine the light to it, it loses its power. Our legal aid is free.’ Mrs George pronounced with a fierceness that could be literarily felt.
‘I want to fight back ma and I want you to help me.’ Funmi responded with as much resoluteness.
‘You don’t mind me calling one of our lawyers to be in this meeting right?’ Mrs George asked.
Funmi’s eyes opened wide. Was she ready to do this?
‘Relax, I know how you feel, our lawyers are part of us. I’ll have Barrister Ese on this case, she was once a victim of abuse and she has never lost a case having secured nine convictions. She works with passion and trust me, you’ll like her.’ Mrs George painstaking explained.
‘First you have to go for some tests, it’s just normal procedure for rape victims. I’m sure you haven’t done that yet?’ Mrs George asked, her eyes searching for answers.
Funmi nodded again.
‘Don’t worry, it won’t be a bother as you can do that here in the laboratory in our health centre downstairs. Secondly, you have to inform your parents about this, it’s very important as we can’t start any legal proceedings without the knowledge of your parents. You don’t want them finding out on the television. If you ask me, I’ll say you tell them immediately you get home today or at-least tomorrow so we can get started on this, because valentine’s day was a month ago and the longer this stays, the more difficult it becomes to prove…oh! You even said you have the video on your phone, right?’ Mrs George asked.
‘Yes I do ma,’ Funmi replied, tapping on her keypad to search out the video. Her thumbs wet from sweat.
‘That would sure help our case but I would say you should hold on a bit for now, let’s go downstairs to the laboratory so you can quickly run the tests. I’ll like Ese around when we see the video. She’s on her way here.’
Funmi followed her as she navigated through the lobby to the laboratory. Funmi’s mind was on the pictures she was about to share with some people whom some two hours ago were strangers to her. She went through the rituals of the test in an absent minded state as the technician collected all she needed from her. Her thoughts were on the forbidden thing, ‘the video’.
‘Mrs George asked that you meet up with her back in the office,’ the technician said as she filed the test tubes in their proper places.
‘Do I have to come tomorrow for this?’ Funmi asked, becoming present in the laboratory for the first time.
The technician smiled, ‘you should get your results in the next thirty minutes…at-least most of it.’
‘Oh! That’s fast,’ Funmi gasped, making her way out of the laboratory. What if it turned out HIV positive? Maybe gonorrhoea? Or even syphilis? These thoughts thumped her head as she walked down the lobby back to Mrs George’s office, shaking her head intermittently in a bid to drive the thoughts out, but they stuck on, as if glued to her brain.
She turned the handle on the door and walked into the office to meet a lady talking with Mrs George, ‘I’m sorry, I should have knocked,’ she said beating a retreat.
‘It’s okay,’ Mrs George replied. ‘Please meet Barrister Ese.’
‘Call me Ese,’ the lady said coolly.
The barrister was a beautiful woman to behold, her skin gleamed under the reflection of the sun rays filtering into the office and she oozed class and quality. She was the opposite of what Funmi expected of a pro bono lawyer. While she expected to meet scruffy, this one was exquisitely dressed. She was positive the women could see the shock in her eyes but they acted indifferent, like they didn’t notice it.
‘I salute your courage, not many girls would do this,’ Ese said, she had a lawyer’s voice, sharp, smooth and sweet. The kind of voice that won cases. ‘And we need more of your type to free other women from the bondage of the torment of rape.’
Funmi’s eyes strayed and stayed on the stitch lines on the brows of Ese as she spoke. The stitch lines seemed to be the only imperfect part of the perfect oval face.
‘Oh that?’ Ese said running her finger on her brows after catching Funmi staring at the stitch lines.
‘I’m sorry,’ Funmi apologised.
‘You don’t have to be, it was a souvenir from my now ex-husband. There’s another one here,’ she said touching her upper lip, ‘but it’s well hidden behind a coat of gloss and lipstick. Five good years of battering.’ Ese said, her eyes not betraying any emotions and her voice not losing its style for a second, it was still sharp, smooth and sweet. She spoke like a free woman – free from the trauma of her abuse.
‘Aunty said the incident was recorded and it’s on your phone?’ Ese asked.
‘Yes it is,’ Funmi replied as she searched out the video from her phone and then passed the phone to Ese like it had suddenly become a plague.
Ese noticed it and smiled. She pressed the play button, her eyes intent on the phone screen. The room was quiet.
Funmi raised her head to catch Mrs George’s eyes but they were fixed on Ese whose eyes were in turn focused on the phone in her hand.
‘Did you say he blackmails you with this video?’ Ese asked
‘Yes?’ Funmi answered, not sure what to say.
Ese passed the phone to Mrs George and at that moment, the table phone in the office rang, it was the laboratory technician on the line. Funmi could guess from the pattern of conversation that the test results were ready.
Funmi couldn’t adequately guess what was being discussed on the phone as Mrs George wasn’t giving away any clues. She just had to be patient.
Mrs George spoke for some five more minutes on the phone before hanging up the call. ‘That was Stella on the line, the lab technician,’ Mrs George started, her eyes focused on her.
Funmi’s gaze was fixed on the woman sitting in front of her, so much so that she forgot that Ese was still in the room.
‘You’re clean, no HIV, no STDs, at-least from the primary result, which in many cases is ninety five percent accurate.’
Funmi exhaled, breathing for the first time in twenty seconds, but it seemed a little too soon as the words rolled out of the lips of Mrs George, but I’m afraid, you’re pregnant.
The air in the room thinned out, she felt a suffocating feeling as everything around seemed to move in slow motion. The sound of the ticking clock became like a blaring loudspeaker in her head as the words reverberated in her head, but I’m afraid, you’re pregnant.
How could she be pregnant? Pregnant from being disvirgined? Pregnant from rape? Pregnant for that beast Bode?
For the first time in her life, she wished she had the gift of fainting so she could escape from this moment in time, but as much as she wished she would slip behind the blackness of unconsciousness, she remained conscious enough to feel the tears roll down her cheeks.
With all the strength she could muster, she let out a shrill sound from deep within her and all she could hear was No!!!!!! She felt herself go limp and suddenly as it started, the sound disappeared, the ticking of the clock stopped, there was a deadening silence and the room faded to black.