When Love Came Knocking: Part 1

You were seven the first time a man was inappropriate with you. You were too young to understand that a teenage boy telling you to lift your skirts to show him your vagina was wrong. You thought it was a game, so you played along until he stopped coming around. 

You were eleven the first time a man touched you inappropriately. It was Uncle Paul, your father’s trusted friend who saw you grow up. He would make jokes about marrying you, calling you “my wife”, and your family was in on the “joke.” 

“Your husband is here,” your mother would say when he came around. 

Your father would admonish you when you tried to avoid Uncle Paul by hiding in your room. “Araba, what are you doing inside? Won’t you come out and greet your husband?”

You didn’t like Uncle Paul because he made you uncomfortable, but when you tried to complain to your parents about being uneasy with the whole “husband and wife” thing, they brushed off your concerns and told you to stop overreacting. 

When he slapped your bum the first time, you promptly reported him to your parents. Finally, you thought, they would understand why you didn’t like him, and they would make him stop calling you his wife. 

Your parents were shocked for a few seconds when you told them, and then they berated you for telling lies about Uncle Paul. They accused you of being a spoiled child, trying to tell tales about a good man simply because you didn’t want him to be called your husband. You were shocked and devastated that they would believe the innocence of a man they didn’t even bother to confront over you. 

“Don’t ever repeat that nonsense to anyone,” your father bellowed, the three lines between his brows forming in his anger. “And when he comes around, you will be nice to him and not act in a way that would embarrass your mother and me.”

So, after that incident, even though Uncle Paul fondled your rapidly growing breasts and squeezed your bum every time he caught you alone in the hallway, you didn’t complain or report him again. You learned to keep quiet and endure.

You were fifteen the first time you were raped. It was at your village, after Grandma Baaba’s funeral. You were forced to share a room with two of your male cousins because you were the closest in age. 

“You’ll be fine with the boys,” your father had claimed. “They will take care of you.”

Although you were wary of sharing a room with the boys, you were exhausted from all the chores from the funeral activities and fell into a deep slumber. The boys were fourteen and seventeen, and after the older boy bribed the younger one to stay out and keep watch, you woke up with a heavy hand over your mouth. You struggled, but you were too exhausted to put up much of a fight. So, on a straw mat in your great-grandfather’s house, he took your innocence, ignoring your pleas and tears. You were used to men trying to touch you without your consent — it happened with some regularity — but this was different. It was so much worse, and you were in a lot of pain. 

When he finished, releasing his sticky cum into you, he told you to go and bathe. He warned you that if you told anyone, he would tell them that you had come onto him while he was sleeping and touched his penis, and when he pushed you away, you threatened to accuse him of rape. He added that he would tell everyone that you touched the younger boy too, and he would pay him to corroborate his story. 

For a moment, you were tempted to take the chance and report him anyway, but you remembered the incident with Uncle Paul, and you believed him. So, devastated, broken-spirited, and in a lot of pain, you hobbled to the small bathroom attached to the house. There, you used the bucket of water someone had left there, and the half-bar of Sunlight soap to wash yourself, weeping quietly at the brutal loss of your innocence. It wasn’t just about your virginity, but your view of men and the world changed. The injustice of it all stung the most.

You were seventeen the second time you were raped, and it was another family member. Your experiences with harassment and rape had taught you to avoid being alone with men, and you tried your best for two years. Your parents travelled to Kumasi for a wedding, and they took your younger brother along, leaving you home, alone, to cater to a guest they were expecting that evening. He was your aunt’s husband, and he lured you into the guest room he was lodging in under the guise of needing a cup of tea. He forced himself into you, breathing heavily on you as he pawed your body, reeking of booze and sweat. You couldn’t believe it was happening again, but the pain and helplessness, and the intense feeling of shame and dirtiness, told you that it was very real.

You were eighteen when you went to the university, and your experience with men didn’t change. Two of the guys in your hostel that you had considered your friends tried to drug you at a birthday party. They were almost successful, but one of the girls caught them and helped you back to your room. It was another eye-opener, and you learned to dislike and fear men even more.

You grew into a voluptuous woman by nineteen; heavy breasts, wide hips with a thin waist, and a big bum. It had started since you were thirteen, but by nineteen, many people called your body “unreal”. You hated your body so much because it attracted all kinds of leering, sexual comments, and the attention of creepy men. You tried to hide your body in baggy clothes and big T-shirts, but it didn’t always work, and you grew to hate yourself too.

You were twenty when you stopped saying “No.” You had learned the hard way that it hurt less if you didn’t argue or fight. You avoided men when you could, but when you couldn’t, you never said “No.” You didn’t say “Yes,” either, but they took the adage “silence gives consent” to heart, and your silence was taken to be acceptance. You didn’t enjoy the sex, and you didn’t participate much, but the men didn’t mind and would tell you that although you were kind of frigid, your naked body alone is enough to make them cum. 

You were twenty-five when you got married to the son of one of your father’s cronies. Your parents arranged the marriage, and you didn’t have much of a choice. After your initial protests, you gave in. You had had one boyfriend before then, but you broke up with him when you caught him trying to record your sexual moments. You resigned yourself to the idea that no man would see beyond your body, and you thought that perhaps, if you were married, you would gain some respect and be viewed as a whole person without being immediately sexualised by others. It was a naive thought, but it gave you some hope.

You soon realised that marriage would not give you the reprieve from being overly sexualised. Your husband-to-be hated it when you wore loose outfits and would purchase form-fitting and revealing clothes for you to wear whenever you went out together. It got worse when you got married. He would parade you in front of his friends, feeling proud as they lusted after you and made lewd, disrespectful remarks about your body and what it would be like to bed you. To all those men, including your husband, you were nothing but a sex object, and they didn’t see beyond your curves and outward beauty. The more attention you got, the more you hated your body.

Marriage was difficult for you. Your husband was insanely jealous and paranoid as well. At first, he enjoyed having men stare at you, but after a while, he hated seeing you speaking to any man — even your Boss at work. He checked your phone constantly, and every chat was put under intense scrutiny. He began to drop you at work and pick you up, convinced that you were having an affair with a colleague. Apart from his ridiculous jealousy and controlling behaviour, nothing you did pleased him. The food was either too hot or too cold, too hard or too soft, too sweet or not sweet enough. And to make matters worse, he didn’t want children, but left you to bear the brunt of his family’s questions about your childlessness after four years of marriage. You never learned to speak up for yourself, so you bore all the snide remarks and the unfair accusations, half-relieved that you would not bring a child into your joyless life.

In your fifth year of marriage, you finally found some courage. You had been conditioned to endure a lot without complaining, but when he hit you to the extent that you fell a short flight of stairs, your fear for your life was greater than your conditioning to endure abuse from men. So, afraid and unsure of how your life would be but determined to start over, you packed your things and left immediately after you returned from the hospital. You held your ground in the face of pressure from your parents and husband’s family to return to your emotionally and now physically abusive husband. You had seen your life flash before your eyes as you fell down those stairs, and going back to him was not an option.

Overwhelmed by the pressure and your new single situation, you broke down in the ladies’ bathroom after work on Friday and wept. One of your colleagues found you and offered you silent support while you cried. Her name was Ruby, and she had always been friendly and helpful towards you. You had liked her but declined all her invitations and friendly overtures because your husband hadn’t liked you being friends with unmarried women. You knew he was being unreasonable, but you didn’t have the energy to fight with him on any issue, so you had gone along with his ridiculous ideologies and turned a blind eye to his misogynistic streak. But now, things were different. You had already started divorce proceedings, and you no longer had to listen to the rules of a madman. So amid your crying jag over the current state of your life and your anguish about everything you had allowed to happen to you, you apologised to her for keeping her at arm’s length and asked her if you could be friends.

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