Ezinwa takes off her coat and occupies one of the seats at the reception of the New Orleans police department. She has not arrived longer than five minutes when the door across her seat flings open. She is startled and shakes a little. A man in a cop uniform signals her in. She picks up her bag and coat and walks in. He points to the seat opposite him, then they both sit at the same time. He flips through a file and studies it while she notes how the funny movement he makes with his mouth causes his moustache to move. She hates it. It strikes a memory and she cringes.
“So you were raped?” Ezinwa does not like how the words flowed easily out of his mouth. Especially the word “rape”. She feels that he should treat it more delicately. It is a delicate subject.
“Yes.” She whispers and adjusts in her seat, swallowing nothing.
“This man is your friend?”
“We were close.” She clears her throat. She hates the quietness in her voice. It matters to her that she is not seen as weak. The cop leans back in his chair and it creaks. The sound does something to her teeth and she wipes her teeth with her tongue. He’s studying her and she knows it. It makes her uncomfortable, so she looks at the picture above him on the wall. He rubs his beard with his thumb and index finger.
“Tell me,” he says leaning forward. His head is resting on his palm now, the left arm of the chair propping his elbow. “What happened?” Ezinwa swallows a huge amount of saliva this time. She has been practising how she would narrate what went down, but now she struggles to let words out. There is the longing to be back in her tiny apartment where she would cry and slice her wrists and tie a rope round her neck for some seconds before taking it off.
“We met.” She is saying when she burst into tears. “He raped me.” Her voice is squeaky as she speaks through sobs. “He raped me.” The cop sits up. He looks uncomfortable because he doesn’t know what to do. He reaches for the telephone, aware that he may have difficulty handling Ezinwa. He would need someone who could say the right things and do the right things. Ezinwa puts up a hand to stop him. She wipes her face and looks up. “I’m not ready. I’ll come back.” She snatches her coat and bag. As she scurries out of the room, she bumps into a woman and mutters her apology twice, walking faster towards the exit and leaving the woman to stare. It was not the first time she had been at the police station to give a full statement that would enable them take up the case. It was not the first time she had backed out because reliving the memories, especially to someone else, made her uncomfortable.
As she walks out of the station, she rummages through her bag for the keys to the car Brian, her boyfriend bought for her. The man jogging towards her reminds her of Hassan and her steps become more hurried.
“Damn keys!” She says.
“Maybe if you carefully looked for it, you’d find it.” The man says and puts his ear plugs back into his ear, smiling as he passes her by. Strangely, she finds herself heeding to his advice. She carefully searches her bag until she finds the key, but the knife in her bag falls out. She instantly feels naked and very visible, as though people already knew what she used the knife to do, why she carries it about. She hated people knowing things about her that she didn’t want them to know. She makes to pick it when someone hands it to her. “You dropped this.” He says with a smile then proceeds into the station. She looks back at him and he’s looking at her too, like they both know something nobody else in the world knows. She places the pocket knife back in her bag and moves towards the car. She is conscious of the pain she has felt in her tummy and her legs for the past few days. She read on Google that it was because she had been engaged in an unpleasant sexual activity. Suddenly images from that evening clouds her vision. She is crying, pleading and struggling. Hassan is on top of her, struggling to keep her legs open, struggling to get into her. Rage clouds his features and he hits her once, twice, and tells her to stay put. Ezinwa is walking faster now, as though it would wipe away the memory of that day, and the pain she felt. She gets into her car and it doesn’t feel like she is trying to quench the memories, it feels like the memories are chasing her, compelling her to recall every detail. She places her coat and handbag on the seat beside her and stares at her reflection in the rear view mirror. She looks different, very different, scarred. She goes through pictures of herself on her phone. It reminds her of who she was before she let the aftermath of Hassan hurting her take possession of the Ezinwa she had been for years. The outgoing, the fun loving lady, funny, charismatic, extroverted Ezinwa has turned into the Ezinwa who moves about with sharp objects. The Ezinwa who is scared, talks less, is always fully covered, cries at any opportunity she gets and cringes at every touch from someone. She places her head on the steering wheel. She tries to summon up the courage to go back into the station and let it all out. How she had met Hassan on her way to work. She had thought he was handsome in his Hausa cap and caftan. The way he smiled as he approached her. She remembers joking about her being a serial killer because of how fast he trusted her. It was his first time outside Kaduna and to New Orleans. He had been happy that he finally met a friendly face and one of his own. She remembers wanting to tell him that if they were in Nigeria, she wouldn’t be one of his own. He would have been plotting against her because Hausas and Igbos did not play friendly. He would have hated her and she would have been disgusted by him. He told her about Zainab, his fiancée and how much he loves her. He showed her a picture of Zainab, and Ezinwa had thought that she was extremely beautiful. Hausa girls usually are. She began to hang out with Hassan and it became frequent. They go out for drinks and to eat. They talk and laugh about how their days went. She remembers laughing very loudly at a bar with her head thrown back as Hassan mimicked the way Americans behaved, the way they talked too. She remembers being slightly drunk as they both staggered out of the bar. She had thought that they would wound up in bed that night and regret it the next morning. But he called her sister, Ifenna to come and take her home. She remembers thinking, “what a gentleman? He didn’t take advantage of me. He hasn’t tried to make a move on me as others would have.” They became even closer and she trusted him more. She told him everything, about Brian and his family. About the boys that tried to hit on her and about how people indirectly exhibited racism towards her. He told her about the neighbours that mimicked his accent. How they laughed and called him names when he tried to confront them.
She finally went over to his house in the name of being close friends and to see the boys who mimicked his accent. She had let her guard down a long time ago. She didn’t have any thoughts of Hassan trying to make a move on her. She remembers the moment they got to the house, how he had begun to take his clothes off. She wanted to make a joke about something but decided against it and waited for him in the living room instead. He came out naked and she laughed. She had thought it was one of his jokes because he was all smiles. But, seconds later, he began pleading with her to take her clothes off. And when she refused, he began to take it off for her. She told him to stop. It made him angry and he began to shout. She had been scared because she had never seen him like that, because he looked like one of the Fulani herdsmen everyone feared and talked about. He pushed her on the bed and slid on a condom. She remembers wondering if it was to protect himself or her. As he mounted her body, she started to beg, fighting to push him away. She had always thought herself strong, strong enough to deal with situations like this if they ever occurred, but he was stronger. She cried for help, not too loudly. She had no idea why, maybe it was because she hated asking for help, because she didn’t know how to ask for help. She shouted again, with the hope that one of the neighbours would hear her. Her cry for help was an unsure one.
“Help! Somebody help me!” She remembers being scared that he might kill her, that things might get out of hand. It was why her cry for help was not audible enough to get any help anyway. Or maybe she was scared of people running in, of people finding her in his bed crying, of the news getting out. She wasn’t sure. She did not know.
… To be concluded