She had come into the room at night – because they all slept in that one room, the two sisters, their brother and herself – to find that both sisters were not home. The brother was there. He was lying on the bed sleeping. She went ahead to spread her mat on the floor as she always did, and then lying on it, said her prayers and shut her eyes. Only she wasn’t sleeping—she was waiting. For weeks, she’d been experiencing strange sensations in her dreams; sometimes when she woke in the middle of the night to pee she would feel a soreness she could neither understand nor explain. Something was happening. She didn’t know what it was, but had her suspicions. That night, as she lay waiting, taking heavy, but carefully measured breaths, snoring sometimes to give a varied performance, she pondered what she would do if indeed he came to her. Reach for a bottle, smash it against his head? She didn’t know, which only heightened her terror, for she knew that horrible things often lurked in the shadow of the unknown.
When she heard him rise she almost stopped breathing. She knew it the instant his feet touched the floor, silence broken by the faintest crack in his toes. She could feel his presence, a dark mass, to her mind, crossing the empty space between them, settling down next to her, not touching, but close enough so that her mind supplied the touch. She wanted to scream right there and then, but somehow managed to keep still, continuing to take the difficult breaths in and out, in and out. How long was she to wait? She felt his cold hand on her shoulder. He gave her a shake. He whispered her name twice. When she failed to stir, he withdrew the hand and ever so slowly slid it under her wrapper. He began at her knees, stroking her thighs, gradually working his way up to her crotch, at which point he must have known something had gone terribly wrong, because that night Rebecca was wearing not panties, but shorts, thick, green, fortified shorts. That’s when she screamed.
Uzor leaped from the bed, and made a mad dash for the door. He was fumbling with the keys when she jumped on his back, grabbed him by the neck, scratching his face with her nails. She meant to pluck his eyes out, to take his skin with her. “So this is what you have been doing?” she wanted to say. “To me, Uzor, to me?” She could only cry out his name over and over.
Something in her resisted belief. She was more at peace when it remained a mystery. She calculated that if she killed him things might go back that way.
But to kill Uzor she needed a weapon, or in any case more strength than she possessed. He pried her fingers away from his face quite easily, and pushed her to the ground. Before she could recover, he had escaped into the night. Rebecca let out a cry and chased after him, but a hand appeared out of nowhere and gripped her by the elbow. “What kind of witchcraft has possessed the both of you?”
She looked up and saw that a group of six or seven of her neighbours were gathered outside. She tried to collect herself, to narrate what had happened, what had been happening. She was panting ceaselessly, and seemed to have lost all ability to speak. After several attempts, she managed finally to say that Uzor had been fingering her in her sleep. She was without her wrapper and stood before the neighbours dressed only in green shorts and a sheer top. Her left breast had risen beyond the threshold and was peeping out. One of the women, embarrassed on her behalf, gave a signal and Rebecca shoved it back in place, adjusting the top accordingly.
Just then, shirtless, looking like a human fox, Uzor re-appeared. He was not fingering her, he swore. On his mother’s grave! He was only trying to wake her up to move up to the bed so that he could take the ground instead. At no time was his hand anywhere near her privates. He was willing to submit himself to any shrine, including swearing before an imam or priest. The girl was dreaming. She was infatuated with him once, and he had rejected her advances. Since then she’d had it in her mind to pay him back. “Look,” he said, “just look at her then look at me. Who do you believe?”
Rebecca felt their eyes on her, heard the whispered calculations of their thoughts, saw the sympathy drain out of their faces. All at once, there was murmuring about girls wearing flimsy nightwear to bed yet sleeping recklessly, legs splayed. “End times,” someone remarked. Instinctively Rebecca crossed her arms over chest.
This sharp competition for men, said one of the woman, girls everywhere were becoming aggressive. “Everybody is uselessing themselves up and down, now look what has happened.”
The argument grew heated, with the men lamenting the challenges of being a man in today’s world, the women insisting that it had always been harder for women, only just now were the men starting to catch up. In the middle was Rebecca, staring at the lot, and at a shirtless Uzor, who seemed relaxed in their midst, remarking to someone that this really was just a big misunderstanding. Rebecca charged at him. She threw her hands haphazardly, managing to deliver a flurry of blows before the neighbours intervened. Dragging her away, they scolded her. Why was she taking this too far? Could she not see them here trying to settle the matter? Why was she aggravating things? Typical woman behaviour, one of them shouted. Rebecca was too distressed to speak. She felt a heaviness in the depths of her soul. It weighed her down, dragged her into the deep. But it was this same heaviness that centred her, focused her, drove her.
She crouched, straightened herself, and then crouched again. Her body, engulfed by unseen flames, seemed conflicted between remaining in a foetal position or succumbing to the rage inside that spurred her to rise. Screaming, she rushed at Uzor and again several men stepped in between them. She held on to his left ear, and as they picked her up by her feet and pulled her away, she nearly took the ear with her. This time they carried her, kicking and screaming, to the back of the house. Beside the water tank they held her, two of them standing guard. Rebecca lay down on the ground, later standing up and then crouching. Her mouth hung open, like a large cat poised to spit, releasing sound and air and the fire of intent, but not much more.
She tried to make a run for it once more—but it was in vain. She screamed out her frustration. Why was she the prisoner? Why was she held like an animal?
“Because he is talking like a sensible human being, and you are not!”
She knew they were right. Something had come loose in her mind, something wild, that set out smashing to bits the décor of her usually serene countenance. There were at least two more hours of captivity before dawn came, and they were forced to let her go. Two hours was enough for the madness in her to give way to a semblance of sanity. But in her final hour two things had become clearer than any: one, she would never again sleep in the house; two, no matter what happened Uzor would pay for what he had done.