Midweek Fix: The Curse of the Nigerian Male
The Curse of the Nigerian Male
I’m coming from the Island; Ikoyi to be exact (anywhere from Marina to Epe is the Island; deal), from the Waterside where I’d just had fish peppersoup and Smirnoff Ice with a friend. It’s a few minutes after eleven; I’m racing on the Third Mainland Bridge eager to get home. There’s usually power at this time of the day; I’m thinking. And if there isn’t, I still have some fuel in the gen.
I want to get some writing done before I sleep.
A few meters past the Ebutte Metta exit I spot a motionless vehicle. Beside it is a woman who’s equally just as still. I should stop; I think. I should stop and ask if she needs help. Besides, she isn’t safe where she is. That’s the humane thing to do.
Thinking back, I wonder if I was gunning for the Nobel Price for Stupid because anyone who’s familiar with that stretch of road knows it’s usually bad karma to be caught there at that time of the day with motor trouble. All sorts of sordid tales have been told over the years; from robbery and assaults to rape and molestation. I really don’t know what I was thinking; I doubt I was even thinking. I stop the car and exit it, feeling like some superhero.
I intend to ask if she needs help; if she’s okay. I get as far as opening my mouth when she screams and reaches for something in the backseat of her car.
Gun; my hyperactive imagination shrieks in letters of fire. For a second I think I’m in New York again; pulse pounding as I am pushed against the wall by a policeman who probably thinks every black man with a hand in his jacket pocket is packing. Whatever the case, I am not waiting to see what she has on her backseat. I do a 180, run – run – back to my car, jump in and go from zero to ninety in five seconds.
I can still smell rubber burning.
I am at Ogudu before I realize my car is screaming; I am at Ogudu before I’m aware of anything again. My heart is doing hoops and spins; my teeth are chattering, I am scared. I have to verbally tell myself to take my foot off the accelerator before I can slow down the vehicle. By now I am approaching Alapere Estate, so I just ease into the filling station just past the estate exit, turn off the engine and get out of the car.
My legs are trembling so much I have to sit on the tarmac. Sweat pops from all over me like a pure water sachet just pulled out of a really cold freezer; I look at my hands and to my absolute horror, burst into tears.
I am crying.
After living in predominantly-white countries for a bit, you get used to people crossing the street to avoid you, people changing seats on a bus when they see you approaching or women clutching their purses and walking faster because a young black male is approaching. The thing is in Lagos, the crime is not being black.
The crime is being male.
At a time when just one of my friends had a car and we wanted to go out, we would dump ourselves into the vehicle but be on the lockout for police checkpoints. Once we spotted one up ahead, the car would stop out of sight, about one or two of us would get out, walk past the checkpoint and wait for the vehicle to catch up.
Three or more males in a car? Potential suspect things. Even if you weren’t caught with any illegal goods, the time wasting alone was insane.
Maybe those are too-serious issues. Maybe I should talk about how you’re looking at a woman and she’s looking down to see if she’s showing too much flesh. Or how you want to ask someone for directions and they just look straight ahead or hurry past you, assuming you want to beg for transport money. Or maybe I should talk about how I hesitate to invite a woman over to the crib these days; not because I’m afraid of her refusing, more like I’m afraid of her reasons for refusing.
I’m not a rapist; I want to scream.
But should that be her problem?
What is the problem – or maybe we should begin like this; is there really a problem? If so, what is it and how can it be solved?
I can’t lie; one phrase that makes me clench my teeth and want to hit something is the all men are dogs something. I mean, ‘statistics’ seem to support the ridiculous notion that men think about sex every nine seconds. Just think about the implications of such a bogus statement. So; I’m paying a woman a compliment, she thinks I want to get between her legs. I’m smiling politely at a female receptionist she’s thinking I caught a glimpse of her breasts. I offer to help a stranded woman; she wonders at what point during the journey I’m going to make my move.
How about the unfortunate reality that quite a number of guys actually lost their virginity to an aunt, the house girl, ‘mummy’s friend’ and so on? How about the most unfortunate reality that Nigerian law does not acknowledge that a man can be raped? ‘Unlawful penetration’, that’s what the law calls it – and since it’s the man doing the penetrating…
How about the service girl at the bar, the fast food outlet, the store – who keeps flirting and making suggestive remarks just because I’m a guy therefore I am susceptible to her charms and feminine wiles? How about the bank cashier who cannot seem to get enough of my charm?
Or am I paranoid? Am I guilty of the same crime that ‘politeness is so rare these days people confuse it for flirting’ meme seeks to address?
The truth is, most people – most guys are moving so fast through the day they barely notice any of these things. Unfortunately, I’m a writer. All I do is notice. I cannot bury my head in the sand and act like well; sexism is a global phenomenon and it’s our turn here too, so I should just man up and deal with it. Unfortunately; sometimes it’s as intense as hearing voices in my head. I cannot turn it off.
Finally; I am done crying. My chest is still heaving; I’m still sweaty and shaky but the leaky faucet in eyes is exhausted for the moment. I stand up and brush my hands off, and briefly wonder what exactly made me cry; that I had run from a screaming woman or that I had been scared by a screaming woman.
Or maybe I’m just tired of humanity’s collective bullshit; how we can hardly resist treating one person a certain kind of way just because they are.
Black. White. Brown. Straight. Gay. Religious. Atheist. Fat. Thin. Male. Female. And all other categories we put ourselves in.
I remember a while ago I resided in some area ago; I was coming home one evening and as I walked towards my apartment, wondering if NEPA had been gracious enough during the day and I would get cold water to drink, my landlord’s last born tells me his father summons.
Sighing, I ignore my apartment and instead climb the stairs to his, open the door –
And find the Oputa panel waiting.
I am shown to a seat and before I am addressed I ask for a cup of cold water. The panel looks offended; but I couldn’t care less. I didn’t owe rent; so they were the ones interrupting. They could wait.
I drank my fill of water before looking at the panel members. “Yes?” I asked.
The landlord was equally blunt. “Young man, are you the one that impregnated my daughter?”
It was so unexpected I could only ask, “Ehn?” with my mouth hanging open after the question.
Then I realized; he had asked a question, not made a statement as he would have if he knew the answer. I adjusted on my seat and asked, “Have you asked your daughter?”
The man eyed his fellow panelists, looked back at me and nodded.
“What did she say?”
He folded his arms against his chest and grumbled. I knew then his daughter had refused to answer him so I said, “As soon as your daughter answers, I will.”
And I stood from my seat, intending to leave.
“Who else can it be?” He complained. “You’re the only irresponsible man in this area. A man your age – why are you not married?”
Irresponsible being the same or equal to being unmarried.
I stopped and turned to face him. “Baba, shebi you are married?”
“Ehen?” he answered aggressively.
“That must mean you cannot impregnate a woman again, shebi?”
“Who said – “ he shot forward in his seat, starting to evoke all sorts of gods and incantations. And then he realized what I had said. He sat back in his seat, eying me like a well-fed lion would eye a fat buffalo.
“Goodnight sir,” I said, bowing from the waist before exiting the building. It wasn’t long after that before I was evicted; but not before they discovered who had impregnated the landlord’s daughter.
Yinka, the manager of the bakery next door. Married with children. How many? I lost count (and interest) after attending the naming ceremony of the sixth.
Is it my fault I am male?
I get home at something past twelve and put on my laptop. Life goes on. I think about the woman I meant to help and try not to blame her; who knows what she’s been through? Yorubas say ‘if you close your eyes for a bad person to walk past, that’s where you’ll be when a good person goes by’. I think about the policemen who are occasionally extra-rough with me just because I’m male; I think about the cab I stop that drives past me to stop for the woman up ahead.
I think; and wonder what life would be like as a woman. It can’t be that hard to wear a skirt; I think.
But then, I remember the bra. And smile.
Maybe life as male in Nigeria is not so bad after all.