Three years is a long time not to know someone’s name, especially when that person, albeit in hindsight, is the reason you are alive. When that person lives within you everyday, the memory of their face halting you in your tracks, pushing you to the heights of fear and uncertainty.
Three years is a long time not to know what happened to me on that night I first saw you; huddled next to me, calmness in your eyes, but worry all over your face. You were just as rugged as they come: barefoot, rough kinky hair, tattered, dusty clothes, and a smell that reminded me of shattered dreams, broken homes, and unwanted children.
I remember, as if it was yesterday, your left arm reaching out to me when I jerked awake. I was lying on a cold metal bench at 3 a.m, in the middle of nowhere, the pounding in my head excruciating. I remember your feeble hand rushing towards my head when I tried to lift myself up, letting out the loudest of screams that tore through the otherwise cold, silent night.
Then I realized I was naked, save for a tattered piece of jacked tied around my waist.
Every time this memory comes to me, which happens almost everyday, my insides churn in protest, reminding me of a blankness, both in mind and body, that I have never managed to explain, to date.
Every time this memory comes to me, it is your voice that first rings in my ears, whispering, “You may not believe it, but I am not going to hurt you. I have sat here, next to you, for the past five hours, too afraid that leaving would bring such excruciating pain to your life.”
Every time this memory comes to me, it is your rattling teeth, because of the cold, that continue to bring me to tears. I remember, as if it happened yesterday, the worry on your face as realization dawned on me that although seemingly unhurt, I was lying naked, in the middle of nowhere, with no recollection whatsoever of what had happened. I was lying next to a man I had never seen before, who was hell-bent on convincing me I was safe with him.
Every time this memory comes to me, I try, hard, to silence your voice in my head on that fateful night: I live on these streets, I have lived here since I was a child. I know a dangerous person when I see them. I know when I need to go aggressive, and when I need to just remain calm, and wait for the day unfold. When I saw your nakedness walking towards me, my first guess was as wild as it could get: finally, I was getting laid. But then, just a few metres from me, you collapsed onto the bench, filling the air with inconsistent, inaudible murmurs. Then, I knew the worst, if any, had already happened to you.
When this memory comes to me, I struggle to fill the five-hour blank canvas with paint, my brush stroking in small, inconsistent moves, before helplessly falling to the ground, tipping the paint jar. I know, even after these three years, that the memory of those five hours before I ‘woke’ up might never come to me. That I might spend the rest of my life drowning in this terrifying blankness, too afraid of what lies on the other side, and of its inability to manifest itself.
When this memory comes to me, I struggle to remain calm, remembering my literal ‘walk of shame’ across town, with you in tow, the darkness not doing much to alleviate stares from other night owls. I was walking, fast, as if the remaining part of my life depended on it. This walking away, almost running, from you, not wanting the stares to associate my nakedness with you. Only stopping when you gave up and shouted, “Just in case you didn’t know yet, there were two men; those are the ones you should be ashamed or afraid of; not me.”
It is these words that sting the most when this memory comes to me, remembering the men that tried to grope at my bare breasts, and buttocks that were only partially covered by the tattered jacket that I now know belonged to you. Remembering their words when I tried to pull my body away from their hungry grasps; a woman’s body belongs to we, the men. You are nothing without these touches you are trying to deny us. Remembering the stains their hand prints have forever left all over my skin.
It is these words that sting the most when this memory comes to me, reminding me of the horror at the realization that I could not walk back home, so I depended on these very men for help. So that my heart was in my mouth as I approached the bus stop, hoping that this one time, the universe would listen to me and send help.
It is these words that sting the most when this memory comes to me, remembering the horror in the familiar bus conductor’s face when he saw me. Remembering his voice, sad and calm, as he helped me onto the bus, and led me back to my house.
It Is these words that sting the most when my sister, two days later, finds me passed out on my living room floor, still unable to explain what happened to me that night. I tell her that all I remember is someone, at 7 p.m. on that day, tapping my shoulder to ask for the time, and the next thing I knew, I was naked, robbed of everything that was one me; clothes, shoes, a mobile phone, and my bank account wiped.
It is these words that sting the most when my sister struggles to voice her concerns; do you want to get checked for bodily harm, that which our eyes cannot see?
It is these words that sting the most, because I know, now, that you are the only one who might hold answers to all these questions in my head. I know, even after these three years since the ordeal, that I will never find courage to find you, and maybe, help in painting this canvas, because I am too afraid of the truth.