By Uzoamaka Aniunoh
Yesterday afternoon, my mother and I decided to go to Onitsha. Odu Agbada, to be specific. The one in Head Bridge. We were going to buy ankara materials.
My mother was walking in front, just like when I was a kid. This time, it was because I didn’t know where we were going so I followed, unlike when I was a child when you couldn’t walk side by side in congested markets. Anyways.
We came to a part of the road that had buses lined up, before the bridge. From way down, I could see a man standing next to one of the buses. He stood in a way that made it impossible not to walk beside him. There were other men and a few women there. This particular man kept looking our way but I did not think anything of it. He had the right to look wherever he liked. But once my mother got close to this man, with his elbow, he shoved my mother’s right breast and said ‘nne kedu ije’ like…’nne, how far’. It was a very deliberate act and he had this nasty smirk that disturbed as much as it just annoyed me.
I was shocked but within that second, I thought I saw wrong. But my mother turned around, shocked too. That was when I knew there was nothing wrong with my eyes and ears. My mother asked him what he had just said and done. She raised her voice when she asked, so that some people came around to find out what the problem was. The man began to scream at my mother. He said that my mother pushed him.
I told him he was lying, that I saw what he did. And I thought my eyes were deceiving me until my mother reacted. The man hissed like we were wasting his time and and tried to push through to walk away, so he shoved my mother violently.
My mother held him and asked him if he goes around touching people’s mothers and asking them kedu ije? He told my mother that the only reason he was not beating her up was because she was a grown woman. But that did not stop him from touching her inappropriately.
The people who gathered, the men, had picked sides even before anything ever happened. They asked my mother not to hold a man like that. Not to scream at him because he was a man. That she should not scream because she was a woman. My mother kept asking why this man felt the need to do what he did, still holding him. Someone in the crowd said it’s because my mother was putting on trousers. Some others laughed. Another one said it’s even jeans. That she should dress like a mother. I was upset. I was talking but my voice was lost in the crowd.
They were saying all sorts of things, but I was beginning to blank out. Till someone suddenly shoved me from behind, saying I should get out of his view. My mother told him never to touch me again. If that’s how he shoved his mother and sisters. Then the crowd concluded that my mother was a bitter woman who liked trouble. Then man who touched my mother asked people if they can see. That under two minutes, this woman has had issues with two people. He became the victim who was being harassed by a woman for nothing.
‘Ahu na afu nwanyi a ose’, the man continued to say.
I feared that if this man could say that it was in fact my mother who shoved him and not that he touched her and said something inappropriate, then in a few minutes, the story could change and we’d be thieves who stole his phone or money. How do you think jungle justice happens sometimes. In tears, I took my mother’s hand and asked her to come with me. My mother was in tears too. The powerlessness was numbing.
As we left, some men said she should stop wearing makeup.
There were onlookers, who said nothing but looked. These same people will shout NOT ALL MEN when you bring up this topic. If in the face of a thing like this, you watch and say nothing, you are an enabler.
We did not bother calling my father to bring anyone to arrest anyone like we did in 2015 when a man touched my kid sister. We didn’t bother, because they will simply apologize to my father for touching my mother’s body. The only person they would have offended would be my father. They would feel sorry for touching a man’s property. Not the woman.
Some women have become used to this. They have accepted it as part of living. They’re touched inappropriately and they carry on because how many times do you want to call someone out? Especially when it would amount to nothing. That’s if you’re not accused of talking back at a man.
Just because they have chosen to keep quiet does not mean it doesn’t happen.
I mentioned it in a shop we entered afterwards and the shop owner, a woman, sighed and said that that’s how they behave. You could see that this was a woman who was tired of protesting, of calling out, of talking.
We cannot be tired. I beg you people. This is not okay. I don’t know how to solve this but nothing has changed since I was nine years old. It’s the same thing, the same response. How do we bring girl children into this, please?
I am angry and I don’t have the energy to type anymore. But this is not okay. This entitlement that men feel over the female body is not okay. The idea that we dress for them and if they don’t approve, they can do whatever they like, is not okay. The normalization of this invasion of privacy, this abomination, is not okay.
My body is my body, allow me my body. Leave women’s bodies alone. See something, say something. Muteness in the face of harassment is you enabling harassment.