You Will Know No Peace
by Obinna Udenwe
Esther and Ahmed sat on a bench under a jacaranda tree in the Central Park – it was an open park, without a fence to separate it from the road. So it was easy for passersby to enter the park anytime they wanted and sit on the numerous benches scattered around and about the park. It was also easier for mad people who wandered about the city of Abuja uninhibited, to enter the park any time they wanted, unannounced, to take shelter from the scorching sun. There were some corners in the Park that had piles of rags and used containers of all sorts and bags containing God-knows-what heaped in them, belonging to one insane person or another.
Esther and Ahmed had not said anything to each other since they met in the park. Silence sat in between them, studying the road with them, counting the number of cars that passed – their models and colours. Ahmed noticed tears dripping from Esther’s eyes. He couldn’t say a thing – how does one begin to ask a young lady he had raped a couple of months earlier not to cry? How could he ask her to wipe her tears – would he have the temerity to utter words like that?
The long branches and leaves of the jacaranda tree served as a perfect canopy against the sun. Esther wore a skirt that stretched only to her knees, and beneath her sweat polo Ahmed could see that she also wore a shirt – milky or white in colour. She wore a flat shoe and had been staring at the shoe since he met her in the park.
“I… I… don’t want to hear that… again. Please.” Esther broke the silence after a long time. When Ahmed met her sitting in the park already, he had knelt on the ground and said that he was sorry, before she asked him to sit down. None of them had uttered any words after that.
“How can you tell me those words? Sorry? Sorry? Sorry for what?”
“Ah… for… for what I… did—”
“What did you do?”
Ahmed was silent. Esther’s face was up, her eyes reddish and rheumy. She stared at him. Ahmed prayed the earth should open and swallow him.
“For what happened—”
How could Ahmed open his mouth to mention what happened? What words would he use that would be appropriate? Would he say ‘for raping you’? or ‘for forcing myself inside you’? No. Those words were unsaid in that kind of situation. They were the kind of words that turned into lumps and wedged at the junction between the throat and the mouth, refusing to come out.
“I don’t know how… Please. Please. I am sorry. For forcing myself… inside you.” They were out. The words, feared, abhorred, the lumps, had been pushed out and his mouth was hot. Tears came to his eyes for he saw them run down like water from the young lady’s eyes. Ahmed imagined what she must be passing through.
Silence grew again as the young woman sobbed. He had a handkerchief, but you dare not offer a handkerchief to the woman you raped. How could you do that? Birds flew in numbers, he was sure they could be up to a hundred. They perched on the jacaranda tree, chirping and cooing happily.
Esther began to talk, “That day, I had stayed late in the office. You see, I just got this job then and needed to work hard. I was informed by the manager that they needed creativity and hard work. So every day, I stayed back, few hours after dismissal. I worked till seven, sometimes eight PM, finishing up designs… some front elevation here, some floor plan there….” Esther took a deep breath. Ahmed said nothing. Both of them were architects, working in the same firm. But Ahmed was new in the firm – he had just reported few days earlier when he noticed to his greatest surprise that the young lady he had raped months earlier was his direct supervisor – it meant that Esther would supervise the structural drawings Ahmed made in the office and give orders to him in the construction site.
“They say it is a man’s world. Architecture. When I was in school, we were only five girls out of over eighty boys. My father was an architect. He encouraged me to pursue the career… I love it. I love what I do. But… but… since that day.”
Ahmed brought down his face. Esther had been staring at him. Her gaze had injured him for it was like fire blazing and burning his face, frizzling his hair. He was sweating.
“That day, I stayed back to finish up a structural drawing we had been working on for days. The Director needed to make a presentation at the State Executive Council meeting the next day for some contract… he had asked that I and a few others stay back after work to go over the drawing. When we finished, the other boys left together. I began to walk down the streets to my house. My apartment is a thirty minute walk from the office. I didn’t have money back then. I was just a new staff… struggling to survive.”
Ahmed knew the rest of the story. But the lump in his mouth had returned. He wanted to tell her to shush. He wanted to hold her shoulders. But how could he do that? How would he be able to do that?
“It was around eight-thirty. That part of the street was always lonely, few cars passed once in a while. Only wealthy folks lived there and around seven PM it was difficult to notice anyone outside. There were no beer bars or shops or anything that could keep people outside. You know…” Esther stared at him again. “I had always felt safe when I get to that part of the road, those streets where those folks live. Because I felt nothing would happen there. I knew rapes occurred in dark alleys and streets where plebeians and agbero boys lived. I… I never knew that… I never knew….” Her voice trailed off.
“I am sorry.”
Esther didn’t respond. Ahmed had realized that she probably had never talked about the rape to anyone. It could be the first time she was talking about it, letting the whole story out. But what was astonishing was that she was talking to the person that raped her.
Esther laughed sardonically and said; “Ah, Esther. Look at you. You kept your virginity from all those boys that admired you in the campus… from George that was ready to do anything for you, only to lose it to a stranger.”
“God!” Ahmed exclaimed.
“You didn’t know?”
“I… knew. Please forgive me. I am sorry.” After Ahmed had raped her and left her on the floor, he found blood on his penis and on his body. When he zipped his trousers the blood was on his zipper.
“That day was Tuesday. I remember because George called me that morning to ask if we could renew our relationship. We stopped talking for over seven months before then. I loved him. Oh how I loved him, but I couldn’t sleep with him. I was scared of the pain of sex. I used to do every other thing with him, but I couldn’t make love to him. I was afraid… I was also scared that he would leave after deflowering me. But he left because of that… because I couldn’t agree to sex.”
“That morning George called me. He said he was sorry. He asked if we could get back together. I didn’t waste time agreeing. He asked about my work and I told him how I was coping. I was excited. He hadn’t gotten a job yet. That evening… you raped me.”
The last sentence hit Ahmed in the chest. More tears came out of his eyes.
“Do you know that tears could be hot? They come out of your eyes. Very hot like boiled water… perhaps one day something will happen to you. Something bitter enough to force hot tears out of your eyes, running down your cheeks. Every tear I shed since then has been hot. They burn my cheeks.”
“I stopped wearing makeup since then. What is the need? Am I not worthless now?”
“Am I not worthless now? You took away my worth.”
“Please. Please. I am so sorry.” In Ahmed’s mouth saliva had mixed with mucus and he couldn’t even open his mouth. The birds were listening to them. Calm. Even the breeze too.
“I wasn’t scared that evening when you stopped me and pretended to be asking for direction. I wasn’t scared… I didn’t have to. I became scared when you brought out your gun.”
Ahmed wanted to tell her that the gun wasn’t loaded at all. But he felt that would break her more. He kept calm. If only Esther would stop relieving the incident.
“You told me to move. You pushed me and I followed me. You said if I shouted you would kill me and no one would see you. You pushed me through the dark corner into a fenced compound under construction… you pushed me into one of the rooms and asked me to pull off. When I refused… remember that I was begging you. I pleaded and begged. I told you that I had a laptop in my bag. I asked you to take it. I told you that I had some little money too, not up to three-hundred Naira. I told you I was sorry that I didn’t have enough money. I told you that I had just gotten a new job and didn’t have much. I told you all that. I told you that in addition to the money you could take my laptop and my phone and my necklace. Everything I had with me. But the nozzle of your pistol hit my breasts. You ordered me to pull off.”
“Yes. You slapped me. You collected my handbag from me and flung it… I heard the thud of my laptop as it hit the concrete wall. I had just bought that laptop. I’d used all that I saved from the National Youth Service to pay for it. I have not been able to use that laptop since then. It is locked up somewhere in a cupboard.”
“Do you know that I haven’t been able to wear those cloths? The cloths I wore the day you raped me. I didn’t wash them. They are stuffed into a drawer, alongside my laptop, my phone. Makeup kit. And everything that was in my handbag that day. They are all stuffed into a drawer. I can show you.”
Ahmed inhaled deeply. A couple holding hands passed but did not even glance at them.
“You slapped me very hard. Your hand was like a rod. No one had ever slapped me before. I can’t remember if I was ever slapped as a kid. Phosphenes came out of my eyes. You hit me with something. I think the gun and I fell. You pulled up my skirt and tore my pants… I protested with the last energy I had but you slapped me this way and that way. Blood came out of my mouth.”
“You took up my legs. No one had ever done that to me. You placed your gun on my head and said shheee. Shheee. I shook. I shook so much. I remember what you were saying, ‘Don’t make this more difficult for you. Don’t you like me? Don’t you like it?’ I can never forget those words… you said them over a hundred times. Didn’t you?”
More tears strolled down Ahmed cheeks, dropping on the front of his shirt.
“You pierced me. I screamed and struggled. You hit me with your gun till my head ached. You rode me like a horse. My buttocks were bruised by the concrete slab. I couldn’t sit for four days.” She sobbed hysterically. “I couldn’t sit for four days. Four damn days!”
“I pulled down my skirt. You were gone. I brought out my handkerchief and wiped the blood. And put it with everything back inside my handbag. Including my pant that you tore. I was no longer crying… I got to my apartment around past ten and lay on the floor and cried till three am. I took a hot bath.”
“I didn’t go to work for four days. I was in my room. I showered every two hours. In a day… in a day for the four days I took a hot shower twelve times. A total of fourty-eight times in four days. I washed away the blood, the dust, your semen. But I didn’t wash away the fact that I had been disgraced and deflowered by a stranger. I was afraid of HIV and infections.”
“I bought Clotrimazole and inserted into my vagina. And took doses of Diflucan. I was afraid of venereal disease. I feared every day until after three months.”
“Esther. What I did to you… is unforgivable.”
Esther didn’t say anything. She cleaned her face with her hands. And blew her nose.
* * *
It was four days earlier that the director had informed Esther that a new staff would be joining their team on probation. He’d told her that he was an intelligent young man and that he would want Esther to supervise his works for two weeks and report to the firm if the young man would be retained or not. Later that morning, the young man had walked into Esther’s office. When Esther lifted her face from the computer in front of her and their eyes met. She gasped.
“Jesus!” the young man had screamed.
“Esther had bent her head on her keyboard and sobbed.” The young man came to her, after standing for over five minutes, he touched her shoulder.
“Don’t dare!” Esther screamed. “Don’t dare touch me with your satanic filthy hands!”
He had knelt down and apologised. The next day he came before her and was waiting for her in her office when she entered. He told her that his name was Ahmed and that he had not been able to sleep since the incident. Esther walked him out.
The third day he came again, tears in his eyes. He’d said; “What I did to you is unforgivable. I don’t know what came over me. I was a looser. A loner. Evil. Fiendish. What I took from you I can never give back… Please forgive me. Please.”
Esther had asked; “Forgive, you say? You raped me. You hit and bit me and made me to bleed. You took away my happiness and my joy and… my pride. And you ask that I forgive you? Would forgiveness bring back the things you took from me? My womanhood? My pride? How can I look into your eyes… how can I smile with you in this firm or breathe same air with you? No. I am choking right now.”
Ahmed had knelt down. “Please.”
“Please leave. Leave!”
Ahmed scurried out of the office. Other staff had noticed what had been going on. And were gossiping. Some were speculating that they may have been in a relationship and accidentally met each other again in the firm.
The fourth day, in the morning he entered her office again and knelt down. It was then that the director came in. “What is going on here?” he asked. Ahmed slumped, looking at the floor.
No one said anything. “You two know each other before?” the director asked. None of them replied. The director saw tears run down Esther’s face.
“Esther. Esther. What is it? My God. You are one of the best people I have here. I don’t want anything to happen to you… or make you lose concentration. I can see that both of you know each other.” He came to Esther and said; “The park down the street. Both of you should go there. Now.”
“Please… Sir… I have work to do—”
“What kind of work will you do in this condition?”
Esther looked down on her computer.
“Young man? Move it to that park. None of you should return to this firm until you have sorted out your differences, whatever it is.” With that the director walked away.
“Please. Let us go. Please.”
“Tell me why I shouldn’t tell him… what you did to me? Tell me?”
“Please.” Ahmed knelt again, rubbing his two palms together.
Esther had shut down her computer and walked away. Ahmed entered his office to shut down his computer. He met her in the Central Park, sitting on a bench, sobbing.
* * *
“Please, can you listen to me? Let me explain why I did what I… the awful thing… I did?”
“What? Tell me what? What on earth could make you do what you did? What on earth could make a man rape a woman?” Esther stood and paced before him.
“You know what I am going to do? I am going to call George and tell him. He is going to get you arrested and believe you me… I haven’t gotten back with him because of what… happened. He doesn’t know what happened but he isn’t happy. I will tell him everything—”
“But I won’t do that.”
Ahmed relaxed a bit.
“Yes. I won’t do that. What are they going to do to you? I want you dead but they aren’t gonna kill you. So they go to court, drag me to the witness box and ask nonsense questions. Then you get a lawyer to defend you… to say that I have no evidence. What am I going to present as evidence? What? Who will believe me if I bring out all those rubbish I stacked in the drawer in my room? Who? I will end up bringing myself and my family and friends to shame.”
“Yeah. I won’t do that. I won’t tell the police. I won’t tell anyone. It is a man’s world after all.” She sat on the grass. “It is a man’s world. You guys kick us around. What you did to me, my heart will never forgive you. My mind will never forget. My eyes cannot stop seeing. I have nightmares almost every night.”
Ahmed stood up.
“I am sorry. When I was a child—”
“Shut up!” She sobbed. “Don’t give me any cock and bull story. You want to justify what you did? Fuck you!”
“No… I don’t want to justify anything.”
“I said fuck you! Look, I won’t arrest you or report you to anyone. I reported you to your conscience the day you raped me. I am not going to ask the office to sack you… you will work under me every day. And you’ll look into my eyes and you see me… right there on the concrete floor of that dark building as you tore my… pants and raped me.”
“That day. That day, before I showered, Ahmed… I held my two nipples and cursed you.”
“My God!” Ahmed began to sob more. He knelt on the ground. He understood the meaning of that – for a woman to hold her nipples and curse a man. Ahmed understood the repercussions.
“As far as I am concerned you will know no peace, Ahmed. It’s the curse that has brought us together. Every day you will look into my eyes and remember what you did to me. I don’t know if there are other women. But you are ruined.”
“If you resign from work, Ahmed and leave the firm, you can never resign from your conscience.”
“Please forgive me…. Please.” By then people were staring at the couple. The birds had resumed chirping and flying about. No one in the park passed in front of them. They were ignored.
“I swear you were the first and only person. I have never raped a woman again.”
“Thank God for that.”’
“Please forgive me.”
“I can’t forgive you. Never. No!”
There was silence.
“When you force yourself on a woman, no matter who the woman is… even your wife, you take away that woman’s pride and grace and happiness along with you. You ruin the woman forever until the day that woman leave this world. You ruined my life. I can never be happy again. I can never allow a man climb me without remembering your face and what you did to me. Each time that happens I will lay more curses on you.”
“Please. Just kill me. Please, Esther.”
“If you can rape a woman. You can kill. You had a gun with you. Use that gun and kill yourself. You think you are living? You are dead.” Esther spat on him. And turned and began to walk away. As she did, she could not hear his cries that were attracting stares from even the mad people that were living in the Park. She could only hear the sweet coos and chirpings of the Asha birds and pigeons fighting for space on the jacaranda tree. For the first time since the rape, she felt lighter. She knew peace.
Udenwe Obinna is the author of the novel Satans and Shaitans.