Baba, Mama and most of my siblings have gone to sleep. They have left me to attend to Uncle Hafiz as usual. Tonight it is fried plantains with fried pepper laden with limp strings of fried onions and plump shrimps that I fried earlier in the day because Uncle told my parents it was time for him to sample my cooking. Uncle prefers orange squash to any of the cola drinks. He likes it very cold; almost icy. It must be that he likes more than his drinks cold because I feel cold when he touches me in places that he and I know he should not; places that I dare not tell my mother about. My parents would never believe me if I told them what Baba’s best friend does when they are not looking. They simply think he hugs me because he wants me to know he likes me as much as he likes his own children. “There was nothing to it,” my parents said when I had complained that I did not like Uncle Hafiz’s hugs in the past. They said I was making a mountain out of a mole hill. I had retreated and said that Uncle’s beard was prickly and that was all. After all they hugged Uncle’s children as well as their own. I was Uncle’s “favorite child”. Uncle Hafiz named me Habiba, which means beloved. My true first name is Salwa. I wonder if Uncle Hafiz hugs his own children the way he hugs me. Am I the only one who feels this way?
I try very hard to avoid Uncle whenever he comes on these week long visits. All the others call me Uncle’s pet because of all the children in the household, he always asks for me first and always wants me to serve him. After each visit, he always leaves me more money than he does all the others. My parents think he dotes on me. My mother, Majidah, fusses over him and treats him as if he were deity come to earth. He just sits back making stupid jokes and singing songs that flatter my mother. “I have to confess that not even my very own wife can cook fresh fish soup like you do, Majidah.” he would sing. Mama would laugh like a silly school girl and she would pile his bowl high with chunks of fish the size of my fists. She herself would pound his yam as soft and light as a fleece. His staple at our house was a huge rounded portion of pounded yam, an even bigger bowl of smooth red fragrant fresh fish soup and a mid size bowl of vegetable soup that was full of chunks of dried catfish, smoked bush meat, smoked red shrimp, smoked periwinkles and fresh snails split in halves. She never failed to have a trilogy of bowls in front of him and he never failed to eat most of the food, leaving at least one piece of fish and some vegetable soup for his “favorite child”. I used to eat that special portion until I understood why I was the favorite. Why does his wife, Aunty Khalidah not cook such good food for him so that he can stay at their house?
The beads of sweat that formed on Uncle’s forehead and above his upper lip were quickly evaporated under the watchful eye of the rotating standing fan that my mother placed to his left so that he could be cooled as he wolfed down the feast she provided. He was the only other person who sat at the head of the table at our house besides my father. No one except Uncle dared sit in my Baba’s chair even when he was away from home. It just was not done. When Uncle Hafiz ate together with my father, it was not so bad. Uncle would only stroke my back and pat me on the head from time to time as if I were a dog or cat. I hate that too; but it is far better than being alone with him. Tonight I had to wait until Uncle finished eating so that I could clear the dishes. I had to bring water and soap to him so that he could wash his hands. Then I had to bring him a towel to dry them. I knew what will follow. I had to move quickly when that time came so that it would not last long. Uncle Hafiz ate slowly and he kept baring his coconut white teeth at me in what he thought was a smile. He silently beckoned for me to come over to sit beside him. Does a mouse accept a cat’s invitation to dinner? Refusing his offer, I thanked him in a loud voice hoping that someone was still awake and could hear us. I continued to wait on the other side of the room between the window and the kitchen door with my back against the wall. I dreaded what would soon happen when I had to get the dishes.
Uncle Hafiz finally finished his meal. His eyes never seemed to move away from me while he ate. I wonder how he managed not to get some food into his nostril. He waited for me to come clear away his dinner dishes. I knew his large soft claws were waiting for me. If I do not get those dishes, my father would beat me for not doing work that is mine to do and for being disrespectful to Uncle by not taking good care of him. My mother would have agreed with Baba and no amount of explanation that I offered would have deflected the beating I was sure to get, even if Uncle Hafiz himself had decided to enter a plea on my behalf. My parents already think Uncle spoils me with too much attention and unwarranted gifts. I moved almost in a zigzag path toward the dishes, hoping to snatch the dishes off the table before his hands closed in on me. I knew I must not shout because he has already warned me that I would be the one in trouble with my parents if I did. For sure, no one would believe me. Uncle has known my parents for over ten years before I was born. He is an alhaji. He has made the pilgrimage to Mecca and I am just a little girl who often forgets her scarf and her prayers. He told me that if I let him show me how much he really likes me and I get pregnant he would marry me and give me lots of gifts. I do not want to get married. I do not want to be pregnant. I do not want to have a baby. I am too young. He said my parents would be proud of me. Something inside of me didn’t believe him. He always makes sure I can feel the hardness under his clothes, below his waist when he hugs me. I hate the way he looks at me and the way he grabs parts of me. I am only thirteen and I am still flat chested. Why has Uncle Hafiz chosen to pick on me?
Uncle Hafiz grabbed my shoulders and pressed his body against my back. I am only 4 feet tall and I can feel that awful hardness of his against my back. His left hand is raked over my chest and moved feverishly to my other parts. I thought I heard quiet footsteps. The lights did not come on. He didn’t stop doing what he is doing. At first I hoped that someone would emerge out of the darkness to help me chase Uncle away and put an end to this torture. Then I hoped that no one was there because they would only blame me for making this happen to me. My body stiffened in the grip of Uncle Hafiz. My very breath froze. I felt like a block of ice. He didn’t seem to notice. Before I could think my next thought Baba walked bare foot into the room. His mouth opened wide as if he was going to shout, but he only let out a weak sound. “Hafiz. Leave my house right now.” I had never heard my father sound so tired and I had never felt such shame. I expected Uncle Hafiz to say something as I retreated from the room. I heard nothing. I must have fallen asleep on the floor right outside of my mother’s room after that harrowing incident because I woke up several hours later to find my mother hovered over me with a look of puzzlement in her eyes. She simply said Uncle Hafiz had to leave to attend to an emergency at home. It will be morning shortly. It has been made clear that we will never speak of Uncle Hafiz or the events of that night. What do my parents really expect of me? Who is the protector of little girls like me?
This story is fictional although it addresses an issue that is common place in Nigerian society. Yes. It does exist in all societies but it is a punishable offense. Pedophilia is typically not addressed in Nigerian society. There appear to be no laws that protect young girls and boys. Each parent is left to protect their children the best way they can. I hope that this story which speaks for many young Nigerian girls will make parents more cautious and will lead to the creation of enforceable laws to protect our children. I thank everyone whose concern leads to making the Nigerian legal system aware of the need to make sexual offenses punishable by law. Children need to be protected.