I should have stayed back at work that night. As a television producer in a broadcast station, I had always chosen to sleep over like few other colleagues whenever we had to work till late at night. This was whether there was a staff bus or not. But on this day, I needed the comfort of my bed having stayed back a couple of days in the week already.
We had just rounded off the news at 10pm and the notification that there would be no staff bus disconcerted me, but was greeted with indifference by the rest of the crew. After packing up and set to leave or sleep over, I found most of the crew strolling towards the exit gate chatting about their field experiences earlier in the day and the flaws of the news presenter at the just concluded broadcast. They carried on like they would at any other time of the day, unperturbed and excited.
It did not surprise me that no one showed the inhibition I was feeling about journeying home at an hour to midnight, because I was aware some staff often stayed out late at bear parlors and clubs before eventually going home; and some others simply left this late whether there was a staff bus or not. I was only bothered because I was considering hitting the sack in my bedroom this particular night, and I wasn’t going to giveaway my fear of the dark either. However, watching these delighted bunch of colleagues defying and matching through the dark [okay, there were still lit bulbs within the station premises] at that time suddenly crept some tingling curiosity into me. They seem to think nothing of the night like I was schooled to think of the rapes, armed robberies and indiscriminate killings, as well as the prevalence of evil forces within the time frame. And even though I had also heard the gory stories told about the dark from hearsays and the media, it couldn’t be that bad if my colleagues could carry on into it almost every day, like now, untroubled.
Phew! I sighed and breathed heavily as I decided to join the majority. Each step taken towards meeting up with them built up a weighty burden in my heart, but my skipping feet must have done a good job hiding the anxiety. This was me, venturing into the night and for the first time disobeying my parents’ instruction never to be outdoor after 9pm, or to make it home before that time. I, who had always been a sticker for rules; but, I pushed the thought away for the courage to pursue this enormous task. Instead, I schooled myself into realizing that as a working class lady I needed to apply wisely those basic guiding rules of my parents to situations rather than continue to follow them robotically. And so, I mustn’t let my colleagues think I was still a mama’s little girl at 25 and face the night like an adult. Though, I suspected they thought me that timid all the times I’d been staying back.
And so I trotted along with the excited bunch. I was lucky to get a lift from a colleague, who had a car, to cover half of my journey. I wasn’t the only colleague he gave a lift and luckily again, a fellow other passenger-colleague got down at the same bus stop as I did. Phew! Thank God I was still not alone.
There were very few vehicles running the dark lonely roads and few others parked up for the day at corners. The street light poles were long bent and broken from accidents and lack of maintenance. Only the few passing cars beamed glaring lights into my eyes and heightened the tension within me, thereby giving me a headache. I hadn’t seen a bus call for passengers yet and my exhausted mind suddenly raced to those gory night stories and of what could possibly happen to a woman in the dark night, at a bus stop, where spent thugs probably lurk about to find rest or to carry out night crimes. I began to palpitate.
This was the reason my parents warned me to avoid late nights oh. It was why I was hesitant about joining the bandwagon this late hour oh: they would all eventually divert to their pathways. And even though I had a male colleague standing beside me, I wasn’t sure he could handle a gang of thugs should there be cause to. I could see his amusement at my trembling now that my face could no longer mask my fears. I’d always had a feeling that he and other colleagues saw me as a fragile person [yeah, I said that before]. Although I had cared less about this perception of me, I could really do with some protection now. I should have stayed back to avoid all this.
Luckily, a bus later came by and we, the only two prospective passengers at the bus stop, boarded as the only passengers. It had been only 3 minutes of waiting, but it seemed like 3 hours, honestly! While my colleague easily chatted away with the driver, I busied myself praying inwardly that it wasn’t a ‘one-chance’ bus and that God took us home safely. It was a ceaseless praying that lasted all the way to my bus stop.
My heart burden lifted as I alighted the bus but not all the weight was shed. My colleague remained in the bus that was taking him farther and we said our good byes. He looked cheerfully confident he would get home safe, and I knew he was a night crawler, unlike me.
The whole trip from work to my bus stop only took about thirty minutes in a traffic-less road. But it seemed like hours of worries to me. Now heading home from my bus stop would take ten-minute trot because I wasn’t thinking of sauntering in the dark night.
Just after the bus had zoomed away, a top-less, filthy, stinking man passed by me commenting with voice possibly thickened from long-term smoking of weed, “wetin fine gal like you dey do outside for this kain time?”. That was too much to have waited to hear as I practically ran a safe distance away from him. And when it appeared that he wasn’t following me I slowed to a trot. Oh my God! His face was quite roughened by bruises and untreated bumps of blood clots apparently suffered from fights. He seemed unaware of his looks with that grime smile he wrote across his face.
My bus stop, like many others in the city, had ‘area boys’ – hooligans – who manned the bus stops demanding money from public transport drivers at day and committing crimes at night. As I continued at this hurrying pace I realized I wasn’t the only responsible-looking person walking on the road. Very few people were also apparently returning from work that late too at about 11:30.
Though it was dark, few bulbs from the windows, powered by the generating plants of the few businesses that were still open, formed few halos, and so people could find their way to their various homes. There were no street lights, and the ‘Power holders’ [Power Holding Company of Nigeria] held on to power as usual.
As I entered the junction off the main road that led to the street to my house, I was greeted with a tangible darkness that so contrasted the main road I was escaping from. Shocked with fear I threaded gently in as I had no other choice, my heart beating at my throat. I pictured how the junction always was at day time to alleviate my fears but, it didn’t help; until my eyes gradually accustomed themselves to the tunneled surrounding. I began to make out the structures and it seemed that the thick darkness waned to some brownness that allowed me see better. Perhaps there was some explanation to how the eyes accustom to darkness but I didn’t care at the time. I just wanted to arrive home already.
And so, I hastened my steps to get past this hollowed brownness into my street and to my home, sweet home. ‘Why do you seem so far away when you are only a stone throw away? I have always taken your distance for granted during the day; now, must you draw farther away from me even as I hurry earnestly to you?’ I couldn’t believe thinking up this rhyme as I trotted with a pace almost matching my heart beat.
On turning into my street I saw, at a corner, the dark outline of a man bent over in a triangle. Smoke emitted from his face into the air. Then the pungent odour of marijuana permeated the atmosphere. My heart beat fastened even more as I hurried past him.
Suddenly! My whole being jolted up as I felt this figure I’d just hurried past, rise with quick steps that kept a close distance behind me. I could see my compound ahead of me, a minute walk pace, but less than 30 seconds with my trotting pace. I could hear and feel my chest pumping in my heart. My whole body quivered and I felt like a feather.
I feared to look back but a mad curiosity overwhelmed me to verify even though I did not doubt that I was being followed. But then again, I had hardly completed the 180 degree head rotation when I realized how close to meeting me the figure was. And so, like magic! I reached the threshold of my compound, and ‘Super me’ instinctively jumped the 6 feet foot-plank lying across the gutter to my compound; I either did not see the plank there or simply forgot its usefulness for walking across the drainage. I haven’t ceased to wonder, even till now, at the wonderfulness of God’s works in the creation of man, and still thank Him for the precise spontaneous reaction of the adrenalin to danger.
My knees almost caved-in though at the jump but, knowing that it could end me to succumb, strengthened me against the fall, and I continued to run to almost safety; just few steps to it. The masculine fearsome presence of this figure now towered over me in two giant steps behind: one swiftly crossing the gutter and the other stretching to touch me, only if I had crashed at the time. My house is another less than ten seconds running pace away through a long corridor. This corridor has windows belonging to me and my neighbour, and they would recognize my voice if I shout, and this was the safety I craved to reach at this moment by only four quick steps more from the gutter.
Expectedly, all the windows were closed and all the lights out. I knew I wouldn’t make it to my house before my aggressor got to me. My only saving grace would be to scream for help. But my heart seemed to have pumped its way to my throat and begun to choke me. It took the attacker grabbing me only half-way through the corridor before sound found its way out of my mouth and I screamed like I never thought I could, being an introvert, and of course, the quiet night amplified the scream.
My assailant’s hand attempted to cover my mouth; I could feel the strength and contours of his muscles around my neck. I even perceived the stench of marijuana from his breathe to confirm he was the same person bent over in a triangular form smoking. Like I ever thought otherwise; hissing.
I summoned the courage to fight back with the little time I had to either be rescued or be ignored by scared neighbours. I bit his hand so hard I could have chopped it off for all I cared. The man winced, pushed me down and gave a disgruntled squeal in an attempt to stifle a louder cry; all three impulses happened at once. And what amplification the night gave his squeal!
Lights began to come on and shone on us through the windows. My assailant’s face became slightly lit but I could not make out who he was. His eyes popped out either from the pain of my bite or the anger of losing. Voices began to call out sharply: ‘Who’s there!’ The pretense bravado sounded convincing enough as my attacker backed out and fled, and so did I in the opposite direction and into the arms of family, neighbours and friends. Phew!
It was quite an experience, enough to resolve to never again make such late trips, no matter what adult reasoning I concoct in my timorous mind. I would henceforth manage the discomfort and consequent aches of the office chairs than the anxieties and dangers of another late night journey home. Just this once is more than enough for me. Call me an over-protected goody mama’s girl for all I care. Night is a time for resting indoors and I decided to respect that.
And did I tell you? Only most of the male crew went into the night, while the female crew stayed back with the rest of few young men who were not in a haste to return home. This must have escaped my mind at the time I gave in to that prickly curiosity of what a dark experience would be like if I ventured out with those men, that night.
Written by IfeanyiChukwu Oluwafemi Chukwudi on Dec 30, 2010