I am taking a walk around Adetokunbo Ademola Crescent onto Ahmadu Bello Way and back. So far I have counted two men peeing in public. Last week, I started counting the number of men I see everyday peeing by the road side in the city. Not as research for an article or anything, I quite like to do pointless things like that - count the number of Peugot cars, the number of women with chin hair, the number of men with moustaches. And like a game of cards, the results don't matter at the end of the day. Public peeing survived one night and now, many days after, I still can't stop counting.
If you know Abuja city, you will agree that it is one of the most difficult cities in which a man can pee publicly. There is concrete everywhere and to the public peeist (you are right, I made the word up) there is nothing as inhibitive as concrete. Grass or earth are the preferred spots. Grass and soil do a perfect job of soaking up all the guilt involved in expelling one’s pungent waste in the open. Concrete is unforgiving, constantly reminding you of the consequences, in wetness and in dryness. It takes a peeist with a faulty bladder or no conscience to do it on concrete.
I walk past a woman in front of an ATM, off Ahmadu Bello Way. I assume she is trying to jump over an open part of the sewer as she starts to lift her loose, pleated skirt. When the skirt reaches about halfway up her thighs, she straddles the sewer, arches her back slightly and lets out a single stream of urine. Both men and women look on in horror. People tap others and point at the spectacle. A taxi slows down and the driver screams, asking if she has no shame. People shake their head in that what-has-this-world-come-to? fashion.
I am curious about the mechanics: how she is able to get the urine to flow straight down without squatting or pulling up her skirt completely. She is looking straight ahead, not at what she is doing. And she is making no errors. I almost want to ask her how she does it.
Only a few blocks before, I had passed by a male peeist doing his thing against the fence of a hotel. He didn't seem to be in any great rush so I knew he didn't have a bad bladder - he was one of those no conscience peeing-on-concrete ones. No one stopped or stared at him. But for the fact that I was counting, I might not even have noticed.
I am thinking of Rifkatu who is submitting a bid for a contract with a government agency. She wants me to go with her to see an older civil servant who can advise about the bid, because each time she sees him, he tells her how great her figure is and makes her sit for a long time while he tells her about his holiday home in Houston, Texas.
“Now he wants me to come to his office at 8pm to talk about the bid,” she texts. We both know what bid he wants to discuss alone after working hours.
There are some things that never leave you no matter how hard you try.
About 12 years ago, in university, my friend Udi told me about this huge, soft-spoken bodybuilder with a pleasant mien who had tried to violently rape her in his secluded room far inside the wooded staff quarters. A friend of hers who was present, asked her why she followed such a huge man to such a secluded location. Udi maintained an apologetic silence.
One year after, I was in that wooded silence, visiting a friend of mine who had rented a room from a lecturer. He too told me about his bodybuilder-neighbour who tried to rape almost every girl who ended up in his room. Sometimes he succeeded. Sometimes they escaped, looking dishevelled. I was upset. I asked him why no one had reported the matter. He was upset, feeling judged by me. He said I didn't understand.
That afternoon we heard commotion coming from the bodybuilder’s room. A woman was screaming, fighting. The bodybuilder was silent. When the falling and breaking sounds stopped, they were replaced by shrill, desperate-but-defiant screams.
“Help me,” she shouted, “Mummy help me!”
“You see what I was telling you?” my friend said.
We agreed to go and confront him. My friend who knew the bodybuilder very well, knocked on the outer wooden door. There was silence for a few seconds followed by the click of the key in the inner iron door. He thrust his head out of the slight opening asked what we wanted.
“Is everything ok? We heard screaming.”
“No, it is just me and my girl, we were having a little quarrel,” he said to my friend.
“We heard shouting, thats why,” my friend insisted.
“Don’t worry, everything is ok now,” the bodybuilder said and slammed the door shut.
We both walked away and sat on a bench in the open courtyard to hear if there would be more shouting. There was silence. About thirty minutes later he walked out of the room with a bucket and walked into the shared bathroom. After taking his bath, he spread his prayer mat opposite his room and faced the east to say his late afternoon prayers. I wondered if she heard him from inside the room as he bowed and whispered the words Allahu akbar, God is great.
About an hour after that, the bodybuilder emerged from the room, holding the girl's hand. He said hello to us as they walked past. She too said hello, without looking at us, in that subdued tone of humiliation.
My friend and I talked about reporting the incident for weeks. We had no idea who the girl was, whether she was a student of our university or from somewhere else. Although we knew another girl who admitted to us that the same thing had happened to her, she said there was no way she was going to report the incident or even admit to the school authorities that anything of the sort happened.
I have never stopped thinking of all the other things we could have done.
Khadija calls just as I get to Adetokunbo Ademola Way.
She asks if I know how she can find an institution where she can learn how to paint, something formal. I do not know much about this but I suggest she finds a good artist and intern there.
“I tried one,” she says. Then, right after getting her number the painter began calling her very late at night.
“Why will he start calling me in the middle of the night just because I left my number with him?”
I know it is a rhetorical question but in my head I try to answer why. Because he is used to doing it. Because he has gone through life believing it is ok. Because he can.
She will try to find another painter. Preferably a woman.
As I reach my house, I feel the urge to go out dancing later at night. Alone. Sometimes I just want to go out and watch people dance without having to dance or talk to anyone. Partly because I like watching people but mostly because compared to most club-going Nigerians, I dance like a three legged dog. All I will need is money in my pocket. I will not need to worry about the officials in Abuja who randomly arrest unaccompanied women at night who they think are sex workers. I will not have to think about cat calls or what people will say of a woman having drinks by herself.
I guess my penis makes everything ok.