I was barely there, I think I was as tall as my waist line is today. My mother or grandmother had sent me to the shop and I was excited! There would be sweets for me. My grandfather would tell me to buy madiven, that was the name he used. I walked to the shop, sometimes running sometimes skipping and hopping. Getting madiven was a big deal, a reason to celebrate.
I got to the shop and there was this guy. He would come to get water from our home sometimes. Ours was one of the few homes with tapped water and we were a generous family. I knew his face and responded to his greeting; there was no reason not to. Then he started pushing himself against me as I lifted my little body to place the order. I moved away and he followed me. I moved again and he followed me,again! I stepped aside and he still followed me. Soon my purchase was ready and hot on my heels, I wanted to be home.
He followed me still and I was scared. The road home was quite a walk and a lonely path too. I was afraid though I had been warned only of strangers. He was no stranger; in fact one of his neighbors- a kinsman maybe- was a youth leader at my church. I knew him. I had seen him around and I think if I go upcountry today I might still see him. He never was, and never will be a stranger.
I stopped outside our local doctor’s office, a lovely old man who adored my sister and I. He always took care of us and kept my grandfather supplied with painkillers. I would have walked into his office and asked him to escort me home, but he was not in. Outside his office, I stopped to look out past his small stone clinic; beyond it was a football game going on. I stood there to pass time. The guy was behind me.
He asked why I had stopped and I was silent. He said he also enjoyed football. I kept silent still. This was my chance. Something interesting was happening on the field. I knew because there were cheers and screams and he also made a sound. I started running. I still had some distance to cover.
He was behind me in seconds, asking why I was running, why I had left him. I was now walking quickly. Afraid. He was beside me. Like we were taking a hurried walk, only, I was running and he was chasing.
I saw the church. Our house was next to the church, separated by a hill not too great in distance. I was hopeful. His home was beyond the church and I knew, with increasing relief that our walk was over. I took a turn up the hill, running. He came up behind me then he hit my leg, I fell and tried to scream but he covered my mouth. He was now angry that I was in a buttoned trouser and stockings; my mother insisted that we dress in layers like it was winter all year round. That is how mothers protect their little girls, sometimes against pneumonia, sometimes against brothers who are supposed to be protecting them.
Then there was a cough; a stubborn, loud and annoying cough. It was my grandfather taking his daily walk. He was a slow walker, took every step wincing in pain, lifting his foot like the next breath depended on it. His back was straight but his face bore the pain of arthritis. His years as a freedom fighter had caught up with him but he had kept his edge and people were afraid of him.
The guy stood and ran away. My grandfather appeared just as I was walking inside the gate. He asked if everything was okay and if I was alone, I said yes. He had saved me.
I forgot the incident, selective amnesia if you may, for a long time. One day somebody touched me, affectionately with my consent, and it all came back. I still didn’t talk. I kept quiet and told my friends a few years later.
And now, more than ten years on I speak up, because I know you do not forget. You remember every part of it. It plays out like a bad movie and people tell you not to shout about it. They tell you to pray and it will go away. They tell you, you could have prevented it, that you are not the only one, that you were lucky it was attempted and not actual rape. That you should be grateful.
But I speak up because violence lives on with the victim. You shape your experiences around it and sometimes when you want intimacy, it comes to you and you can’t help but turn away. You know in that moment that you are alone. Because rape cannot be stopped by empowering women; it can only be stopped by halting its perpetrators; talking even to the jobless uneducated drunkards, because respect for women has nothing to do with education.
By telling men, that you only touch a woman with love, with her consent and only if she is sober. And if she says no, even in her drunken stupor, you stand aside and stop anyone from doing anything to her.
Cate Ndonga is an amateur filmmaker and writer with a mad love for cookies and cream ice-cream. She distastes mediocrity and is currently saving up for a penthouse with a view to die for. Stalk her on twitter @Mhuyanza to find more of her obsessions, guilty pleasures and blogs.