http://Mural painted by women in Zona 18, one of the most violent neighborhoods in Guatemala City. (Photo: Ryan Brown/UN Women)

Lagos, Nigeria.

You know how we always mumble “couldn’t be me” or “God forbid” when people tell their experiences about a certain incident; we believe that even when bad things are happening to other people, it couldn’t happen to us. This could be because we believe we are special or different from others in some unique type of way. Well, the story I am about to tell you is an incident that has happened to many and still happening to many in Lagos state and several other cities in Nigeria today.

It was almost 8pm I had just hastily shuffled off the last client for the day and quickly kicked off my heels, flexed my toes and slipped into my flip flops; dashing out of the office. The sky had darkened already and night life had begun. It was a public holiday so the streets were a little deserted. I stood at the bus stop waiting for a vehicle, clutching my bag firmly to my side.

It was common occurrence for Lagosians to commute in private vehicles that doubled as commercial vehicles and I had also adapted to this system because it was faster and easier to ride than the yellow buses that spend hours searching for passengers. So, I didn’t think twice when a cab going towards my way, pulled up in front of me. I got in immediately without batting a lid – a mistake that would come back to haunt me for weeks and months to come.

As I got in and looked around the cab, noticing there were three men already in including the driver; one with the driver in the front and one behind with me. I didn’t think much of it because I had gotten used to getting into cabs with just men due to the early hours in the morning and the late hours at night I commuted.

As I sat there, I felt a little uneasy – usually I would pull out my phone to read tweets online- so I just looked out the windows instead.

The cab had barely driven up to ten minutes when suddenly, the driver wound up the windows and clicked the doors locked. Before I could react to that, the man beside me pulled me into a strangled hold immediately choking my neck. I struggled with him, while trying to grab the handle of the door. The man at the front (let’s call them Man A and Man B) began grabbing for my bag which I refused to unhand. He grew furious, stretched out his hand and began punching me in the face and other parts of my body while the other was strangling my neck.  My flailing arms grabbed onto the door handle but before I could open, Man B jumped over, twisted my arm behind me and began pummeling me in anger. All this happened in split seconds and I was losing air from being strangled. I knew I would pass out soon if I didn’t release the bag to them.

Man B stopped punching after I released the bag to him and immediately Man A stopped restricting my air flow, but still held unto my neck. He ransacked my bag, took out my phone, purse and every other valuable in it. He demanded my password to open my cell phone and also ATM password, but I was reluctant to do that. Man A seeing this pulled out a gun and pressed into my neck; threatening to shoot if I kept giving them a hard time. I felt a chill run down my spine and my mind grew numb expecting the trigger to get pulled.

In that moment, I felt a sense of calmness. I could feel myself withdrawing into a corner in my head and shutting out very emotion. No feelings, no thoughts just silence in my mind. Knowing I could die didn’t seem to register in my head; I was going into shock.

I monotonously gave them the passwords they requested. Man A or Man B -I wasn’t sure at this point, striped me of all the jewelries I had on and began to grope my breasts and derriere, slipping his hands in between my laps but I had phased out and just wanted to curl up and be left alone.

After what seemed like hours but was probably minutes, I could hear them talking about what to do with me. Then the driver swerved to the side and told them to push me out of the cab. Man B threw my bag at me, the metal handle stinging my forehead in the process, and immediately opened the door. Man A shoved me as hard as he could out of the cab and they sped off into the night.

I stumbled in the dark trying to guess where I was but I couldn’t. I could see cold eyes staring at me from corners, perhaps gauging and assessing a potential prey and knew I was in a dangerous place. I had to get out of there immediately or I was bound to lose my life that night.

I walked briskly forward, as I saw an old man walking towards me and I summoned courage to ask where I was. He was like an angel sent to my aid on this unforgettable night as he helped me find my way until I could find a way home.

Getting to my home at 1am in the middle of the night, I burst into tears and all the feelings and emotions I had repressed came flooding out. The aches and swellings on my body simultaneously making themselves known.

I had gone through a traumatic experience; many more would go through the same experience. I understood why what happened did, I understood that bad people exist, I also understood that the existence of bad people doesn’t deprive the world of the good men who helped me find my way home that night, but I just couldn’t reconcile it all.

That night, I wept for Nigeria, I wept for those who had had same experience, I wept for those who wouldn’t be so lucky – or unlucky – I knew I was going to battle the PTSD for a long time to come. I know as you read this, you are probably saying “God forbid this happens to me” and I sincerely do forbid it for you too.

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