Home Crime Spread Those Thighs Or Get Arrested. You Choose | Yinka Ikubuwaje

Spread Those Thighs Or Get Arrested. You Choose | Yinka Ikubuwaje

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Perhaps if I swallowed my pride and ignored his huge beer belly, unevenly bleached face, and worrisome age gap, If only I could shut off my mind and overlook how much his dark knuckles would bother me if we ever get to the point where he had to  shift my pant, then I won’t be sitting like a common pickpocket, Behind Counter, at this stuffy police station in Felele, wearing my well-pressed NYSC uniform and hoping I don’t look as helpless as I feel.

Saro drove by me with swag on that tiny road that led to my compound in Felele, Ibadan. He reminded me of how Lagos big men stop their big black jeeps and slide their backseat windows down in that slow-motion type of way. They do it like a movie scene that is worth the suspense. I was tired from working at the radio station all day, so I ignored his dramatic entrance into my life and kept walking. As I did, he sped up, satisfied I had just ruined his little movie trailer he finally called after me. As I considered walking away I realised I may risk revealing where I stayed if he decided to watch me walk away. Regardless, he had a self depreciating way about him- an unpretentious disposition that is uncommon amongst men his age, so I let him plead his case. After some convincing, I gave him my phone number with a warning that I may be unavailable because it’s an old phone that tends to trip off. Predictably, his response was to buy me a new phone. I laughed it off because, in that instant, he had become another Big Man who excitedly makes all promises to the new girl in an attempt to see which one impresses her enough to open her legs.

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It wasn’t until that hot Monday morning when he informed me on the phone to tell me he was at the front of my workplace ready to drive me to the phone shops in Dugbe that I realised I downplayed his horniness. On a Monday? Of course, I wanted a new phone. I had just found content creation 2 years ago and an iPhone 6 plus seemed like a promising device to upgrade my content. It doesn’t matter that I was living on the Radio station’s N10,000 monthly stipend, (an equivalent of £6.42), and the little tips I got at the Barbing shop where I was training. My N19,000 NYSC allowance was for my MSC. I was a 19-year-old creative and this was my blessing in disguise.

After visiting multiple shops run by over-enthusiastic phone boys with sweet mouths and dubious price-inflating skills, we finally found a phone for me at the Challenge bus stop. Just like that, I was one of those teenagers using an iPhone. When I opened it at work, my colleagues would exclaim, reminding me how big of a deal it is to have an iPhone 6 Plus in 2018. It felt surreal to return home with this fancy thing. My usually stuffy room felt airy. It was simply the most expensive thing I have ever owned. Pictures were better, videos were much more so…the sound was clear. I had arrived and I didn’t have to open my legs, I thought.

The next time I saw Saro was when we went to watch The Wedding Party at Palms Mall. I got to know my ‘benefactor’ better on the drive back. There was no wife in the picture according to him. There was a son in a boarding school. He lived alone and hated that he didn’t get help in his big house. As he dropped me off on my street that late evening, I asked if he would like me to ask around for domestic staff – my feeble attempt to thank him for the iPhone 6 plus. Later on, when I was alone, it occurred to me that this might be the extra income I needed if I was going to start saving to migrate for a Master’s Degree Program. I spoke to my superior at work who had become an elderly friend and he thought it was admirable. It wasn’t.

I mentioned this to Saro a few days later and explained my need to save. He was resistant at first, but it was important to this Lagos girl to make extra money in the quiet city of Ibadan where it seems as though everyone is satisfied and shops open for sale at 10:00 am. Ironically, his resistance offered me a false sense of safety. Usually the hornier the man, the faster he wants to invite you to his home. We came up with an arrangement that fits into my community development service and job at the radio station. I would work at his house twice a day – on one of the days I would shop and the next I would cook and clean.

On the first day, I picked up his shopping list and headed to the market. I needed to impress my ‘benefactor’ so I employed all my haggling techniques to get the best prices. I remember passing by Dugbe and offering to buy him a salad at my favourite place, Cocoa House; something to eat while I prepared the soups. He had constructive feedback on how he wanted his stew to be less salty and his efo riro a little peppery next time. It was a good first day, so I said a tired and hungry goodbye. The next time I saw Saro was on the cleaning day, I was truly proud of myself because this job didn’t require creativity, my many years of teaching experience, or my Bachelor’s degree. It wasn’t pretty either but it was extra money towards my goals. Five years later when I would finally move to the UK, it became clear why I had to learn to do the job I hated to survive.

When I got to Saro’s house, something had changed. My ‘benefactor’ was aloof. There was no witty banter. There was tension in the house. I deep-cleaned the bathrooms and bedrooms, the kitchen, the passageway and the compound. Tired, and sweaty with my pruney hands, I called out that I was leaving and was glad to. Something had become weird and for a brief second I wanted to quit but it didn’t make sense to.  While I was working the night shift, co hosting a show, the weirdness became apparent when I got a call from my boss at the Barbing shop. A police officer had visited searching for me. I became anxious. I thought of all the worst scenarios; death, fire, theft, false accusation. It is common knowledge to the average Nigerian that the police are never your friend, not when you don’t have money. I wasn’t sure who to trust so I spoke to D, my boss at the station. He advised me to wear my NYSC uniform as a psychological disarmament. He predicted hostility that may stem from deep-seated hate for young women ‘involved with’ older men and hoped it would be dissipated by the sense of a socially responsible university graduate and Corper.

I walked into the police station that late noon, terrified. Thinking about the list of people on my contact list I could call if I needed bail, who would be my one call like in the movies? I thought about how long it would take for my family back in Lagos to notice my absence and find me – 3 weeks, 4 or 5? I was alone. I needed to be smart.

‘Madam, enter the counter, when oga come, em go tell you why dem say make you report for station.’ the scrawny police said coldly after I introduced myself. D. was right to suggest the uniform. The atmosphere was already hostile and I still had no clue why I was summoned to the police station. As I sat down on the bench behind the counter, I rubbed my sweaty palms on both empty sides of the bench. The surface felt like it had been smoothed over time by the multiple buttocks of the innocent, the guilty, and the clueless, innocent like me.. I wondered about the number of people who have ended up in prison just because they were summoned and stupid enough to come without a lawyer. I remember all the horror stories I’ve read online about the thousands of Nigerians ‘Awaiting Trial’ and never getting it. Some were due to buying stolen cars and electronics that were disguised as pre-owned items. Fairly used items or tokunbo as it is commonly called in the Western part of Nigeria, is a common trade practice, especially given the earning power of the average Nigerian. There is also a preconceived notion that tokunbo items are made of sterner stuff than new ones because they used to be owned by the rich or oyinbo who don’t need them anymore. My mind suddenly started to conjure scenarios. Was it the iPhone 6 Plus? Was it a stolen phone packaged as a new phone? Did the owner trace me with the Find Your iPhone feature? Was it Saro’s plan, and did he hire the fake phone seller?

Suddenly, a whiff of stifling air came from the passage behind the bench I sat on. It seemed to lead to the cells and I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand. Is this where I will die? In a dark, windowless cell condemned to sleep, pee and defecate in the same room I sleep in? Overcrowded so much so that we have to stand as we do in buses during peak time? I felt the panic rushing to my throat and swallowed my phlegm. I deepened my voice and spoke in my ‘most radio accent’ asking if it was okay to step out for a bit to wait for whoever we seemed to be waiting for. As if biding his time, he snapped at me, ‘Aunty once you don enter behind counter, you no fit leave be dat.’ After his hostility, I started to feel anger at the ridiculousness of the situation. Then my enquiry began. I wasn’t arrested, he said but there has been an official statement against me and the police wanted to ‘hear my side of it’.

As I waited, 2 hours felt like 12, but suddenly I had the idea to call my police neighbour. After a while, he showed up and spoke the police language. I was allowed to leave the counter and sit by a gutter outside the station. At least this didn’t stink of trial awaiting victims. A lot came to light as one of the officers led us towards the gutter area. I have been accused of stealing $1,000 while I worked at Saro’s house. He had filed a complaint against me two days ago,  he said. ‘ I have never held a dollar note in my entire life!’ I spat out, unable to hide my disbelief at this story. Suddenly, I couldn’t stop laughing. Nothing made sense to me. Then the police officer asked me in pidgin, ‘The man toast you?’ and like a light bulb moment, I knew what was happening.

Saro’s sudden accusation was a venomous backlash for my adept handling of our relationship; maintaining it as friendly and professional. It was clear he felt trapped and had chosen to lash out. Standing by the gutter, the police officer leaned in and whispered in pidgin, as though revealing a well-kept secret. “I no sey na the phone dey pain am, em statement and wetin em first talk no be the same,” he confided. Saro’s narrative seemed to veer off course, often omitting the ‘missing’ $1000 and instead spiralling into a rant about a certain iPhone. What startled me even more were the revelations that followed. It appeared that everyone involved in this police case saw through the charade. As I penned my statement, other officers shared similar stories, complaining about how these ‘big men’ acted like spoiled children when denied their coveted ‘toys,’ and how they used the police to do their dirty work. They chuckled heartily, admitting that it was a means to supplement their meagre government salaries. We anxiously awaited Saro’s appearance at the police station, but, predictably, they had to reschedule the meeting once again.

The next meeting couldn’t come any faster but I was smarter this time. I had backup. It was my friend Mohammed whom I just met on my usual end-of-month treat. It was a new friendship and it felt wrong to ask that of him but I was scared, alone and desperate. Mohammed walked with the tax organisation in Nigeria and he had the social currency I didn’t. He became my advocate. He made calls to officers with senior roles and a lawyer. I was ready this time. He made sure of it. It was a Friday and the appointment was in the morning so the plan was to leave his workplace as soon as it was midday to come and support me. First, I wrote my statement with shaky hands. It was as though I had forgotten what a verb was. The pen cancellations on that paper were proof but uncoordinatedly, I wrote every detail and was teased by an overly bleached, heavy female police officer per my request for an extra sheet.

The next time I saw Saro was when the Police officers demanded to search my room. My tiny apartment with a 2 by 3 mattress on the floor? I started to wish I could have bought a curtain instead of the chiffon scarf I lazily hung with pegs on the window. I wished I was able to buy a wardrobe so that my clothes were not folded on a thin paper in the corner of the floor or that the painting on the walls was not peeling off. Saro, the bleached female police officer, her colleague and one of my neighbours with whom I only exchange greetings was called to bear witness. As the police officers ransacked my home, it felt like I was placed at the roundabout in Challenge Road and my clothes were torn off me. My breast was out and so was my butt cheeks. I was stark naked at Challenge and people were walking past me. I wished they jeered, I thought, so I can know what they hate so much about a 19-year-old girl. Aside from the occasional toss of my things, the room was quiet. I felt such shame for having so little but I was not going to let him see me flinch as the Police officer offloaded my panties and bra on the tiled floor in my room. I watched Saro loom over my things sprawled on the floor, I saw the smirk on his face, there was no dollar he knew, the police officers knew, maybe my neighbour did as he looked away uncomfortably. I was so busy trying not to let them see me break but I looked at my neighbour and in his face, I saw my humiliation. It’s the sort of humiliation that is hard to watch.

Mohammed joined us after the search at the police station in his starched native and fila. The atmosphere immediately changed. The police officer became friendly and talked excitedly, there was a tinge of respect for me now. I remember him calling me aside to assure me he believed I didn’t steal the money but I needed to let Saro win this round. I remember a police officer telling me he thought the man was lying but in his thinly veiled threat type of way reminded me it was my reputation on the line if I did go to court. Once again, I was in Challenge, naked and this time it felt like I was pushed to the dirty granite floor and asked to spread my thighs for everyone to see what was between my legs. He asked jokingly if I had enough money to hire a lawyer. The Superintendent talked about settling this amicably as if unaware of the ruse. He asked that the phone be returned. It didn’t matter if I had a receipt for it in my name. He asked that I apologise to Saro because he had mentioned that he was willing to let it go if I did. I remember feeling defeated as I got down on my knees apologising. I remember being unable to sleep in the house for days and Mohammed inviting me to an airy apartment he owned and trying to cheer me up that weekend. It was the first time I considered smoking weed but I had just lost control and I wanted to be alert.

This was easily one of the most humiliating experiences I’ve ever had, but it changed my life forever.  As I close my eyes, having relived this event in the course of writing this, and reflect on those whirlwind two weeks I met Saro, I am reminded of how time becomes irrelevant when a defining event occurs and alters the course of your life. It’s the paradox that both thrills and terrifies me about life. So how do I choose to live? Having survived a pandemic, my first orgasm, unfounded theft accusation, brushes with death, and ridden the rollercoaster of love and breakup? It’s simple: SHAMELESSLY.

The absence of shame meant the courage to hawk ready-to-eat chicken bags on the streets of Ibadan to scrape together a few extra bucks to fuel my Master’s Degree aspirations. When I got duped by a conniving family member posing as a Travel Agent, I sobbed, cursed, wiped my running nose and doubled down. Shamelessness is why I succeeded on my fourth attempt. It is why I’d think nothing of leaping from a moving London bus to pass a love note to a handsome, shy bespectacled Saudi named Fahd, who wouldn’t stop stealing glances at me. It’s how I summoned the courage to turn to social media to crowdfund for my tuition deposit, then uprooted my life for London, despite not having a penny to my name.

Shame, yes, it’s that stifling, grubby, and paralysing monster, akin to being stripped at a roundabout with your legs exposed for passerby to ogle and jeer at your private parts. It is FEAR itself. I know SHAME. It’s been my companion. Here’s the secret: Shame is also liberating. It’s an open window to the childlike faith within us, ignore it enough and you’re boundless. You’re unburdened by inhibitions, reaching for the very stars above. You become the stars. As I conclude this I’ll admit with a sense of loss that I find myself becoming ‘careful,’ ‘too mature.’ This is the zenith of my shamelessness and a declaration, a pledge to myself to never forget to approach life with the same unbridled enthusiasm, the same fearless determination that as led me to you and I hope it leads you to your zenith.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. omo, you have seen rubbish in this life, its how you hold your virtue despite having a banger body many girls will sell online.
    i am not even crying, this feels so close to home

  2. This is quite an interesting read. The firmness and aptness of the descriptions in the story is a testament to the Storytelling prowess of the writer. This writeup has changed my view and perception of the concept of Shame. How a seemly negative construct can be channeled towards positive outcomes.
    Well done!

  3. This is a heart piercing, jawbreaking and soul melting read. Perhaps, because Yinka is my good friend and reading through these lines, I could literally feel all of the emotions within her at the process of encountering Saro coming to life again. This is but a starting point of heights, London is a stepping stone. And to everyone with lofty dreams, threatened by the clips of Saro, may their wings take flight and lift them into the ultimate beauty! I love you always, Ọ̀rẹ́ mi celebrity!

  4. I just read this and it is a really intriguing,interesting and emotional article I can’t believe you went through all that now I see where your resilient spirit comes now I see why you make a fantastic role model to me ….. where you are currently is just a stepping stone is nothing compared to the great things I know you are going to achieve

  5. Shameless! Indeed! Good read and I am well reminded that the world truly belongs to those who have no shame and boldly so. Thanks for sharing your life with us. I know you are a star

  6. Anyone could tell a story, but to evoke feelings with storytelling, is a gift. And after reading this, you might as well have a ribbon tied around your hip. You’ll definitely inspire people, and it’s been an honor reading this.✨🫶🏾

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