I noticed her about five minutes into my stay at the female ward of the surgical emergency section of the Lagos State Teaching Hospital.
She was the youngest female in a ward of six patients, though there were about 10 of us in that space, six were patients, the rest of us were visiting.
This girl, the one who caught my attention was about 13 to 14 years. She was reed thin, fair skinned and with a wide and appealing smile she flashed at everyone who looked her way. I smiled back. That was all she needed to jump off her bed and come embrace me, a total stranger.
Then I noticed our girl was special – a slightly bigger than normal head, watery eyes not focused on anything in particular, a grin that revealed rows of bad dentition and an unsteady gait.
“I hope you are getting better?” I asked her, still shocked at her openness.
“Yes I am,” she grinned, then before I could ask the next question, she had hobbled away.
Yes, hobbled as in like an old woman bent forward with bad legs.
She soon got a sharp slap on the back from a bow legged lady who rebuked her, telling her to stand upright and walk better. She did, without even looking back at her attacker.
So here’s the girl’s story.
Her name is Chinwe. I couldn’t ascertain her age beyond my initial guess. She had been sent on an errand by the bow-legged lady, who happened to be her aunt and guardian.
Aunty waited for Chinwe to return from an errand that shouldn’t take long to deliver. She didn’t come home then when she did, some five hours later, she was covered in blood and had been badly beaten and bruised.
Chinwe had been gang raped by four grown men.
And she couldn’t even tell who they were but thankfully some neighbours had heard her screaming and reported to police; the men were subsequently caught.
At the hospital, where she was rushed, her genitals had to be sewn up as she was badly torn during the rape. She had also been injured internally and some surgical work had to be done to ensure she wouldn’t be leaking urine or faeces from the sides for the rest of her life. That was the reason why she was hobbling.
So, I asked Chinwe’s aunty. ‘So, what happens now to the bastards who were caught?’
‘The case is in court,” she told me
The Lagos state government took up the case and has been sponsoring all of Chinwe’s surgeries.
Chinwe will recover, thank God for that, but she may never fully understand the extent of the attack. Chinwe is a special child who thinks a total stranger deserves to be hugged. She may never understand that some people are just evil and may set herself up for more of such vicious attacks.
I looked to Chinwe’s aunty, to find out if she’s schooling the girl about hugging strangers. There was something off about Aunty too. Could be stress from caring for Chinwe getting to her, could be she herself needs help psychologically, could be…
She went on and on about how she’s been the one caring for Chinwe since her mother passed on at birth. She told me how she’d left her petty trading for more than two months to come care for Chinwe, how she’d been sleeping in the open, outside the hospital, how she bathes and cares for Chinwe whom she finally described as an ingrate!
Huh? How so?
‘When visitors come to see her and give her money, she doesn’t show me or give me, instead she uses it to buy ijekuje knowing that many times I starve so I can buy food for her. She is wicked, she knows I have no money to take proper care of her. Only a selfish girl will do this!’
She hissed and waddled off!
I had no words of comfort for her. I just wished I had money to give her, unfortunately at that time I was flat broke, myself. I feared Chinwe would be left to the elements, the predators will find their prey, they will sniff her out because aunty is tired of watching out for her.
I still harbor a certain fear for Chinwe.