My story isn’t exactly my own per se. It’s the story of a young woman I happen to sort of take care of.
Cynthia came under my ‘management’ a few years ago. She was a beautiful girl of 23 years at that time; and was posted to my department where I worked with one of the biggest so called New generation banks in Lagos. She was serving out her NYSC programme under me having studied Computer science at one of the private universities in the south.
Now, what endeared me to her was that despite what appears to be a modest background, middle class in fact, both her parents being doctors; Cynthia had no airs about her, she was beautiful and soft spoken. You know I imagined I was going to have a rather willful or wayward girl on my hands because I dealt a lot with corpers back in the day but this girl shocked me; she did her job diligently and gave me no reason to ever query her until I began to observe something.
The only quirk about her was that her phone was almost always ringing; if she wasn’t chatting, she was talking on the phone in a quiet tone. In fact, I had to ban that phone at some point. I didn’t even permit her to keep it on silent, she had to put it off!
Another thing I noticed about Cynthia was a lot of our male staff; both senior and junior would come to the outer office, where the corpers and junior staff were and they would be around Cynthia. Many times, even senior colleagues would call her on the intercom to come to their office or some, I even noticed, gave her rides home after office hours. Like I said before, she was quite beautiful, curvy, tall and very fair in completion , so I was not too surprised she was attracting so much male attention.
I was just a bit worried that she seemed to be with different male company like almost every week.
One day, I worked late and when I came downstairs, I saw Cynthia at the car park; in a senior colleague’s car parked at an inconspicuous corner. This is a girl who left the office at about 6.30pm. I came down at a few minutes past 8pm, so you can imagine that I was shocked to see her there.
‘What are you still doing here?’ I asked her.
She looked tired and worn out.
‘I am waiting for Mr T, ma.’
I knew the man, he chased anything in skirt.
As an older woman, I knew there was more.
Turns out Cynthia was waiting for him to finish, so he could take her to a hotel and have sex with her!
I know you’ll say it’s none of my business, but that evening, I made it mine. This girl could easily have been my own child, though my own daughter at that time was just 17years, still, I put myself in her mother’s shoes.
I dragged Cynthia from that car into mine and drove off; that was when I had a long talk with her in traffic that day.
‘What are you doing sleeping around with a married man? What if his wife catches you and strips you naked? What if you get pregnant and have to abort…’ I kept asking, what if this, what if that?
My sister, I was later to hear from Cynthia herself.
‘Ma, they put so much pressure on me, I don’t know what else to do but give in.’
I was to find out that evening that Cynthia had been passed around the entire branch from both senior to junior staff and they were no less than 19!
Lord in heaven! This small girl!
She’d been with us for about 5 or six months at that time!
I was shaking all over.
‘Why Cynthia, do you enjoy it?’ I had to know so I knew what I was dealing with.
Her voice was so soft, so low as I queried her. ‘No, ma, I just don’t know how to get them to stop pressuring me and I give in and then another person comes again.’
Lord in heaven!
No wonder I had been seeing different sets of male staff, no wonder the snickering, the finger pointing, the…they were telling one another that she was an easy lay.
I was at first upset with the girl but I realised her parents had failed her here.
Cynthia, as I also later found out, was a sheltered child. Her parents cocooned her right from birth, drove her to school from nursery, through primary, sent her off to boarding house in secondary school, holidays were monitored by parents and her university education was at one of these religious private universities where they are still treated like secondary school children.
So, service year was her first real experience ‘outside her parent’s control!
A girl of 23 years hadn’t mature enough to know that she could deflect the pressure of male advances without giving in to sex. She wanted to be accepted and the best way in her mind was through sex…
Would you even believe when I asked, she told me she didn’t even get paid for the sex?
I asked her because I had to find a rational explanation for her behavior; she had told me she didn’t enjoy the sex; she also didn’t do it because she needed financial help but simply gave herself to the numerous men because she felt pressured to do so!
What kind of sense is that? See, you modern parents have a lot of work to do these days, walahi!!
After that day, I took her squarely under my charge; when the men called her, she would signal to me and I would tell her to tell them no and drop the phone, her phone would ring virtually all day, same with the intercom on her table. I can’t imagine if she got any sleep but I think gradually, she began to say, no and mean it.
I told her she would meet the right guy and she would know because he wouldn’t pressure her. I said this with plenty of prayers in my heart that day. After her service year, she kept in touch and told me she was now in control of her life…I pray so, her naivety baffled me for months.
I am not Cynthia’s guardian angel, I am just also a mother, who hopes that someone would step in and save my daughter from harm in the future.
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)