My family is very poor.
My father is dead. He died at his work site. He was a bricklayer, he missed his step while carrying cement up a construction site, fell and died…just like that.
We didn’t even know he had died until evening when one of his mates came to our shack to tell us. No, we do not have GSM phones, we can’t afford it. They told us his body was at the mortuary that they would follow us there. we went and we saw him. He looked terrible.
The company buried him then they gave my mother N50,000. It was the biggest money we had ever seen in our lives but after about 6 months, that money finished.
I am the second of six children and right from the start, everyone thought I was a boy. I looked like a boy, I played rough, I play ball, too. And my voice is also like a boy. Maybe God intended for me to be a boy but I came out as a girl. I don’t know but me, I wanted to be a boy.
After the money finished, I told my mother I would go to the construction site and take my father’s position.
She said, how? ‘Do they let girls work as bricklayers at construction sites?’
I was not sure, but me, I had a plan, otherwise hunger would kill us. I was not going to go there as a girl. I was going there as a boy!
First, I picked up my father’s pounpoun or what you call iron basin, that thing bricklayers use to carry cement
I picked his work tools and reported myself at the worksite. I told them I was the son of Igbogila, the man who fell to his death. I told them I knew the job and I would be careful because I am young and strong and apart from that, we need the money. The foreman agreed to take me.
I was almost 19 years old then and even at that, my breasts were not developed. I can even show you. Anyway, I wrapped a bandage around my chest just in case, o. I wore a tshirt underneath and wore a shirt on top.
Look at me now, don’t I look like a man? I don’t even look like a woman at all; I don’t plait my hair, I have always worn shortcut. See my hairy legs, my arms…big like a man’s own. So, it was easy to fool them at the work site that I am the son of Igbogila.
I think it was guilty conscience that made them give me the job, these people, I don’t trust them jare.
So, that was how I started work as a bricklayer on the site. It was also easy because I have watched my father work many times, have joined him at other sites to complete his job if he is not able to go. I was very much interested in things that men do. So, I just blended.
I drank beer with the men, I told bad jokes with them, I whistled at the bread sellers that come to our work site who pretended to be selling bread but were selling other things…the only thing I avoided was weed but I smoke cigarette when I can afford it.
So, I generally blended.
I was a good worker, too. I gave the money I earned weekly to my mother; and put small amount aside for myself. Sometimes I made N5,000, sometimes I made less. Usually depends on the amount of work we do weekly.
I had been on the site for about 9 months or…almost one year, when trouble started. Trouble in the sense that one bread seller came with police that she had been raped by construction workers and we stole her money and that I was among the men that raped her!
I was shocked; when was she raped? I do not know.
Who raped her? I do not know
Why would I rape a girl? Ask me.
I may look like a man but I don’t even like girls! I prefer men, se you get my meaning? And I have had ‘meetings’ with men before…
I was not among the people that raped her! That’s my own.
So, that day, our foreman came and said those of us that were named had to leave the site and go with police to the station.
I was protesting, ‘No, it is not me, I couldn’t have raped you, for what?’
But the girl said I was among them.
See, what I was thinking was, if I lose this job, how will I feed my family? What else am I useful for? What will happen to my mother? So my head was full and I was so angry. These stupid girls that come to construction sites wearing legging and plenty makeup what are they selling if not their yansh?
Ok, I know and have heard that orange sellers, bread sellers, groundnut sellers are often raped at the site but I am not a rapist!
They took all of us to the police station, and by this time, I knew I had to confess that I am not a man, I am a woman and there’s no way I could have raped this girl. But I didn’t want to talk at the site when they were taking all of us to the station but I was just protesting.
When we got to the police station, I looked the bread seller in the eye again and told her she was a liar, that I was never among those who raped her but she was just crying and saying I was one of them. I grabbed her in anger. How can somebody lie like that. I said how can I rape you, with which penis? I have no penis; I have a vagina. I opened my shirt and removed the bandage to show them my breasts and pulled down my trousers and showed them…see, how could I have raped you?
Hummn. That day I was a mad ‘man! ‘
Everybody at the station started shouting; even my fellow workers who had been arrested and those who followed us were shocked.
See, o, I had to reveal myself because I just couldn’t afford to go to jail for a crime I did not commit, that is one and also my mother and siblings need the money I make daily. So I just put shame aside and showed myself!
There was commotion but afterwards, the DPO released me. They saw that I couldn’t have raped the girl.
What happened later?
I had to leave that place. As everyone had ‘seen me finish’, I couldn’t stay there. I moved to another site, but even so, I didn’t stay for long. I saved small money and I used it to buy snooker game. I have two. That game is what you see people playing; they pay before they play. Yes, I know this is not going to bring me big money but I don’t know what else to do.
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)