I had been seeing her on that road for some time; the road leading from Yaba market down to Adekunle. She was what we called newly run mad; her skin hadn’t acquired that dirty, used up quality you see on people with mental health issues on the street and her clothes were not too dirty but dusty enough for you to see and know you ought to sidestep her as you approached her on the sidewalk. She was about maybe 25ish or a little more. Her nails and hair hadn’t quite taken on the rough street look but were unkempt none the less.
I secretly named her Rebecca.
She looked to me like someone who should bear the name Rebecca.
She was of a slightly fair complexion, had braids of different colours and often bit her nails as she scavenged for food in the dustbins that lined the street.
I always wondered who her family were, whether they knew she had suddenly run mad, whether they were looking for her or whether maybe they had given her up for dead.
I have always wondered every time I saw her.
Then over the subsequent weeks, when I passed by, she grew dirtier, talked more loudly to herself, began to lose several items of clothing, the skin beneath the worn remains of clothing looked dirty and she soon seemed to have found a spot by the bus stop. I also noticed she had begun to acquire a few personal items in jumbled packs of nylon bags…she had finally settled into her madness and nobody came looking for her.
Two years later I think, I had reason to pass that route again, I was taking my mum to see an eye doctor and behold, there Rebecca was with a baby strapped to her back!
I asked one of the security guards of the clinic if he knew her, if he knew how long she’d been on the street…
“That one? She don carry anoda belle”
“She’s pregnant?” I didn’t know. If a woman’s stomach isn’t protruding, I usually have no idea, I am not like some of those people who see fetuses in women.
Who could be raping this woman? It has to be rape since she is neither of sound body and mind to agree to any sexual advance.
The old security guard looked at me like I was odd. “Plenty people, plenty men…they come many nights and sleep with her…”
There you have it, there are men sicker than Rebecca who take delight in having sex with her and they are many like the security guard told me.
What about her children?
I learned over the course of many months that Rebecca would give birth to babies and one day, the babies would be gone and she would be wailing for days until she forgets her babies are missing.
Some people are profiting from this; baby factories?
A recent report about a mentally ill woman in Ondo State, who’s baby was taken from her to the orphanage and from there had gone missing got my attention. The report in Punch says, ” the child’s mother, Olufunke Olajide, disappeared from her family house in Apapa, Lagos, due to mental illness. After the family’s fruitless search for eight years, the 32-year-old was spotted by a former neighbour in Ofoso community, Ondo State. After she was reunited with her family, the community informed her relatives that while she wandered about, she was raped by unknown persons and impregnated.”
Coincidentally, I had reason to remember Rebecca again when I went to Apapa today, along Marine road, I saw another Rebecca.
I was taking shots of lamp posts my agency had mounted on the street when ‘Rebecca’ brushed past me; she wore white flowing trousers darkened by grime and grease and a tank top. Yes, a tank top.
Her hair had aged with the attachments coming lose and her face and back had scratch marks and cuts.
What happened to Rebecca?
I will never know, she looked back at me when she heard me gasp.
She continued her muttering and gingerly walk along the road.
They always walk long roads, they move far and fast…that’s why their families never locate them.
I wondered if she was pregnant already, if the scratch marks on her face and back was her resistance against unwanted advances…
They may still be searching for them, like Olufunke, who’s thankfully recovering from her mental illness and asking for her son. The Ondo state government had taken the boy way back in 2018 and named him Enitan Akeredolu. When Olufunke’s family went to the orphanage to reclaim him, they were told to forget him as he had been given up in adoption. The good news is because the Ondo state government and its agencies stepped in, the boy has been found and will soon be reunited to his mother and her family.
There are many Rebeccas and their male counterparts in our cities and towns; where are their families?