The mass exodus of Gambians to neighboring Senegal and remote border villages in the frenzied scramble for safety when Yaya Jammeh declared his refusal to relinquish power did not leave my family unaffected, just as it did not most others. But it affected my family in a different way than you would expect.
My mother left with my younger siblings to Dakar, I stayed with my elder sister and brother and our father in our house. Serrekunda became a ghost town, it was so quiet; the atmosphere was a somber reflecting the mood of the people at that time.
Staying at home with my Dad brought some comfort to me and an assurance that everything would be fine. My father’s presence has always had that effect on me. He is as protective as they come and he exudes an energy which reassures you that everything is under control. I could almost say that I was not scared by the situation at the time.
We lived in a very large compound with buildings separated into compartments, forming residences for different households. As tenants, we occupied our little space and maintained what I refer to as a co-tenant/family relationship with other tenants, which is typical in Gambian settings. Due to the “Impasse”, the compound which is always alive with activity and the din of playing children was so quiet that it became strangely uncomfortable.
One of the tenants, who was closest to us, had her wife and kids gone to Senegal as well, leaving him alone. He was a nice character, funny and jovial. He would come to our house to chat with everybody, good naturally smiling at everyone and everything. He would share our food and pass humorous jokes. At this time, I was in my final year at high school with the WASSCE Exams a month and a half away. I have always been a studious student; this, my Dad, a former teacher had inculcated in me at a tender age. I therefore would read my notes whenever I had the opportunity. I must say the distraction caused by the political situation at the time was way too much. There was news everywhere and family and friends were calling incessantly to check on us, especially those who lived far away.
All discussions were centered on politics; was the CDS a Jammeh loyalist? What is the ECOWAS going to do? Was Jammeh bluffing and what was uncle Halifa Sallah saying at capital FM? These questions had every tongue wagging.
There was a particular day, while I was having my breakfast, our good neighbor came to our house and asked my Dad if I could help him cut into pieces some meat he wanted to cook for lunch. My Dad told him I would come when I’m done having breakfast. I went to assist him to cut the meat into pieces. In the process, he would touch my hands but I thought nothing of it. I had just celebrated my 17th birthday that month and hardly went out apart from school. After having cut the meat, he asked me to wash his cooking pot for him which I did. All the while, we were having normal conversations, mostly centered on Yaya Jammeh and the new man Barrow as usual. I told him I was leaving, but he insisted that he needed my help. I promised him that I would come back later. I went into our house and had a glass of water but almost immediately heard him yelling my name. My Dad rebuked me, telling me that I should help him because his wife is not around. I told my Dad that I would go and I left immediately.
His house was at the edge of the street, close to a corner store outside the compound. It was still part of our compound. He told me to help him slice onions. After slicing the onions, he pleaded that his room is dirty and I should clean it for him. His demands might have been too much, but I didn’t give it a second thought. To me he was like an uncle whom I should help. I took a broom and a mop to get his bedroom clean first and then move to the parlor. He had been brewing “attaya” (Chinese Green Tea) in his veranda before I came and I saw him bring it in. I said to him, “hey you! I’m trying to clean and you are messing up the room, I will quit“. He told me not to, that he was just packing it inside.
However, I saw him close the windows and his parlor door. I came out of the bedroom and asked, “What are you doing? The temperature here is high and you are closing doors, let me leave.” He told me, “You know, I was waiting for you to complete your WASSCE and then marry you. But I am going to have you today anyway.” I tried to scream but he was swift to cover my mouth with his hand. He dragged me into his bedroom which was not far. His hand was firm on my mouth, but I was relentless in my efforts to scream and be heard. He pushed me onto his bed without letting my mouth free. He laid on me, feeling his full weight on made me think that I was going to explode or suffocate. With his other hand, he removed his belt and trouser.
He got naked and made me see it. As if that was not enough torture, he told me to give him a hand-job. I looked away, being too shy to look at his nakedness. I was fighting to escape. My screams were muffled. I had an adrenaline rush. My heart was beating so loud I could hear it as I struggled to free myself. To say I was terrified is an understatement. Images rushed through my mind; my mom crying over my dead body, my classmates sitting to the WASSCE without me, my dad’s grieved face, his heart shattered by the demise of his most beloved daughter. Time stood still, help refused to come.
My hands found a piece of mirror. I could pierce him right through the heart.
Could I do it? Could I be that cold hearted as to claim a man’s life?
To be continued…
Omar Bah is a native of Gunjur and currently studying in Malaysia.
Editing by Ya Mallen Jagne