You sit cross-legged, excitement coursing through your veins as her voice rings throughout the room from the phone. The air in the room felt different as if foretelling what the events of the game would unfold. You’ve never played this game with her before, but you’d hoped that in doing so, it would force you to unravel her personality and become more vulnerable with each other.

All fingers are raised, palms stretched outwards as you wait for her to begin the countdown, a wide and goofy smile plastered across your face. “Put a finger down,” she starts, voice laced with monotony, “if you’ve ever been to CMS or an open market before.” You roll your eyes even though she can’t see you, irritated that she started the game this time with such a simple round. Of course, you’ve been to CMS before, which Lagos woman hasn’t? The sharp horns from impatient drivers, the husky voices of bus conductors hanging halfway outside the Danfo, yellow open buses easily affordable to the average Lagosian, stifling smoke emanating from the exhaust of bright yellow Kekes, and noisy hagglers negotiating back and forth with traders before either settling for an item or moving away to another shop for a cheaper price.

CMS, or any open street market served as an informal rite of passage into womanhood for any female teen. Regardless, it made sense why she’d assume you hadn’t. After all, you both had massively different upbringings, making it easy for her to assume that beneath your cloak of privilege, you’d never tasted or worn the hardships of life. What she didn’t know, however, was how you’d gone to CMS more than three times in the last month since you’d turned eighteen, no longer being held by the hand or being taught the right way to haggle. In fact, market negotiation had more or less become second nature to you, a skill that had been forced on you due to the dog-eat-dog mentality that littered the marketplace.

Your breath hitches when you remember the trader that squeezed your butt in a bid to drag you into his shop to “buy market.” Your heart races, the sound thunderous in your ears as you remember the way you’d tried desperately to untangle your wrist from his strong grip, all efforts proving futile. His wild, hungry eyes leered, lingering on your cleavage in ways that made you feel dirty, forcing you to question the appropriateness of the simple crop top and mom jeans you’d thrown on that afternoon. He’d licked his lips before his eyes came back to meet yours, pulling items out from the shelf before he’d spoken, “Fine sister, what do you want me to bring for you?” And even before you’d attempted to respond, he’d reached behind you to pull out a stool. “Sit down first, my pretty wife cannot be standing in my shop.”

You recall the way, for the first time, fear gripped your heart regarding your safety in the market when other hagglers and traders next to his stall had laughed at his comment. Because if they found his sexual impropriety towards you funny, then they could do even worse. And of course, because you didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable with your discomfort, because you’ve been taught to only ever put other people’s emotions before yours, you chuckled alongside them. Even though deep inside, rage and disgust threatened to claw their way out. His next-door neighbour had come into the shop and brushed his arm against the side of your breast in the pretence of reaching for a hat on the shelf next to you to show to his customer. It was glaring that he knew what he’d done because just as he was about to leave, he’d exchanged a knowing smirk with his fellow vendor, before turning and winking at you. You finally gathered your wits and huddled in the corner of his stall as he brought out different shapes and sizes of hats he knew “you will like” because your mother had told you not to return home without the church hat she’d asked you to buy from this very special seller.

Your smile wanes as you remember your Uncle Richard who you’d seen on your way out of the main market. Uncle Richard, not a blood relative but a regular family friend your mother had an easy rapport with. You’d smiled out of relief, grateful for the familiar face, but confusion lined your face when you began to notice how he’d squeezed in closer to you, his eyes non-discretely skimming around you, confirming that you were alone. His words, “You’re now a big girl o!” only served to throw you into more disconcertion because you’d seen him at the house only two weeks ago when he came visiting. But the moment he’d come closer and leisurely thrown his arm around your waist, in the pretence of guiding you away from an oncoming pedestrian, a hungry smile on his face, you understood what his words meant. His words became even more potent the moment his hand slid down your waist to briefly squeeze your bum in the middle of his asking about your mother and brothers. Your mind forces you to relive the genuine fear you felt in that moment, realising that a person who was supposed to protect you might bring you harm in an unfamiliar environment. You’d cautiously wiggled your way out of his arms, pasting a polite smile on your face out of respect for the relationship he had with your mother. And when his expression slowly morphed into a form of muted anger, you pretended your mom was calling you on the phone urgently to return home.

You roll your eyes as you sit there cross-legged on your living room carpet because that experience reminded you that once again, society has forced you to learn not to always react negatively when dealing with who it considers an elder, implicitly condoning their immoral deeds. You finally put a shaky finger down, plastering a plastic smile on your face so she does not see the trembling your memories have forced on you. What’s more confusing is the fact that from what you hear and see, she seems to mirror you – finger down, expression downright fearful and resigned.


“Put a finger down if you’ve been house hunting in Lagos.” Your face scrunches in confusion, wondering what type of questions she’s chosen to ask and why she’s gone in this direction. It’s the first time you’ve played this game, but it’s the most confused you’ve ever been while you play, especially since she knew you’d officially moved out of your parent’s place. And as you proceed to drop your finger, rage crawls up your body slowly as you recall the way the agent had brazenly told you he wouldn’t sell to a single woman like you because “I don’t know if you’re a prostitute.”

Shivers nearly arrest your senses, as your mind roves to the night you were forced to walk back to your car after the agent said the house was “just there,” and how you’d pretended to be on a call with your sister, muttering “blood of Jesus” in hopes that it was just enough for your safety. Your heart thunders, remembering the cluster of men under the uncompleted building you were forced to park besides, their eyes following you and the road eerily silent as you unlocked your car with your heart in your throat. And when one of them had sauntered up to you, shouting, “How far, fine aunty,” clearly unbothered about how much your hands were shaking as you attempted to open your car door, you instinctively recoiled. You’d finally gotten the car door open and proceeded to enter when he stopped you with a possessive arm on your hand, bellowing out, “Is it not you I’m talking to?” You could feel your arm when it started to bruise from the sheer force of his hold.

Your rage builds, as you recall how helpless you felt, knowing that you needed to think thoroughly in response and fight your natural instinct to pull away and shout. You were practically the only woman in the middle of nowhere in the midst of men who could easily overpower you without thinking twice, especially if you reacted in a way that was unfavourable to them. Bile boiled in your gut when you realised you needed to patronise not only him but the rest of them if you stood any chance of getting home safely. Because what baffles you the most, is that if you were a man, you would never have to worry about any of this and go beyond reasonable effort just to ensure your security. If you were a man, no one would corner you as you lingered in the pitch darkness of the night, and neither would they seek ways to assert some misguided sense of dominance as these men had done. It was unfair, but it was unfortunately how the world worked especially in these parts. It’s on those days that you wear your bitterness loudly for the way the world works.

You’d smiled with saccharine sweetness at him, coaxing him to let your hand go so you could find something for him, silently praying that it would be enough, and he wouldn’t demand beyond what you could freely give. The way he leered at you terrified you, but you pretended to be strong and held your fort, hoping that he’d leave well alone. You’d always heard stories of sexual assault, but you’d never imagined it could be you because of your heavily sheltered life experience. For the first time, you nurse the idea that the “it can never be me” mantra was a poignant lie because it could very well be you in an instant – the way he looked at you was an assault on its own. And when he finally sauntered away to his group, you’d practically jammed the keys to start your car and sped out of there, muttering prayers of gratitude to God and requests for a safe journey the rest of the way home.


“Put a finger down if…” her voice trails off as you stare at yourself in the mirror opposite you, her voice becoming muffled such that you fail to hear the question. What was supposed to be a simple game for the two of you turned into a trip down harsh realities that seemed to have shaken you more than you anticipated.
“I—I don’t think I want to play this game anymore,” you finally respond, voice broken and shaky from the onslaught of tremors the memories have thrown your body into.
She ignores you and continues. Your body seems to operate on autopilot because you keep responding, no matter how physically painful.

Put a finger down…
Put a finger down…
Put a finger down…

You realise you no longer have any fingers left up. You chuckle bitterly, knowing that if this was a Never Have I Ever game, you’d be drunk out of your mind because all your fingers were down and you had effectively completed the game. And if indeed, it was a Never Have I Ever game, you would spend the most of your uninhibited state – brought on by the flow of alcohol in your system – worrying about whether some guy would consider your intoxication as automatic consent for anything. After all, you’re a mature woman and if you didn’t want it, you wouldn’t have gotten freely drunk neither would you be in public in that state. You’re merely in your early twenties, but to the world’s eyes, you’ve fully embraced all the maturity a woman needs. Of course, you should be able to accept all of these things as normal because it was only a part of womanhood. It didn’t matter if these things cause you unimaginable pain – it shouldn’t matter because how dare you make a larger proportion of society uncomfortable because you were not ‘woman enough’ to keep it all in and accept it as part of life?

Everyone says the world has evolved and things are no longer as they used to be in our parents’ generation. That boundaries are being understood and respected, that friendship is no longer transactional and that women are no longer considered as property justifying entitlement or a right over. But you know it’s all a lie. Because in this moment, you’re stuck in the guest bathroom of your male friend’s house, hiding away from his incessant improper sexual advances by pretending to be on your period, while still searching for ways to preserve the friendship because you’d known him the longest. And the person you trusted, dubbed as your best friend, who you’d been playing this game with had sat in the room, ignoring her brother while he tried to assault you as she begged you to call her and play this game with her after you’d gotten to the bathroom.

The silence in the bathroom and the loudness of the inequity of the situation warred violently in your mind, forcing you to the realisation that all fingers will never be equal. That it did not matter if you were an active or passive participant in the oppressive nature of society – so long as you wore the badge of being a woman, equity would only ever be an illusion.

Put a finger down…

You’d been putting fingers down for years, embodying a people-pleasing, docile and subservient persona in the attempt to avoid stepping on toes, breeding discomfort and evading controversy. Slowly yet surely stripping yourself of your individuality until you became a puppet to the whims of society. And no matter how much you tried to push back on those rare occasions, society pushed harder. A reminder that once again, all fingers were never really equal.











Photo by Gilbert Beltran on Unsplash