Around this time last year, I was robbed in a cab, in Lagos at about 9pm on a religious holiday night. What was I doing out, alone in a cab at that time of the night in a notorious city like Lagos? I can’t even remember. At that time Lagos wasn’t notorious to me, it was still a friendly place full of different types of people, most of them crazy, some of them entertaining and creative and none who would actually ever do me harm.
All that changed that night. I can still remember the shock and the fear, the numbing terror that I felt when the driver of the cab pulled over and put that cold heavy gun on my lap.
‘Have you ever used crutches before’ I think he said, ‘because if you scream I will blow your leg’.
I remember that day as if it was yesterday, even though I can’t remember the things I lost, a phone yes, I used to watch movies on that phone, and listen to the Funhouse album by P!nk and the Doll Domination album by the Pussycat Dolls, those where my favourite albums then. I lost some money too, my ATM cards along with my pin numbers (he threatened to test the numbers and blow my head off if they weren’t correct). And many other things that were so easily replaceable.
What I lost though, that wasn’t replaceable was my trust. I had begun to trust this mad city of screaming conductors, highways, BRTs and smelly gutters. I had acquired the ability to lounge and be perfectly happy wherever I was no matter how late it was getting, because I always trusted that when I was ready to go home I could just hop in a cab and be off.
I’ve lost that now, the trust. What I have gained instead is the fear. I no longer go out alone. I don’t go anywhere if I can’t be perfectly sure that I’ll be returned safely to my door. I’ve lost my ability to be carefree even though I always loved being carefree.
For me getting robbed that day in the cab by the taxi driver was like being betrayed by a man. Betrayal scars you. You decide to trust someone and then one day the rug is abruptly pulled from under your feet. I had begun to trust Lagos, to feel safe that nothing bad would ever happen to me in it, and then, rather like a man it disappointed me.
As when trust is lost in a relationship, it takes a long time for it to grow back. People who have been betrayed find it difficult if not impossible to ever trust again. It is the same for me now with cabs. On the few occasions in which I have had to take a cab again I have felt cold fear, blind panic and sometimes desperation. Every time a cab driver slows down or swerves to avoid a bump my heart misses a few beats. It’s ridiculous I know but I can’t help it.
Sometimes when I think I may have forgotten that night, it creeps up on me like a silent ghost. I imagine that I had tried to struggle and then I actually feel the pain as a bullet smashes into my body. Sometimes I stare into the muzzle of the gun as it goes off, right into my face. I am afraid I will never forget.
That man, the driver, scarred me so deeply and sometimes I wonder if he ever thought about it. Did it make a difference to him that he robbed me of some of my illusions, probably not. Would it have made a difference to him if he had pushed a dead body out of his car instead of dropping off a frightened girl with no money and no phone in a deserted Lagos road? I wonder.