The kids on my street call me “white man,” never mind that I’m a woman. When they don’t, they call me Emily. That was the name of the last white girl to live on my street. An American, too, lived in the same house as me, slept in the same bed, and used the same toilet. She left the day that I moved in. The people I live with told me they wish I could have met Emily. Didi, the African girl my age, told me that Emily was so outgoing. “She and I became very close,” she said. “I’m no Emily,” I say.
When Geraldine stands, I can see she’s been hiding a big round belly behind her knitting. Geraldine is married to Wilfred, the man whose home I’ve somehow become part of. Oh,” I said, when she stood. “Yes,” she says proudly, as if just becoming impregnated is an accomplishment. “How long?” I ask. “Seven months.” And, in fact, that long is an accomplishment here.
When a husband dies in rural northwest Cameroon, the widow must sleep on the floor for seventeen days, wearing black, no shoes. The reason I’m here is to carry a tape recorder down the street. The street is made of dirt and always has been. It wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for white men. They see white men like me coming from a mile away. I take my tape recorder up to barren offices filled with important people in government and law enforcement and I ask, “What happens when a woman is raped?” I have yet to find an answer.
They show me pictures of Emily back at the house. Her hair is long and blond like mine. Her skin just as pale, eyes blue. She always seems to be smiling, even in the photos where she didn’t see it coming, the way celebrities [End Page 119] are always posing for paparazzi in everything they do. Helping them cook with fire and a big metal bowl. Mashing the plantains into mush or corn into fufu like a pro. She’s not attractive but you don’t really think about that. She lies right down on the couch, watching TV with everyone. When the kids cry she always knows what to do. I can’t tell how old she is. I think of her like a motherly child.
I don’t know how many kids live in the house. There must be at least ten; sometimes it seems like twenty but they have friends too. Sometimes Geraldine can’t even keep them straight. “You no do cry, Elian,” she said to a skinny little thing in braids while at the same time she held her hands protectively over her own belly. Wilfred looked at her and the belly and smiled. “I’m not Elian,” the little girl said.
I’ve sent out some surveys to children asking whether or not they’ve been raped. When they come back I read over and over that it’s the taxi drivers who do it—the ones who haggle over a ten-cent ride from their dirtied yellow mopeds. I let one of them see my number once when I called his cell to ask for a ride back from the other end of town. After that he called me approximately seven times, once at three in the morning.
When I go out that evening, I steer clear of him where he sits on his moped with the other competing drivers, then I backtrack. “You are going to where?” he asks me before any of the others. I get on and say, “Wait.”
“What is it?”
“Are you a good guy, B?” I ask.
He laughs. “A good guy,” he repeats like he’s trying to figure out what that even means.
“You wouldn’t hurt anybody, would you?”
“You no worry. I don’t hurt anybody,” he says. “Especially not girls. Girls I make feel good.”
I run into Joachim, Wilfred’s brother, out in front of the market. He’s going to a meeting and I’m going home, but he...