The bags containing shreds of cotton materials were loaded on top of each other to form a high heap that almost touched the reclining ceiling in the one room apartment. A sewing machine that produced a deafening sound kept busy as it masked the loud music coming from the canteen opposite the building. Honking cars added to the noisiness on the ever-busy Oshiomole Street in Benin City. Children clothing and shoes littered the derelict floor carpeted with torn rubber carpet.
Becky Okedede sat on the depressed sofa with earphones plugged to her ears nodding her head to the songs aired on 93.9 Galala FM. With her legs stretched on the discoloured table, she kept herself busy picking white uncooked beans on a tray. Her elder sister concentrated on the blouse she was sewing as she had already collected and spent the fee charged.
Bima soon stopped paddling the sewing machine and fixed her gaze on the slit she was cutting. “You hear say Aunty Tina comes back from Italy yesterday?” she asked in a loud voice. Her question got no response. She turned her back and saw Becky nodding her head with her gaze fixed on the beans. Bima walked closer and pulled the earphones from Becky. A frown enveloped Becky’s face as she turned to look at her sister who was now sitting on the sofa with her. “You hear say Aunty Tina comes back from Italy yesterday?” she repeated her question.
“Abegi, let me hear another thing.” Becky sighed and continued picking the beans.
Bima shifted closer to Becky. “Mama John tell me say she go come our house today and this time she is serious about carrying you to Italy oh. Hmmm, I pray this one work oh because…”
“Every time she would say I would take you Italy, Every time she would say I would take you to Italy. At the end she would say they refuse me visa,” Becky interjected and let another sigh escape from her mouth.
“My dear, this time go dey different, na Mama John talk am, abi you no trust Mama John again, just relax make we see what happens.” Bima walked back to her table to continue with cutting the slit.
“Okay oh, am waiting.” Becky hollered and plugged back her earphones.
Aunty Tina was no direct relative to Becky or Bima. Mama John who is Bima’s friend was the link.
It was around 5P.M. and the children were out playing. Becky and Bima sat on their veranda when Aunty Tina and Mama John arrived in a green Peugeot car with Aunty Tina on the steering. Bima sprang up and ran towards the car in excitement, Becky followed suit, feigning her excitement; she was still not convinced Aunty was serious about taking her to Italy. Gum chewing Aunty Tina stepped out of the car in her high heels and dark glasses, her bleached skin contrasted with the black T-shirt she was wearing and her red jeans showed off her bulging tummy. With two rings on her nose and her weave flowing almost to her waist region she strode majestically, waving her hands to the several greetings she was getting. She wielded so much power and people adored her.
“One of my friends that have a big restaurant in Italy wants Becky to help with serving food,” Aunty explained in an artificial British accent. Becky and Bima looked at each other and smiled with joy. It did not matter to them if it was cleaning of toilets she was going to do. They have heard that doing these menial jobs abroad fetched a lot of money.
“No problem, Becky sabi cook well well,” Bima responded with a broad smile showing off the gap in her teeth.
“All your papers are ready. We would be moving in two days time, so get ready…”
She left Becky and Bima dancing to the blaring music coming from the canteen. Bima’s two children joined in the dance when they learnt that Sister Becky would soon be travelling abroad. Becky had finished secondary school but could not continue to the university because of money.
Bima waited anxiously for her husband to come back so she would show her sign of respect by asking him if it was okay for Aunty to take Becky to Italy. Not that she was going to accept a no for an answer.
At 8 P.M., the music coming from the canteen was still blaring and residents, including Becky and her two nephews were outside dancing to the Nigerian songs played. Bima and her husband were inside having their dinner. “Ah! What is wrong with this woman sef, you are even wasting time to ask me. I hope that you agree when she came oh. Don’t allow Aunty to change her mind. In fact, what you should be doing by now is reminding Becky how good we have been to her and how much is costing for her food so that she would not forget us when she reach Italy,” his raspy voice echoed in their one room apartment.
At 5 A.M. the next morning, Becky felt a pat on her back as she lay on the sofa with her head facing downwards. She turned and wiped her face, without a second look she could recognise it was Bima even as the lights were dim. Bima used her hand to call on Becky as they both tiptoed to the veranda.
“Becky, Becky, Becky. How many times did I call you?” Bima put her right hand to her ear as she fixed her zealous gaze on Becky for a response. The bright security lights from the next compound reflected on their faces as a faint smile surfaced on Becky’s face.
“Three times, sister,” she responded with her head facing the ground, clasping her fingers.
“I can’t believe you are so lucky. I go miss you so much. Don’t forget me and my children oh, when you reach Italy,” she said with a low voice. “Chei! See dollar oh,” she continued in an excited tone, shaking her body with vigour. It did not matter to her if dollar was Italy’s currency or not. Bima so looked forward to striding into a Western Union Centre with shoulders held high showing off the dollars Becky would send. She has never touched a foreign currency or even seen a foreign currency; all she heard about was dollar, dollar and dollar. Her eyes widened as she leaned toward Becky. “Em, you see, I hear say they have fine, fine shoes in Italy, buy some and send for me oh. You know I like brown and green na and the green would go with that my paper lace, you know na. At least let people know say me I have person in the abroad.” Bima laughed and almost fell on Becky’s body.
The slim, brown eyed and chocolate-skinned young woman left Lagos Airport for Libya decked in the tight jean and top Aunty had bought for her. She smiled at everybody as if she were in her village at home. Aunty had lied that they would take a connecting flight from Libya to Italy. She did not tell them that their main route to Italy was via the Mediterranean Sea, which could last up to two months sometimes.
Becky tried not to show her fright as the plane took off, she did not want anyone to know that was her first time in an airplane. Sometimes she summoned enough courage to raise her head to look out through the window. Aunty Tina who fell into a deep sleep a few minutes after takeoff slept until when the plane was about landing. She peered at her wristwatch and turned her gaze to Becky.
“Becky, don’t worry, life in Italy would be very fine. All you need is to work hard and corporate with your boss. You are not a small girl any longer; you must shine your eyes.”
“Yes ma,” Becky responded with a broad smile. She was oblivious of what Aunty was suggesting.
They arrived at Tripoli that evening and lodged in a two-storey hotel in the city centre. Aunty showed Becky to her room and she moved into the adjourning room refusing to stay in the same room with Becky even when Becky suggested so to save cost.
After about thirty minutes, Becky heard a knock on her door, when she opened; a short, plump fair-skinned man removed her hand from the doorknob and entered in with a stern look, locking the door behind him. She did not protest or scream, she moved close to the wardrobe and kept starring at the man with hands akimbo. She had thought he was a robber but she did not cringe because she could not see him with any weapon and she had no money he would steal. He did not say a word as he unbuttoned his silky shirt and pulled down his jeans in a hurry. She kept staring at him without saying a word. As he moved closer to her, Becky screamed and ran to the now locked door. The man said a word in Arabic and pulled Becky to the bed. Becky was not ready to give up as she kept struggling until she inflicted a minor cut on the man’s arm with her long nails.
The man picked up his mobile phone in anger, dialled a number and all he said was, “came, came.”
Becky had no idea who he was calling until the door opened from outside and Aunty walked in with rage on her face. Aunty had a spare key to Becky’s room.
“What is your problem?” Aunty shouted, putting her handset on the bed. Aunty opened her bag, brought out a pack of female condoms, and forced them on Becky’s wet palms, “Make sure you use this, you are not a small girl.”
Becky could not say a word. Tears had taken over her voice as she sat on the tiled floor clutching her torn blouse on her breast.
“You better corporate and give it to him real good so that he can come back. We are going to stay in this place for another two weeks before he we go anywhere.” Aunty walked out of the room stumping her feet to the ground.
The man moved over to Becky on the floor and pulled off her pants without any resistance from Becky as she lay on the floor subdued.
The night was a long one for Becky, as she had to sleep with two men. After that night, she knew there was no restaurant job in Italy waiting for her.
She woke up nursing some pains in her left leg; she had sustained some bruises during the scuffle with the first man. At 7 A.M., Aunty opened the door and walked in with a pack of rice and chicken wrapped in a cellophane bag. She patted Becky on her back and sat on the bed with her.
“My dear, this is what all African girls do in Italy. I just need to make some money so we can have our transport money to continue to Italy. There is no harm in this if you use your protection. After one year in Italy, you would be on your own and you would start making money for yourself.”
Becky kept her gaze on the bed and did not say a word; she despised Aunty for using her.
“Here, have something to eat and get cleaned up.” Aunty brought out the pack of rice and stretched it out to Becky. A smile surfaced on Aunty Tina’s face when Becky stretched out her right hand to collect the food. She ate like someone who had not eaten for days and when she crunched the last chicken bone, Aunty took the empty pack from her and raised her head. “When you cooperate, you are going to enjoy me.” She walked out chewing the gum in her mouth nosily.
After two hours still in her room watching a movie on television, Becky heard a knock on the door. She imagined it was too early for Aunty to send her another man. She was still recuperating from the violent sex she had last night. The knock came on even stronger for a second time and she limped to open the door. The dark, stout, handsome man she saw pleased her eyes. She smiled when he asked. “Are you Becky Mensah?” The very thought of meeting someone who spoke English excited her.
“Yes, I am,” she walked without a limp to the bed in her mini skirt.
The man stood just behind the door and said in a husky voice, “an accident that involved Aunty Tina has just occurred on Alafia Street and I am afraid she has lost her life.”
Becky stared at the man with her mouth wide open not knowing what to say. She was confused whether to be happy or not. What lay ahead was uncertainty. Before she could ask the first question, the man had left as quickly as he had come in. That night she traced Aunty Tina’s body to the mortuary. At the mortuary, she was told nobody has come forward to claim the dead body so she would be buried in a public graveyard in two days time. She could not protest to that decision, how could she, when she had no dime on her.
She went back to the hotel with the hope of retaining the room and collecting a fee from men who came to have sex with her but she met a rude shock. The hotel owners did not accept her offer to stay on without an upfront payment. She was escorted upstairs to pick up her belongings.
Becky wandered in the streets that night until she found a low class brothel that had predominantly black girls. She clutched her bag with a tight fist as she approached Jumal and explained her plight. It was around 11 P.M. so Jumal took her in without much questioning. Her final words to Becky were that, “don’t worry, you are a pretty girl, from tomorrow you can start making money and you can save and continue your journey to Italy. Your Aunt’s life has ended, you must carry on girl.”
Prostitution has started all too soon for Becky Okedede
Iyam Daniel, Nigeria.
Iyam Daniel is a Writer, Presenter and Actor. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in resources management and a professional qualification in communication and presentation. I worked with Cross River Broadcasting Corporation and Cable Mission Television in Port Harcourt before moving over to Lagos.