Tega leisurely exhaled, and through half closed eyes she watched the smoke dissolve into the air. Oblivion gently set in. Her eyelids fluttered close, she forced them open; hovering between the two worlds. She heard the soft tap of the play button and the gentle whirl of the cassette. Her eyes drifted shut.
Her brother was standing beside her as they both stared at the new radio. It was like a green box with two large shiny circles in the front. She could see the cassette turning through a small glass in front of the radio. It was their first and the only electronic in their house. Her brother was grinning from ear to ear, and so was she. The music started then, making her blink as the beautiful sound of talking drums filled the air. She giggled, hardly containing her excitement. The rich voice of a Yoruba man soon joined the drums. The song was delightful though she couldn’t understand a word. She turned to her mother
“What is he saying?” Her mother looked from her to her brother; her eyes sparkling. She shook her head.
“I don’t know” laughter in her voice
Tega turned to her brother and they happily burst into laughter. It didn’t matter what the man was saying; they finally had a radio. Her brother tapped her excitedly and turned her towards their mother. Her mother was bent at the waist, and was swaying her bottom from side to side. She was moving to the rhythm of the song. That sent her and her brother into another fit of joyous laughter.
A sound pierced through her reverie, and instantly she was back to her damp room in this distant European country. Her eyes snapped open and the familiar fear clutched her heart, squeezing it tightly. She panicked; it wasn’t yet time to come back. She needed to go home. She closed her eyes again and tried to shut out everything.
“Leave me alone! Let me go!” a girl screamed. Tega groaned and gave up. She heard Hemel shout and then the sound of a slap. The cry stopped immediately.
“Thank God” she sighed and brought the weed back to her black lips, sucking it deeply. She kept the smoke in; let it go down her throat and past, felt it seep into her brain. She kept it in, till she stopped shaking from the fear, till she came to terms with the life she was living. She blinked twice clearing the fog created by her dream then opened her mouth and let the smoke go, along with her essence. Once again she became empty; just tissue, bones and blood. She waved a hand against the smoke and sat up from the bed. Her feet hit the cold and rough floor; her knees barely missing the wall opposite her. The room was narrow, for the lack of a better word but it provided her with the privacy she needed. The walls were damp and unpainted, sometimes when she couldn’t sleep; she’d count the drops of water falling from the ceiling. She flicked the weed into the small puddle that had already formed and let it extinguish itself.
The commotion outside continued and got louder. It made Tega wonder if the whispers she had heard were actually true. Rumor had it that fresh girls would be brought into the Deuren; which inevitably meant unfortunate souls that would be lost in this world.
Like we don’t have enough of those she mused. Lost in her thoughts, she didn’t hear the footsteps approach her door. The slim wood was kicked open with such force it hit the wall and split into two. Tega jumped, and then eyed the piece of wood on the floor, before turning her gaze to her visitor. Martha’s fat frame blocked the whole doorway. She was the matron of the Deuren and the chaperone to the girls. Her job –like she always reminded them- was to keep the girls alive and healthy enough for fucking. She was dressed in her usual black, her white hair pulled back from her face. Her pudgy fingers were stroking her baton; Tega kept her gaze on the stick and asked
“What is it?” Martha’s almost invisible eyes peered at Tega in the dimly lit room.
“Hemel wants to see you” she said in her heavily accented English. Tega went still with fear; to be summoned by Hemel was not good. She didn’t want to go but she couldn’t disobey, her ribs and her knees still ached from her last encounter with the matron’s baton. Why does Hemel want to see me? She thought as she put on a flimsy silk robe. She tried not to let her fear show as she stood on frail legs and followed the matron out of the room. They walked down the corridor; it was lined with rooms where most of the girls stayed. The air was dense and putrid; it reeked of dirty bodies, blood, feces, urine, coke and weed. Aside from the smell of burning flesh, this must the scent of hell Tega concluded. Girls of different races and ages littered the corridor. They were scantily dressed in hopes that they’ll attract a customer. They got to Hemel’s office and the matron tapped on the door twice. She pushed it open and practically shoved Tega inside. The contrariety between Hemel’s office and the corridor just outside his door was bone jarring. His office was impeccably clean, it smelt of a very sweet fragrance that she couldn’t identify. Tega took deep breathes; quickly cleansing her lungs. The walls were so white; it hurt to stare at it. Large pictures of breathtaking landscapes lined the walls; it made one think about beautiful places far FAR away from this place. She curled her toes in the soft rug and wondered if Hemel did it on purpose. Maybe it was all part of his torture; to give the girls a glimpse at heaven then send them back to the abyss. He looked almost respectable from where he was sitting behind his desk; his faded blond hair was falling around his face, giving him a boyish look. He looked almost respectable, almost… until he raised his eyes to hers. Deep in their black depths, she could see an evil so thick it would make the devil shiver. He stared at her for a long time, his eyes moving over her; void of any form of desire. She seriously doubted he had any emotions left in him except for anger and more anger. He was a cold hearted monster that took his job seriously. He described himself as a shrewd business man having established the Deuren Van Da Hemel thirty six years ago. He has managed to turn the business of trading girls into a very lucrative one. He ran his whore house with an iron fist and branded the letter ‘H’ on the left shoulder of all his girls. On her first day in the house, he had told her that he controlled everything in the house; both the living and the dead. Then he had given her a stare that told her the category she fell into. She had understood immediately, here they were just commodities for making money and satisfying perversions.
“Mijn lieve Tega” he said, one side of his lips turning up. He came up from behind the table and walked towards her; leaning heavily on his cane. He took her hand, drew her closer, and planted kisses on both her cheeks. She tried not to flinch at the gesture.
“I trust you’re well. Have you eaten?” he pointed at the basket on his table “Help yourself” Her stomach tightened at the sight of fresh bread and large chunks of cheese but she didn’t make a move; fear wouldn’t let her. Hemel smiled clearly reading her; he went over to the table, took a chunk of cheese and began to eat it.
“I have a present for you” he continued, sticking the cheese into his mouth. He jerked his head towards something in the corner. She hadn’t noticed it when she had come in but now she could see a young girl lying on the floor with her face to the wall. He moved over to the girl and kicked her
“Git op” he spat, throwing the chunk of cheese at her head. The girl screamed but didn’t get up; her mistake. Hemel leaned against his good leg and raised his cane; he sent it crashing down her chest.
“Git op! Jij kleine hoer” he screamed. He hit her on her stomach, on her face, her legs and on her face again. He hit her until her screams turned to whimpers. He once again balanced himself on his cane, bent and dragged her up by her hair. He turned her towards Tega. The girl hung limply in his hand, her face crumpled in pain, the cut on her lip was bleeding.
“Do you know her?” he surprised Tega by asking then as if realizing his mistake he shook his head “Of course not, your country’s the most populous in African juist?”
Tega stared at him in confusion.
“She’s Nigerian like you” he explained “And my latest possession. I acquired her yesterday at the market” he flung the girl towards her; she stumbled and landed in a heap at Tega’s feet. “She’ll share your room. I can’t keep her in the corridor, she’s already been booked.”
Tega stared down at the girl then at Hemel. Her brain went into an overdrive. Confusion turned to desperation. It should matter that they were from the same country, but Tega didn’t care. In the Deuren it was every man for himself. She didn’t want this kind of burden. She didn’t want to be responsible for anyone; not in this house. New girls were vulnerable and raw and the girl on the floor would come to her for help and refuge; all the things that were foreign in the Deuren. She didn’t need this kind of burden.
“What did you say?” Hemel asked incredulity plastered on his face. Belatedly Tega realized she had spoken out loud. She swallowed; the deed was done.
“I don’t need this kind of burden. Find…” Hemel didn’t let het finish, she didn’t even see him move. One minute he was in front of her, baring his teeth like a wolf. The next minute she was up against the wall; his long, muscular fingers constricting around her neck like a python. Tega choked and gasped for air, reflexively clawing at his hands.
“Did I hear you question me?” he hissed, his hot breath heating her face “How ungrateful of you. I give you shelter and your own fucking room, and you dare question me? The only reason you still alive is because your Afnemer; Melder, thinks your cunt irreplaceable. Opnieuw te maken me boos and who knows with these drunk drivers. One can never be too sure when crossing the road”
With his threat stamped in her brain, he loosened his fingers. Tega coughed and clutched her sore throat; it burnt with every breathe she took.
“She’ll share your room” Hemel said again, straightening his jacket. She was now staring at him with pure terror in her eyes. He liked that, he liked the fear and the fact he could still break her any time she got spirited. He walked back to his desk and sat down; obviously the discussion was coming to an end.
“Make her comfortable. Tell her sweet little stories to set her mind at ease because it won’t last long, the captain comes for her tonight.” He smiled at that “you remember the captain don’t you? He was your first Afnemer here and you know how much he likes African virgin cunts” Tega visibly shivered. Hemel threw his head back and laughed at her reaction.
“Yes I know” his voice was laced with admiration “Smerig oude man”
* * * *