She wondered why she was using that tone of voice. “Ma !” she quickly put on her slippers and hurried downstairs. Halima had returned and was standing behind her seat. She was dressed in a tiny dress and her nails were beautiful as usual. Aunty had a look on her face she had never seen before. She slowly put out her cigarette in the half filled ashtray and took a sip of her brandy.
“Antonio complained about your service , he said you were not nice to him.”
Feeling the older woman was on her side she poured out her tale of woe and complained about her threatened dignity. At the end of her story, the woman laughed in sarcasm. In a flash the laughter was gone just the way it had come.She picked up another cigarette and Halima helped her with the lighter she cast a blank look at her as she puffed rings of smoke into the air polluting the living room..
This wasn’t the Aunty Uyi with the bleached skin she was used to. The woman who sat here fuming, was a business woman and for her money came first.
“What is the problem, Adesuwa?, “ she inquired putting out her cigarrete in the ashtray .
The girl looked at the woman surprised, hadn’t she heard anything she had said ?
At her silence, the woman repeated her question, “ What is the problem Adesuwa?”
“Mr Antonio tried to take advantage of me, he was touching me inappropriately,” she grumbled.
Aunty Uyi took another sip of her drink, “And what is wrong with being nice to one of our clients?”
Adesuwa couldn’t believe her ears, was her aunt asking her to prostitute?
She repeated her question, “What is wrong with being nice to one of our clients? It is part of the hospitality business you know.”
Adesuwa stood with her head bowed sobbing. “ I can not be an ashawo .”
The older woman uncrossed her legs and laughed mimicking her , “I cannot be an ashawo. My dear remember when you were back home in the village living from hand to mouth with your parents and sleeping on a mat ? I did not volunteer to bring you here did I? Your mother begged me .”
The girl shook her head.
“I am glad you know that. Your mother begged me and promised me you would be a good and hard working girl. Nothing in life is free my darling. All this,” she spread her bleached hands gesturing to her beautiful house, “ I earned through hard work because someone gave me the opportunity to use what I have to get what I want and that is the same opportunity I have chosen to give you. I paid your way here, housed you for free, bought you clothes and fed you, all these you have to pay for with time. You should be grateful.”
The girl looked up surprised.
“Yes you have to refund me all the money I have spent on you ,then you can have your freedom to be on your own. Didn’t the other girls tell you ?”
She shook her head. She had to buy her freedom ?
Aunty Uyi raised an eyebrow, “ Are you still a virgin?”
The girl nodded and the woman shook her head. “There are no virgins in Europe my Darling, we are all here to work.”
“But I want to go to school,” the girl complained.
“You will go to school quite alright, but that will happen after you’ve worked and paid me back. I spent a lot of money getting you over here you know. That is what the other girls here are doing, as soon as your payment is complete, you are free to leave and do what ever it is you please with your life.”
Adesuwa stood lost, this was not what she had bargained for and her mother would not be happy to hear this.
“ You think I made all this money lazing about?” Anty Uyi, spread her hands gesturing to her posh apartment again.” We all work very hard in this country. Its a dog eat dog situation here. No one back home needs to know. Don’t even think about running away, your passport is still in my possession, you’ll get it after you have paid your debt.” She snapped her fingers, “Halima, please speak to this foolish child. Help her understand.”
Adesuwa sat on the bed weeping, was this what her other girls came here to do? One of the other girls walked into the room and handed her Anty Uyi’s cell phone. Confused she took the phone from her wondering who it was, it was her mother.
She sniffed and greeted her.
“Are you alright?” the older woman asked.
Not wanting her to panic, “No Mama, I just have a cold. I’ve been sneezing all day.” She lied.
“You’ll be fine. I just wanted to remind you about the school fees for your younger ones and the rain last week blew our roof off and your father has not been able to gather enough money to buy new roofing sheets to pay the carpenter.”
She was confused, why was her mother telling her all this?
“Okay Mama,but there is nothing I can do about all of this.”
“Ha ! You are in the land of the white man oo. You should please try to send us some money like your Aunty does for the family. You know your father sold his motor bike and I put in all the money I had to send you to that country. So please try ooo.” The line went blurred. “ My credit is finished. I just wanted to give you this message.”
At the sound of the click at the other end, Adesuwa put down the phone. Was this going to be her new life? Her family had needs she could not ignore but to sell her body for money was another thing.
Halima had changed into her night gown and was waiting for her to calm down. As soon as the other girl left with the phone , she relaxed handing her a box of tissues..
“Trouble from home?”
“ I am sorry your Aunt did not tell you what you were coming over here to do, that is usually the case with many young girls.”
“Is that what happened to you too?” she blew her nose loudly.
Halima shook her head, her platinum wig bobbing up and down. “Madam Marion brought me here as a way of rescuing me from an early marriage and poverty. I was no virgin, I was already street wise so she told me what was expected of me. I did not mind, for me coming over here to earn foreign currency was better than the peanuts I was earning back home as a local champion. Today all my younger ones are in school, my parents are comfortable and soon I’ll be done paying Madam her money. I cannot complain.”
“But it is prostituting. No one would marry you when you decide to go back home to settle down.”
Halima laughed, “Says who? Men are no better than us, the only difference is they do not charge money for sleeping around. I get paid for my pleasure .Who the hell are they to judge us? Well they say it is a man’s world but no one needs to know. I send them money to live a comfortable life , they have no right to judge me. They believe I work here as a nurse. If I am lucky enough to find a white man who would marry me that would be icing on my cake as it automatically entitles me to citizenship and saves me the agony of the judgment of men back home.”
“How long have you been here for?”
“Three and a half years.”
“My dear it seems like forever in the beginning but time flies. Dry your tears and do what you have to do. Do not hate your aunt, this is the only way she knows about making money. Whoever showed her the way also did the same to her too, so do not blame her, just make the best of a bad situation. Count yourself lucky that you have a place to stay. Some girls are not this lucky, they get pimped and brutalized then get caught by the authorities and deported home diseased. Take the word prostitution off your mind , simply see it as a means to an end. Go back to sleep and stop crying. I’ll teach you the tricks of the trade and you must remember that like every business, it has its good and bad sides.”
For the next few days she lay in bed depressed, this was not the life she had bargained for. She wanted to make life back home easier for her parents and siblings and she was ready to do whatever it took to earn good money but selling her body had not been part of the plan. She was stuck in a foreign country as an illegal immigrant with nowhere to go. If she went to the authorities, that would mean implicating her aunt which would not be fair to the woman.
When the house was empty the next day, she went downstairs to watch TV, there were reports on immigrant sex workers being deported and some others arrested for constituting a public nuisance. Another report on a different channel said ten illegal immigrants this time both men and women had died in the cargo they were being smuggled into the country with. They had suffocated in the crates their smugglers had hidden them for the 12 hour ride from the neighboring country , on the other side of town, a Nigerian woman had been arrested for allegedly smuggling girls into the country and using them for sex work and selling drugs.
She shivered, did the authorities not know that the woman they had arrested had given many girls hope? Bad as her activities may sound, some knew no better. She switched off the television and went to the fridge, she was hungry and also needed money. She took out a banana and went to stand by the window, watching people hurry about their daily activities oblivious to her watching eyes. The phone rang and she reached for it not leaving the window. Maybe it was one of her aunt’s clients, she could take a message for her.
“Hello,” she croaked into the phone.
“Adesuwa ! Thank God I got you,” it was her mother. “Your Aunty gave me this number, she said it would be easier to get you.” She sounded low.
“Mama are you alright?” she became worried.
“Ha ! My daughter. When I did not hear from you since I called you weeks back, I decided to call back to make sure all was well.”
She inquired about her younger ones.
“ Ah your father had to borrow money for their school fees and to fix the roof, now he is being harassed by the money lenders. Your sister’s GCE starts in three months and we need money to register for her exams. The fact that you are in a foreign land even makes it more difficult because when we go borrowing, people claim we are pretending, because we have a child abroad. Please my daughter, try to work hard, we would appreciate any help we can get. You know that I can not ask your Aunty for money any more since you are now over there with her.”
“ Mama – ” the line went blurred at the other end before it got disconnected.
She put down the receiver and placed her two hands flat against the window, starring very hard and seeing nothing.
She was stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. Here she was stuck in a country that spoke a different language, her family back home needed money and she at this end owed a lot of money to her Aunt. Even if she decided to go work in town, she did not have the right documents, her passport was still being kept by her aunt. She had to find an alternative.
As Halima got ready to go out that night, she sat watching her pull on her coloured wig and then sit on their bed to apply her lipstick, her beautiful nails reflecting as the light hit them. She cleared her throat and tried to speak but no words came out. The girl put finishing touches to her adornment and bid her farewell as she headed for the door. She left the bed and went down stairs, her Aunt was seated in her usual seat dressed in jeans and a see through blouse. She looked up when the girl walked in.
“Good evening Aunty,” she croaked.
“How are you my dear. I hope you are feeling better today?”
She shook her head, “My mother called today.”
“I see, I hope all is well with them back home?”
She shook her head, “Money problems.”
She shook her head in understanding, “ Money is never enough you know.”
She took a deep breath, “ I am ready to start work.”
The older woman smiled, putting out her cigarette in the ashtray placed carefully on the arm of the couch she sat. “Good for you. I’m glad you changed your mind. When I first came here , I was very much like you. A young and naive virgin, but I learnt fast. Go get dressed, I’ll set you up with your first client.”
With shaky legs she headed for the bedroom. She changed into a very short simple red dress which showed off her curves and borrowing one of Halima’s coloured wigs off the dresser, she pulled it on as she applied her makeup. The new her would have no identity. She opened her purse and borrowed a pack of condoms from Halima’s abundant collection. Protection was one of the golden rules of this trade, Halima had advised. HIV and pregnancy were risks she should not toy with in this business. Stealing was also not good for this business as some girls stole from their clients , while the satisfied men were fast asleep and when they were caught, they were either given a good beating or simply taken to the authorities for deportation or arrest. Even though she did not know what to expect, she would go down with a bold face.
Two men were sitting with her Aunt when she returned to the living room, the shorter of the two men stood up when he saw her.
“Wow Marion,” he said to her aunt. “You totally out did yourself this time around.” He walked round her assessing her with full satisfaction.
Adesuwa had never felt so cheap, she swallowed hard.
“What is your name?”
“Gina.” Adesuwa replied in a voice that sounded nothing like hers.
“Call me Julio.” He had brown hair and green eyes, he couldn’t be more than thirty five, she guessed and he smelt nice. Thank God. “Gina is a lovely name for a beautiful woman.” When he stretched out his hand to touch her chin, she pushed his hand away gently and smiled.
At his raised brow she said sweetly, “That would cost you Darling.”
He frowned, her Aunt smilled.
“The goods are still intact. Sealed.”
He turned to look at her Aunt confused. “This one is a virgin.” The older woman explained.”It would cost you more.”
“A virgin Eh?” the expression on his face went from that of confusion to full excitement. Like the face of a bounty hunter who just struck gold. “ Thought that specie went extinct ages ago.”
“We still have good girls back home you know,” Aunty Uyi said. “That is why it would cost you more.” She winked at him.
Julio scratched his head trying to make up his mind.
The second man who had been seating quietly observing them, put down his drink. “ I’ll take her.” He had a deep baritone voice.
Aunty Uyi looked at the two men. “ I thought Julio was interested.”
“ He can’t seem to make up his mind about the money so I’m taking her. I’ll pay you double of whatever you charge”
“Gina?” her Aunt looked at her.
Adesuwa replied, “ I am only interested in the highest bidder.”
Her Aunt looked surprised but impressed, the girl was a fast learner. “Ok, then you’ll go with Stone here.”
Stone stood up. He was only a few inches taller than her and he looked very expensive. He had jet black hair, grey eyes an a very handsome face. Why would such a handsome man be paying for sex? With his looks alone , he could get any woman he wanted, not to mention his money a an added bonus.
“You be nice and gentle with her okay?” her Aunt joked.
“Trust me,” he winked at her Aunt. He reached out to pick up his jacket.
Adesuwa beat him to it, picking it up she helped him into it. He smiled and taking her hand he led her to his car waiting outside.
When she got into the car she stretched out her hand. “Can I have my money first.”
He looked amazed.
“Yes,” she nodded. “ A girl can’t be too careful these days.”
He shrugged irritated. Opening his wallet , he took out a stash of notes and gave them to her without counting. She counted the money and carefully put it in her bag, aware of the fact that not all clients would be this generous nor gentle with her since they would be paying for her services. She felt her purse for the can of pepper spray and also felt the outline of the pen knife she had put in her purse. Halima had advised her that these two weapons came in handy when dealing with difficult clients.
She turned to face him without saying thank you. “ Now where were we.”
Stone shook his head, “You are one tough cookie you know, but I like it.” He placed his hand on her thigh and ran his fingers up and down her smooth skin. His hands felt warm.
“ I aim to please.” She replied leaning towards him.
When she turned to look at him, all she saw was a means to an end. A new roof for her father’s house, a good education for her younger ones and a debt free life for her family. Gone was the young naive girl with the dream of marrying Emma the mechanic in a white wedding dress and offering him the gift of her virginity on their wedding night. Tonight that virginity had been sold to the highest bidder. By the time she returned home, she would be too sophisticated for the small town boy and when he got wind of what she had been doing in this foreign land he would not want be associated with her. Even if he chose to ignore her past, people would talk. This was the beginning of her life as Gina and someday she hoped, Gina would be put to rest for Adesuwa to go on living and pick up from where she left off.