None of these men are good looking, though I've never actually cared. Eight down, two more to go and then I'm done for the night. The cold wind raises another girl's mini skirt at the edge of the street and I just have to laugh. By now she's meant to know that loose minis are a no no on the block. But she seems new.
"Hello beautiful," a deep voice whispers behind me.
Number nine, check.
"Hello beautiful yourself, how much are we talking about?" I reply him bluntly.
I never had the patience for the sweet talkers.
"Fiesty one, anyway, how does fifteen sound?" he asks.
"Twenty-five," I reply.
This went on for a couple of minutes more before he agreed to pay twenty thousand Naira. It was times like this that I was grateful for the man that opened up a hotel right on our block. It made work much easier for me, not having to spend any money on transport fare. This one better be quick though so that I could get to my goal of ten customers before four a.m. I turn down all my systems and will myself not to feel anything.
Finally, I'm done for the night. At least number ten had the common sense not to try and create conversations because I was honestly not in the mood.
I walk into the compound I live in and look around. No one in sight. I wonder if the people here have never heard the saying 'The early bird catches the worm' because for the three years I've stayed I've never seen anyone awake this early, well maybe except...
"Aunty good morning," right on queue, Akere's voice sounds through the air, breaking into my thoughts.
"Good morning dear," I reply and walk into my room. I was about to say I never see anyone awake this early except Akere, one of the neighbors' house girl. She's always up at four a.m filling her Madam's Jerry cans with water, then she sweeps and cleans the house before waking her madam's children and getting them ready for school.
I look around my small but cozy room. This has been home for three years. It wasn't as big as my mother's house but it was home to me. Not a house. I have to get some sleep. At seven I'll head over to my recharge card stand, my day job, and hope that nobody recognizes me from my night job. I don't actually care though. I lost my dignity a long time ago. Actually, I didn't lose it. It was taken from me. Memories flood my mind and I can't hold them back.
When I was at the age of nine, my mother married a dark-skinned and extremely handsome man. He wasn't all that rich, but he put food on the table and whispered sweet nothings into my mother's ears. For her, that was enough because she had been heartbroken and abandoned by my father. Left to cater for and raise me, she was desperate and this man was her night in shining armor. The first year went by peacefully and I really began to like him. He was a marvelous storyteller and a doting father. I would tell him all my problems and he would tell me all the right solutions. Those were the happy days. When we would visit his friends and they would be jealous of our bond, telling him that I would disrespect him one day. Always telling him that ' oke ochi na-ebute oke mkpari'. He would smile and act like he didn't hear a thing.
The second year came along with puberty, and she hit me fast and hard. I found myself waking up to chest pains because of the size of my bosoms. Having to change almost everything in my wardrobe because of the expansion of my hips. My mother was heavily pregnant and couldn't be of much assistance to me, so my stepfather helped me. He didn't know much about bra sizes or the best pads to use but he did his best. My mother was not too happy about the quick developments of my body, or rather about the extent of the development. My cup size was bigger than hers and my behind would probably tear my jeans if I tried wearing them. She noticed the way men gazed at me as I walked on the streets and severely warned me about the evil intentions they all had towards me. She told me how she was barely eighteen when she became pregnant with me, and how my father had initially denied her. She said he later came back begging for forgiveness and she accepted. After a year together he introduced her to his mother and his mother rejected her. She was thrown out. Again. After telling me her sad story I swore never to defile myself till I found someone as perfect as my stepfather.
She put to bed prematurely and had to stay for over a week in the hospital while the baby was incubated. That's the week that changed my life. The day after she put to bed, I was at home alone. I'd warmed my stepfather's meal and done my homework. I went to bed feeling very tired that day.
I woke up to someone groping my tender breast, the pain awakening me. Still very sleepy I ready myself to scream but only then do I notice it was the man I'd called father for close to two years.
"Ehmmm, don't shout I just... I just couldn't help myself. Darling, you are beautiful. Just let me have a taste of the succulent fruits on your chest. You know I always take care of you. Just let me..." He didn't even finish his sentence before descending upon my already exposed breast. Shards of pain go around my body but I'm paralyzed, I can't talk, can't move. I lay still as he fondles and sucks on my breast for a while longer before arranging my top and leaving my room. I don't know what word to use to describe how I felt that night. But this single act destroyed any chances of me feeling arousal ever again.
When my mother returns from the hospital, she seems to have lost a lot of weight and was weak. The baby was also weak and frail. A baby boy. I don't know if I could call him handsome at the time because he just looked like a pink baby rat. Small and shriveled up. Crying non-stop. I didn't have the heart to tell my mother what had and was still happening between my stepfather and I. I vowed to tell her once she regained her strength. Meanwhile, my father told her that he would be sleeping in the parlour at nights because of the baby's incessant crying. At night he would continue his acts of fondling and suckling my breast. He threatened me not to tell her or anyone else because she wouldn't believe me. I was confused about whether or not to believe him. This continued and the second year rolled by.
By the third year, he had gone from just fondling my breast to fully caressing my whole body, his as roaming around and feeling every groove and dip in my young and shapely figure. Each time I would turn off my ability to feel, I'd be frozen and without reaction. All the while, he'd be whispering sweet nothings into my ears, the sweet nothings he'd used to capture my mother's heart. What surprised me was the fact that it wasn't as if my mother was not performing her duties in the bedroom, I could hear them at night because our rooms were right next to each other. Still, after hearing the moans and groans and squeaks of their bed, I'd still hear him sneaking into my room. And as he whispered softly into my ears, he would also threaten me.
In the middle of the third year he said he wanted to see me. He switched on my bedroom light and then stripped me naked, he stripped me naked and began touching every surface on my body. I lay facing the ceiling, completely oblivious to what he is doing. The only way it doesn't hurt is to act like it's not happening. And suddenly I felt something penetrate the folds between my legs. And as I try to scream out, his mouth covers mine and my scream is swallowed up. He withdraws his shaft and slams it back in. And whispers into my ear
"I love you"
It's 6.45 a.m and I haven't gotten a wink of sleep. This is what I get for walking down the bitter path I call memory lane. It's time to bath and get dressed anyway. In thirty minutes I'd taken a bath, using the water Akere dropped on my back door. The girl had been helping me to fetch water for some time now even though I pleaded with her to stop. She remained adamant so I left her to continue. I could tell she likes me, probably because she didn't know the nature of my job. If she knew I was a prostitute she would not even greet me, but till then I'll continue to use the water and reply to her greetings. The world can figure itself out.
I swing the bag with my recharge cards over my shoulder and head off to my stand, not far from the compound. There's a group of people clustered a little to my left. Let me go and get my early dose of gossip. Getting to the small group of people, I squeeze myself forward and get to the front. It's times like this I'm grateful for my small body stature. I instantly regret standing up at all when I realize it's a preacher.
"His love endureth forever" her voice resonates in the air. I roll my eyes as I feel the bile in my throat. I laugh bitterly. Feeling sorry for all these people who actually believe that love still exists.
Love died, a long time ago. I know the gospels and the stories of Jesus, love probably died on the cross with him but it didn't resurrect. It probably got lost in hell. Or maybe it died with Romeo and Juliet. Or maybe it never existed.
All I know is the existence of lust and infatuation. And they are usually expressed as love. Hopeless people.
Love doesn't exist. No degree, no relationship, nothing will make me believe that love is alive. They say that no love beats the love a mother has for her child, but that's a big lie. After all, women have abortions. They sell off their newborn babies. They abuse their children. These are even far examples.
After two years of being raped and molested by my stepfather, I finally gathered the courage to tell my mother everything.
She dragged me to him and relayed everything I'd told her as if she was reporting me. And when she finished her relay she asked him if it was true.
"Baby you know it's not possible," he said with false sincerity and an aghast expression.
"Swear that it's not true," she'd said. And I was happy because I thought he'd confess.
"Baby I swear that I love you," and that was it. No, I didn't do it, no justice. My mother accepted this and turned around, pointing her finger at me, with tears in her eyes.
"Why don't you want me to be happy? Why do you want to ruin my marriage? Cooking up lies against the man that took you as his child and feeds you. He pays your school fees and caters to your needs. Why are you doing this? Even if he was sleeping with you, you should be grateful for all the things he had done. Where is your disgrace of a father?" and she stormed off. He looked at me and smiled such a devilish smile that it sent shivers down my back. So the raping continued.
Luckily I was placed in a boarding school so I only had to endure it during the holidays. Immediately I turned eighteen I stole fifty thousand Naira from him and ran away. I didn't know where I was going but I knew I had to leave. I was introduced to the prostitute business by someone I'd stayed with during my first week on the block. When I'd made enough money to rent an apartment, I did so and also started selling recharge cards. Here I am. Traumatized and almost emotion-free. Making my small fortune and making plans to run again. And be comfortable.
A week has gone by since the preacher came around and everyone in my area has been acting out the love your neighbor as you love yourself role. I laugh. I give them one more week and everything will be back to normal with Mama Emeka and Iya Yemi insulting each other all day.
It's time to pack up and get ready for the night. Tonight I feel like wearing something bright and colourful. I pull out my pepper red halter neck dress and matching heeled shoes. "It's show time," I say after touching up my make up and packing up.
Tonight went by extra slowly and I couldn't get to my target. It's already after four a.m as I angrily trudge home. Here I was thinking that I would sleep in today. I...
"Blood of Jesus," I hear, from the corner. I would really love to mind my business and walk away but that voice sounds familiar. Gratefully I'm already barefoot so I tiptoe over to where the sound came from. I see the shadows from far off so I don't bother getting much closer. I see a man hovering over a woman... No not a woman, a girl.
"Ughh my....uh hel..." came her muffled cries and I immediately recognized the voice. It was Akere. Akere that would always greet me with a smile any time of the day. Akere that would ask if I needed anything anytime she saw me. Akere that fetched my water even after begging her not to. Akere. Ow! What's this pain in my chest. It feels like my heart is tearing. I step forward and see that the man is trying to rape her and suddenly images of myself at ten years old appear and for a split second I see Akere's face. My heart feels like it's breaking. Why I barely know this girl but thoughts of her and her good nature bring a warm feeling into my chest... What word will I call it?
I surge forward and hit the man with the high heel in my hand. He gives a shout and looks at me while fumbling for something in his pocket. I pull Akere's hand and push her
"Run Akere! Run!" I say before feeling the cold blade slide into my neck like that's where it belonged. The fluttering in my heart has stopped because now Akere is safe. My life is worthless anyway.
So that is what love feels like...is my last thought before everywhere gets dark.