by CHIVIMBISO GAVA
I knew I was in trouble when the red rivers of my body did not flow for several months. My menstrual cycle had always been unusual, but it had never evaded me for more than a month or two. I hadn’t given it much thought at first. Well, not until the genital warts started to appear.
My most valuable possession was spoilt. I rubbed the soapy lather over my swollen belly and down to my privates. I froze when I felt the first bump, then slowly moved my hand further along the contours, unearthing more. Warts, a minefield of them, taking over my office. I could not bring myself to look – I knew what they were – I didn’t need to see them.
My feet dragged me along the corridors of the dilapidated house I called home in the formerly affluent Southern Suburbs. Today more than ever, the decay felt oppressive. The usual waft of urine had become a reek climbing up my nose, greasy fingerprints had been added to the archive of stains on the walls, and the mould crept towards the ceiling like unruly weeds.
I leaned against the wall for a moment. This thing growing inside me was draining the energy out of my very soul, leaving me sapped. Taking the shower had left me feeling no cleaner.
Three kids ran past me. They laughed as they pulled at each other’s T-shirts, trying to outrun one another. I watched them disappear out the back door in the kitchen – just as my child would soon disappear – faceless and nameless.
Faint music, television dialogues and chatter drifted from the other family rooms as I passed by. There were secrets, hopes, dreams and darkness concealed behind each door. All of us coexisted in an unconventional ecosystem, a ragtag community of sorts, forced by circumstance to share this space. But I would never really know any of them. I wondered what darkness consumed them this very moment, if any. I wondered if the ghosts that were rumoured to wander the corridors were watching me and if there was solace where they lived.
I walked into our room to find that none of the other girls were back. They hadn’t returned from the evening shift and it was already 11am. The natural thing would have been to worry. Aicha found worry laughable, a waste of time. “For what?” she’d admonish. “Worry only begins after seventy-two hours. If you find one from out of town on a weekend, you might spend all three days with them. Don’t stress about me making good money.”
I shared my room with Aicha and Claire from Brazzaville – my new family in Cape Town. Aicha was tall and slim, and had a beautiful, rich mahogany complexion. Her face was always plastered in makeup, which made her look like a walking wooden paint palette. Claire was her opposite, also tall but chubby. She had the most curious complexion. If you studied the hue of her hands and face separately you would swear you were looking at two different people. It was only later that I discovered Claire was a die-hard champion of skin bleaching. “Dark people don’t get far in life,” she reasoned. “But don’t worry. There’ll be some who like your darkness.”
They taught me all the tricks my body could do to make lust profitable. The different ways of identifying the target, the clients you sold to and the ones you stole from, and most importantly the exit strategy. Claire was in charge of operations. For a small price she made sure we found work and were taken care of, well, as far as was possible in our line of business.
On my first night on the job, we sat at the bar of a pseudo high-end hotel at the beachfront, scoping. This strip of the city was synonymous with ‘prozzies’. So high-end was really just a matter of opinion. I still thought it was lovely.
“You must never stand in the street,” Aicha warned. “There’s too much competition there, and no good money.”
“That’s where I found you,” Claire laughed.
“Ah, I didn’t know then that I could find business in nice places like these,” Aicha scoffed, sipping her cocktail. “But we know now. She doesn’t have to start like we did. We’ll teach her how to get the big monies, won’t we?”
Claire stayed quiet, eyes fixed on the other side of the bar. “Eh, you see that one over there,” she gestured with a slight tilt of her head. “That one is very good. He is ready for one of us.”
I couldn’t see it. “How do you know?”
“Ah he’s been drinking alone for almost an hour, no one else is coming,” Claire dismissively shook her head. “Now all you have to do is give him bedroom eyes. If he buys you a drink you can go chat him up.”
“Just like that?”
“You don’t believe me?” She eyed me. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, my sister. He will probably ask you silly questions about leaving your friends, then you just tell him what you have to offer, like we practised at home… Mcheww clowns.”
“Idiots,” Aicha chimed in. “With these drunken ones you just keep drinking with them, but you never finish your drink.” She paused, watching my face to see that I understood. “If you go to the toilet take your drink and pour some of it out. If he goes to the toilet, just drop one of these into his drink.” She flashed me her palm, in it nestled an oval, grey pill.
“When he’s nice and ready, you’ll go to his hotel room or his house. Just touch him a little bit nice nice, he’ll be passed out fast,” Aicha chuckled. “Then you can take your time to search his wallet, his house, everything quick for good monies, also nice things we can sell.”
“Em… we mustn’t forget to give her Armel’s number,” Claire interjected.
“Yes! Armel will come pick you up wherever you are for a good price,” Aicha agreed. “And when you do these deals don’t go back to that hotel again.”
There was an air of excitement in the way they spoke, each one trying to assist me with my career development.
I was so anxious and scared, but I got right to work on that first night. My client selected products from the raunchy section in my catalogue. I selected several goodies from his flat before I left.
Aicha drifted into the room later that afternoon before Claire. She walked straight to the cracked mirror hanging on the wardrobe and frowned.
“Eh, I look like yesterday… I’m so tired.” She threw her handbag onto the table and slipped off her jacket. “Kundai wake up, I know you can hear me. Listen to my story.”
She sat on the edge of the bed, unbuckling the straps on her stilettos. “This man I was with yesterday, can you imagine, he didn’t want to give me all of my money. Eh these losers think this is a game.” She waited for a response, which never came. “Mcheww So I just left, but I decided to call Armel when I was outside this man’s flat,” she clapped her hands once. “He thought he could play games with me. Foolishness.”
Aicha crawled under the blankets on the bed. She felt wetness from the mattress seep into her clothes. “Ah, what’s this?” she exclaimed in disgust. She threw the blankets off. “Kundai! Kundai! Nooo. Oh God no. Why… No. No. No. The baby. Please. Kundai. Someone come, help! Nooo!”
The ambulance and medics came. Cops and crime scene officers came. Everyone in the house was questioned. No one looked the other in the eye. Tenants whispered to one another. The children were warned to sit still. The neighbours stood outside in their yards wondering what all the fuss was about. Passers-by slowed their gait to catch a glimpse.
I looked on at the spectacle I had created, surrounded by the ghosts that were rumoured to wander the corridors.
About the author
Chivimbiso Gava is an urban culture enthusiast, Africanist scholar, voracious reader and budding fiction writer who uses the written word to probe social, political and economic issues in Africa.
This is the second of a set of Writivism stories Saraba will publish in the months of June and July. Please tune in next week for the third story in the series. To find out more about Writivism, please visit the official site.