Have you ever been skeptical about the thoughts that direct people to their current occupation? Like your estate’s roadside evangelist who comes there daily and preaches vehemently to anyone or that beggar who wakes up daily to sit by the sidewalk all day long, years without an end. I wonder if it is by choice or by forceful circumstance people take up these extremely informal trades. I get it that people have to eat and bills have to be paid at any cost and I decided to evaluate the motive behind the decision made.
Friday, 10th February 2300 HRS.
I throw on a jacket on my tiny frame, a Tusker promotion cap, pick a five hundred shillings bill from my piggy bank and my national ID (you don’t want to mess with city cops on Friday night). I walk through the now deserted Nyayo Market from Ngara and enter Nairobi via Kirinyaga Road, something felt bizarre about the place though I have walked that path for uncountable times. The sidewalks on Accra Road are emptying and after dodging several touts who try to haul me into those night coast-bound coaches I get to River Road and walk down to Luthuli Avenue. You get an idea of what I am going to do there, and not buying a new infinix phone. As expected, she is standing on the pavement. She is in her work regalia; a little, black and white dress that is a size smaller on her rounded hips, a small black jacket, open shoes and a large Mexican weave. Several street urchins and creeps encircle her, making cat calls and obscene gestures at her but she stands still, uninterested in them. Unafraid. She spots me looking at her and invites me over. She has rose colored lips, fake eyelashes, twizzled eyebrows and a heavily made up face. Her perfectly rehearsed stance gives the illusion of a mannequin. I changed my perspective about her job choices and I am able discern more than it takes my human mind to. Behind her make-up face and fake eyelashes is a painful story that is never told. It is like a big burn scar on the arm that she has to live with. Big scars are hard to hide and everybody you meet asks about them as they wince, “Did it hurt?” “Yes it did fucking hurt. Why do you care?” you want to answer but decorum only allows you to smile pretty and say, “I was only three when it happened, I do not even remember.”
“Hey,” I say when I get to her. I discover shadows of misery around her eyes as she looks at me. She pleads to her gods and hope I am not the crazy ones who insist on tying her up and trying stuff they looked up on her.
“Hey sweetheart.” she walks closer to me and tries to hold me. I take a step back and she realizes I am not drunk enough to pick pocket.
“Do you have a room?” I did not want an acquaintance snooping around to see me. It will be too hard to convince them otherwise.
“Room and fun is five hundred,” she said.
“I have three hundred,” I replied quickly. I needed the two hundred real bad.
“Then you will have to stick to basics, and once you are off I am out,” she sealed the deal and we took the stairs to the rooms.
Along the corridor were others of her kind, but these ones are bolder, bigger, younger, less dressed. They touched me inappropriately as we weaved our way through them but I expected something like that.
“Look at him, so small,” one said.
“Small ones are dangerous, they make you feel it too,” another one replied and they laughed, a long drunk laugh.
Further down the corridor were the rooms. There were fake moans from inside, and on my way in I met men who were trying to adjust their belts below their bulging bellies. They looked embarrassed for lasting just a minute and walked out quickly. In some rooms slaps echoed and screams followed but no one runs to the rescue. It was normal but for a newbie like me, that was hell.
We got to the room and she handed something and instructed,” put that on or do I have to teach you how to?” It was some cheap condom.
“I am paying so you play by my rules,” I fought to take charge.
“Safety first. No compromise,” she roared like a tiger. And tigers are dangerous so I gave in.
“Okay then.” I acceded but just stood as she started to take off her jacket.
“You are not removing your clothes tonight…” I had to get to the point before my time ran out.
“That’s new but anything you want remember you are paying anyway. The name is Carol.” She was an aggressive one but I noted my denial embarrassed her.
“I want us to talk about Carol, not the hooker.”
She pulled the duvet over her overly exposed thighs and zipped up her jacket, perhaps rituals to enchant Carol to come over.
“Carol appears to be decent and conserved,” I appreciated the effort. At least I could concentrate on my questionnaire.
“She is weak and cannot bring in the food.”
To get someone talking you have to raise their passionate emotions; I awoke hate. When somebody hates you they hide nothing, they pour out all they have. They do not fear if their linen is too dirty to be exposed, they talk on and on, bringing out their real and honest self.
“Resulting to prostitution to feed just your own stomach is egocentric. You do not care about the people who love you at all,” I accused and watched for body language.
“You paid me to insult me. You think that just because I use my body to earn my livelihood give you reason to accuse me. I have a child to support, parents who expect and bills just like you,” she was talking.
“I still insist it’s a loser’s choice you made. Think of that child Carol, how are you able to look at him in the eye and say that Mami has gone to work?”
She looked lost and I felt guilty for going too deep too soon. She swallowed hard and searched for something in her pocket. I prayed that it’s not a dagger or an injection with some funny chemicals. She pulled out a piece of square paper and passed it on to me.
“That is him, he is Alex. He will be four years old next week. He is the only reason I live and if I have to live, he has to have better.” Alex is a happy looking child. He took after her smile and grin and still had her eyes. In the photo he was smiling and exposed little pearls for teeth. I hated to think he is the son of one of the men I met on my way in.
“He does not live with me. He is in a children’s home in Thika town which is better than home,” she explained as she took the photo from my hands.
“How then do you explain not being a liability to the economy of that home? You are here earning and some woman or foundation there is sweating over his up keep.”
“I do not care of how you think of me or my job, but I also have emotions which you choose to hurt today. I pay for his up keep and support other projects of the home with every cent I manage to spare. Do you and your Saint personality even give a coin to that beggar on the streets? Have you ever thought of sponsoring a needy child with just a meal? You think that by paying taxes and making ends meet formally is reason enough to judge us.” She threw three quick ones but I was not ready to give in.
“Does Alex know you are his mother?”
“Rules of the home do not allow me to introduce myself to him that way. If I visit the home, I greet him just as I do to the other kids there. Sometimes I break up and cry behind the buildings. I am there all Sundays, hold a small church service with them and hang around until my shift here. The founder says not until I am stable will she allow me to adopt him. You know what that will make me?” she swallowed hard and looked at me scornfully.
“An adoptive mother. A liar,” I accused,” you said that you hold a service with them? Do you think that that is morally right? You preaching to innocent children with all bad stuff you do.”
“You are no better than a Pharisee. I only expect God to judge me. I made a truce with Him and I keep my part of the bargain. That gives me all the peace I need.” She was different.
Someone banged on the door, our time was up.
“Can we have coffee outside? I have a few other things I need to know,” I explained.
“If you do not mind me,” she pleaded pointing at herself.
I paid up and pretended to adjust my belt like other patrons.
“Look at him now. I told you small ones are long distance runners,” the big one shouted over for the rest to hear. The satire was so strong that I couldn’t hold my smile. I left after an ovation.
“Two cups white coffee please. Sugarless.” I said over to the waitress who was eyeing me suspiciously.
“Tell me what led you to the streets. Couldn’t you take up another job? There are choices but we opt to stick to one,” I continued with the interview, now in a friendly way.
“We all cannot deny making mistakes in life at some point. When I learnt that Alex’s father had HIV from prostitutes on the streets, and that he infected me too it broke me. I sought out and made up my mind to infect other people’s husbands. I took my child who was barely over a year to the children’s home and explained my case. After he was taken in, I came to the city and plied my trade here. I failed on my objectives from day one maybe due to my upbringing or the pain I went through and as a reward for making a rational decision, my body started to heal. I still have HIV but I do not take my meds. The count is low and the HIV cannot multiply. My doctors were surprised and my blood is even undergoing tests at KEMRI.” Hearing that confession from a hooker, I paused on my questions and let it sink. She has been through hell and came out with a smile. Few of normal people could take that and bear the hope she had.
“You made the right decision by not spreading the virus. What are you thinking now?” I asked about her future.
“Whether I should charge you for this time at the hotel or not. You are the third person who knows that version, the true version of my life story and if I charge you for that, you might take a debt.” I laughed. She still had a sense of humor even after l grilled her for hours.
“I was asking about your plans for the future. There are younger and prettier ones joining the gang closing in on your best before date,” I tried to be funny too.
“I never lose my groove attested by the fact that you picked me amidst them.”
“I picked you because you were at the door, looked hungry and subtle.”
“I use the hunger look to my advantage. But on serious terms, I am a bit different and then you found me at the door. It’s figurative.”
“So where are you headed to?”
“When you live doing something you like, you do not want to stop. When you retire from formal employment, you get down to it. I am thirty six and retiring from being a CSW. I want to impact with my story and serve children like Alex. In fact you are my last client. From here I will go home and sleep until Monday. On Valentine’s Day I will sign up as partner in the home where Alex lives and he will be one of my many children. I also work with an organization of Women living with HIV, I am seeking to be an active member.”
“What do I say? I wish you well and maybe one day I will visit you at your next work station.”
“Who are you? I have never received a client like you.” She asked after I downed my last gulp of coffee and asked for the bill.
“My grandmother was a story teller, and I loved her fiction but when I grew up I wanted to hear true stories from people.”