When hunger became my family’s closest ally and lack was all we could afford I knew something had to be done and fast too, else we would be hosts to the heralds of death.
To my Uncle Ben’s house I went. Wealth clung to him like a baby at his mother’ breast. He had the key to unlock the chain of hardship that’s held my family for years since papa lost his job as the night watchman in the big company, or so I thought.
“I’m sorry Mana, there’s nothing I can do for you now, as you know times are hard and it is biting deep into everybody’s pocket, including mine” he told me after I had intimated him of my family’s condition.
Every hope I had pumped into my poor being, deflated without the least hesitation.
“What if I come and work in any of your company even as an errand girl for your staff? Or be one of the attendants in the water company in the village sir?” I inquired of him with eyes filled with desperation and reflected the frailty of my heart.
“There’s nothing for now Mana, if there is I won’t hesitate to help you, you know that.”
I knew nothing. I left his house pained and dejected. Hunger pangs were indifferent to my plight, thoughts of my ailing father sending a fresh wave of pain to my heart. My chest ached with the realization of how different things would have been if mama had not given in easily to the shady and wicked hands of death that had promised her respite from all her worries and pains. But then in death she did become truly free of this world’s afflictions and injustice.
I had tried to get a job in the village where I could be close by to watch over papa. Getting a job in the big city meant getting a place to stay and manage through the week considering how expensive and tiresome journeying from the village to the city can be. The fact that I was yet to complete my secondary education before papa got into this condition made the job hunting even worse. There were no jobs here in the village, and the few available, the well schooled people get it. Everywhere seemed closed, every door I turned to locked.
“There’s a way out”, Yemi told me after recounting my tale of woe to her. Yemi had come back to the village for the weekend as most of the city workers did. She was lucky to have gotten a job in the city after secondary school.
“I cannot do such a thing”, I said simply but with a firm voice after listening to her suggestion.
My dad’s condition worsened. His drugs were a whooping 5000 naira. I went back to Yemi. “I can do it”, I said.
The next night, I was ready. The client was in the arranged room waiting for me. 100,000 naira was waiting to be owned by me. That was all I thought about.
Out I went, radiating elegance and emitting the fragrance of charm!
I opened the door to the room, checking myself out for the last time to make sure there was nothing I had not done. My cleavage was well exposed with the low-cut dress I had on given to me by Yemi specifically for this purpose, my legs were well on display like some piece of art in an exhibition, my smile was already planted on my heavily made up face, and my heart was racing like a sprinter in the olympics.
Taking deep breaths, I walked in sensual, assuaging my poor conscience that my father needed to stay alive and so this had to be done.
“Hello there!” I said in the magical voice I had done an audition to pick. I stood at the door smiling, as Yemi had said I should. It was a necessary part of the act, she had explained, emphasising that the client needed to see the object of his soon to be gratified desire, whetting the desire even more. Sometimes, if you looked just like they fantasize, you stand a chance of winning extra naira notes, she had added. So I did the best I could.
The man who had been lying on his stomach turned his heavy frame to look at me. He had a loosely tied towel around his lower side. I was soon to be gifted with the vision of a heavily pot bellied man with hairs all around his upper body, at least that’s how I imagined the client to be.
But as soon as he turned, my smile froze in its position, my legs were wobbly and there was this dizziness that overcame me. I stood transfixed.
There on the bed with eyes that screamed shock and disbelief was my Uncle Ben.
“What in heaven’s name are you doing here Mana?” He asked, standing up from the bed and searching for his clothes.
I was so shocked that I couldn’t utter a word. I soon recovered from the shock and I went straight to him and told him without flinching, “we have to do what brought us here”.
He refused, I insisted, he refused even more and I insisted all the more as there was a surging hatred in my heart for him. So he had the 100,000 naira to give away to some random girl to satisfy his disordered sexual hunger, yet he couldn’t help my family nor even have mercy on his dying brother. Whatever sin it is termed, I didn’t care, I needed the money and won’t leave without it.
“You are being irrational” he said.
I ignored him and began to unzip the short dress I had on. He was terrified.
“No, no Mana, don’t, please, don’t”. He begged me. “Is it the money? Here it is”, he said opening the drawer by the bedside. He brought out an envelope and pointed it at me.
“Take it and get out of here. Don’t even tell anybody about this”, he entreated me.
I looked at him with utter disdain while I collected the envelope. Bringing out the wads of note, I settled on the bed and took my time to count the money. It was a hundred thousand naira. I smiled at him.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to work for this money?”
“No no”, he said, beads of sweat I had not noticed ran down from his forehead.
I got up, zipped up my dress, threw the money into my handbag and made to leave.
“You know that your wife, my cousins and the church will love this story. So you know what to do to keep my lips sealed”. I said and left the room.
I heaved a sigh of relief and thanked my good fortune for saving me from a path where returning would have been difficult.