By Fabunmi A.S
“What was your motivation to get into this kind of business?” my client asked me as I told him my charges for the night once we got in the room.
I hadn’t seen the question coming because most workers’ clients have no time for preambles. Theirs is pay, get it and leave. My client tonight was a young handsome man in his late 20s. The gold ring on his finger was the only reason I suspected he was a married man?
I did not have an immediate answer so I retorted: “…and why have you left your wife for prostitutes… I am in business!”
Deep inside me I knew I would give anything to live a more decent life, but prostitution had gotten into me and now, I could not free myself! His smile was the kindest I have ever seen in my entire life as a worker. “Would you really be interested in knowing why I am here?” He gently responded sending frightening memories of the warning my “mentors” in business had issued.
“If you ever meet a client who wants to engage you in conversation, be on the alert; he could be buying time for mischief such as calling his friends for gang rape, forcing you into crime or even murder!” But my one year experience in work had equipped me fully for such eventualities and I knew what to do should this man try any monkey-business. But how wrong I was, this man had been sent by God to rescue me from the bondage of prostitution. I recalled how I had got into work.
My parents could not afford to take me to the university though I had passed my Form Four exams very well. I had two siblings who needed education at least to reach where I had reached in secondary education. Frustrated, I remained indoors for days and cried refusing to eat or listen to my parents’ consolation.
“It’s never too late to join university; as soon as we settle your brothers’ school fees, you will join university,” my father kept promising. I watched my friends join colleges and universities while I lived only on promises. I felt dejected and cheated by life; why was I born in a poor family? I imagined how I would soon be miserable and perhaps get pregnant out of desperation and that would be the end of me. Such thoughts drove me nuts.
Then one day a ‘miracle’ happened: Agnes, a former schoolmate who was living and working in Mombasa came to visit her parents and of course got the local gossip about my predicament. She visited me and brought so many goodies to my family that when she suggested that she’d go with me to Mombasa to “try and get me a job” my parents and I approved it without consultation.
She was very sympathetic and proposed that I could even enroll for evening classes at some university in Mombasa. “With her grades, she can get a good clerical job in Mombasa,” she had assured my parents.
To both my parents and I, this was a kingly offer because not only would I pay for my own education, I would also help my siblings with their school fees. Agnes generously gave me some of her expensive clothes and shoes to put on as we travelled to Mombasa, over 600 kilometres from my village in the interior of Western Kenya.
Throughout the journey, I imagined myself in an office, living in a good house and most of all fulfilling my dream of being a campus girl! Maybe I would build my parents a better house. Castles in the air overwhelmed me as the bus sped on.
As a simple village girl I could only marvel at the luxurious apartment Agnes lived in. I fell in love with Mombasa the minute I set foot there. Agnes showed me places I had only read of in magazines. The beaches, the deluxe hotels and the historic buildings were all spectacles that left me open-mouthed. I imagined the places I would be visiting on weekends when I got the “clerical job.”
That was never to be, as it turned out, it was another of my fantasies.
As days turned to weeks, I noticed with curiosity that my host never went to work as such. She spent most of her day sleeping and would occasionally leave the house briefly and come back.
She explained that she did a business in cosmetics but she also worked as a receptionist in one of the posh restaurants at night. That explained why she never came home most of the nights. Agnes had explained that I needed a little patience as she talked to her friends who would give me a job.
So for the first few weeks, I remained indoors doing house chores and Agnes would buy food and pay for my hairdos and other amenities. Life became very easy for me and occasionally Agnes would invite me for dinner at the restaurant she purportedly worked where I would meet some of her “business partners.”
My easy life was however short-lived. On one of the evenings I went out with Agnes, a drunkard approached our table and asked me to dance with him. I declined and Agnes and her “business-partner” giggled. I was shocked because I expected her to shield me from drunkards.
When a second, less-drunk man approached me to join his table, Agnes signaled me to consent. I still declined because I was fresh from school and had never been intimate with any man. He looked older than me and in my mind I thought he was disrespecting me.
That night Agnes scolded me; she accused me of playing holy yet I expected her to meet all the house expenses. “You must learn how to look for your own money, that’s how I survive!” she had said. It then dawned on me that she was a worker. In the morning she took me to a cheap hotel and told me she had booked me for only one week.
“After that, you are alone unless you choose to make new friends!” she had said. After two days of pangs of hunger, I heeded her advice and went to a local bar. That was the genesis of my life in work. Though I felt dirty and used after every client, the money was easy to get. Sometimes, some clients would beat me and refuse to pay, other times I would be beaten by more experienced workers for stealing their clients and I was even gang-raped severally.
When I told Agnes what I was going through, she offered to mentor me in the business. “This is work, do whatever you have to but make money; that is the rule of thumb in this industry!”
I learnt how to fight, to shout obscenities when there was need and even started drinking alcohol because there were some clients who looked old, haggard and dirty hence I couldn’t offer services without some alcoholic influence.
My only comfort was that I was able to pay for the cheap hotel where I continued living and send my parents money though I never disclosed what exactly I was doing. I preferred overly drunken men because they were easier to steal from and I could also knock them down should they think of playing smart.
“It was during these nights I met Ouma. He struck me as a young responsible family-man and when he winked at me, I wasn’t sure he was serious. In the room, he asked why I chose prostitution and when I retorted I saw tears welling in his eyes. He had his share also. His wife of only one and a half years and their baby son had died in a car-crash only five months earlier and he himself had tried suicide several times. He had come to the bar to drown his sorrow and seek solace from a worker. I empathised with him.
“How tragic!” was all I could whisper. Soon we were talking like old friends and I also poured out my story to him. As I was narrating my ordeal to Ouma, I felt like I was writing fiction! It hadn’t occurred to me the intensity of what I was doing. He thought I was in more trouble than he was. Today, in our sweet moments we make fun at how we thought of each other being in more trouble.
That night Ouma and I made a decision; we would do our best to help each other. He swore he couldn’t dare leave me in Mombasa for another night. I bought the idea, assuring myself that if it didn’t work, I knew where to run back to. The following day, we went to my cheap hotel to pick my clothes and valuables ready to start a new life in Nairobi where he was working. He shed tears when he saw where I was living. “Why is life so cruel?” he kept muttering.
“Welcome to your new home, Mrs Ouma!” My client, addressing me by his name welcomed me to a beautiful bungalow in a rich neighbourhood once we arrived in Nairobi. He is a lawyer and before long he enrolled me in a university to study pharmacy.
Today, I am a pharmacist and doing a Masters in a university in Nairobi. We have since solemnised our marriage and we are the proud parents of two lovely daughters. My husband has never judged me, nor does he attribute anything about me to my former work life. I have never doubted his love or gotten insecure that he can seek solace from workers again. Our meeting made us believe in God more since it was indeed a divine connection.
We have gone through different counselling sessions to help us overcome our past so that we should never blame ourselves.