She hit the corners after Susan was born. It wasn’t a flighty decision. It was just something that had to be done. She didn’t have the luxury to be disgusted for long. Bills had to be paid, needs had to be met. She was alone in the world and she had to survive… somehow
His life was a mess. He didn’t understand how things had gotten so bad. Outwardly, he was doing great. Great job, fancy fast car, a three bedroom flat, sound investments. Inside, he was dying. Somewhere, somehow, his life’s train had derailed and refused to come back on track.
The bills were smarmy, sweaty and crumpled. It didn’t matter. They meant fresh nappies, a tin of formula and some cereal for the house. She leaned against the wall, a slight exhausted figure with too many bones sticking out. Her last customer had been pretty rough. Wearily, she tucked the bills into the inner pockets in her jeans. The night was still young but it had been pretty good so far.
“Omalicha!! You look tired. Pele… Hope you’re fine sha”
Forcing a smile, she turned to the leggy, fair-skinned Ayobami.
“My sister, I dey jare. Wetin man pikin go do?”
“Abi now. Na to hustle remain. But seriously, have you eaten? Men don’t like skin and bones, you know. There must be a little something something (she pronounced it sumin-sumin) to hold.”
“I’m fine, really” she asserted trying to defuse her friend’s worry. “How far with your runs?”
Ayobami shrugged casually, the movement made her multi-coloured silk top shimmer in the streetlight. In her skintight jeans, silk top and huge bronze coloured earrings, she looked like an exotic bird in a strange land.
“I haven’t made so much, babe. That last guy was so stingyyy. He haggled and haggled until he reluctantly parted with one –five”
“It’ll be fine”, she was assuring her friend when a black prado jeep stopped in front of them. “Hey pretty. Let’s go and party” The guy in the car was young, rich and obviously quite drunk. Seizing on a sudden flash of inspiration, she sauntered to the car, dragging Ayobami.
“Of course, we’d like to play. How would you like to have a party with the two of us? Standard rate.”
Ayobami struggled to free herself, whispering “Oh girl, follow the guy now. No let these ashawos steal him from you” The guy looked at the two of them, and smiled widely.” What a great idea!! Let’s go, girls” Ignoring Ayo’s whispered thanks, she climbed into the front seat and opened the door for her friend.
He figured the slide had started during NYSC. His dad had died and he had come out of a 4 year relationship at the same time. It broke something in him. So now he lived only to work, and sleep. Church had stopped making sense a long time ago. The hypocrisy, lying, and political manoeuvring had finally driven him to abstinence.
Leaning back in his chair, he looked up at his office ceiling. No answer there. He used to take such quiet pleasure in the pale blue sofa, cream rug and huge desk in the room. Everything he needed was at his fingertips: His system, a scanner, a printer, a fax machine, internet connection, shelves and shelves of books. Rousing from his morose contemplation, he stood and stretched, then ambled from the room. A cold beer should ease his tension and keep him grounded for more work. Opening the fridge in the kitchen, he was grateful for the joys of working from home. He could build a website in his underwear with no one the wiser as long as he delivered to his customers on time.
Beer led to an early lunch that took an hour. He broke off for the day when he started feeling sleepy from the heavy meal. A two hour nap should suffice before his evening’s appointment.
The night had been slow. She was both glad and apprehensive of the fact. Glad because she had a test on Wednesday and she could read beside the streetlight. Apprehensive because Susan’s diapers finished that afternoon, she didn’t have t-fare to school and the only food in the house was a cup of garri. Insistent honking jarred her from her bleak musings and her spirits lifted. Glancing around quickly because of cops, she stuck her note in her small handbag, pushed her hips out the way Ayobami had taught her, and sauntered to the red jeep.
His evening was not going as planned. He had expected a short meeting in a classy club with his client and that was the deal when he entered Tables in Ring-road. What he hadn’t expected was the girl waiting on his side of the table. He had never picked a whore before but he didn’t want to offend his host. Moreover, the girl looked clean and smart. She had a good figure too, he thought as he ran his eyes over the trim waist, mile long legs and blue figure hugging top. So he ignored his mind’s hesitance and sat down. The meeting was successful and he was quite pleased at the huge cheque his host dropped. It was 7.30pm when Alhaji Gabo got up, paid the bill and left with the other girl.
“Bye, babe” Ayobami waved at her. “Take care of my friend, sir.”
“Oh, I will” he replied without thinking then looked at the girl who was obviously waiting for him to say something else. What did one do in this kind of situation, he wondered. Introduce yourself? Tell her you worked and was not a serial killer? What?
“I live at Jericho.” He blurted out.
“Okay…” a hint of a smile in her voice and who could blame her? He was going about this all wrong. “So, what’s your name? Mine’s Adekanmi”
Another small smile and she replied “You can call me… Red”
“Red… as in the red miniskirt you’re wearing?” He mentally smacked himself as she started smiling again. What a stupid statement. She saved him by asking if he wanted her to go to Jericho (a small smile again) with him. He nodded, relieved and shoved a wad of bills at her. Smiling widely now, she peeled off a thousand five hundred and tried to hand the rest back to him. He told her to keep it, figuring it was a good price to pay for his earlier faux pas….
She had been seeing him for a month now. Her street sisters teased her about her new boyfriend, but she just smiled. Truth be told, she was perplexed. He came every night and never questioned her habit of leaving his place at 2am. He had even started dropping her back at her spot after she got mugged one night. He was a gentleman, he had a lucrative job, and he was beautiful to look at. Some nights, while he slept afterwards she looked her fill at his beautiful body, close cropped hair with its startling white streak and long eyelashes that hid curious brown- grey eyes. She didn’t see what he saw in her and wondered why he wasn’t married. However, his generosity translated into food and necessities and she was never one to rock the boat. She loved his house, though. From the lovely wood panelling in the kitchen, to the large sitting room with French windows and huge Jacuzzi in both bathrooms, the place was a delight. He complained of the house being too small but compared to her house, it was a mansion.
He had been in a fever pitch of excitement all day. He had been hard pressed to be attentive in his meeting with a new client. As the guy droned on about the graphics he wanted and special effects on the site, he had nodded intelligently and tried very hard not to stare at the time. How could he tell his friends that he wanted to buy groceries for a prostitute he had been seeing for a month? Who was he kidding? He wasn’t seeing her. He picked her up, they had fabulous mind- blowing sex, and he dropped her off at her spot. It was like having a customer at the market. Still he was glad when the meeting ended at seven and he could rush to the Supermarket. He had agonized over each item he picked. Did she like Kelloggs or Bran flakes? Was she a jam and peanut butter fan like him or didn’t eat those fattening foods? Small indomie pack or large? Onion or chicken flavour? He really didn’t know anything about her. Consoling himself that she was still a woman and women liked sweet things, he turned in at her spot. And found it empty. His first reaction was outrage. “How dare she go with another man?” He hadn’t seen her in 3days but had called her throughout. The meeting had dragged too long but she knew he was coming, dammit! He tried her number but she didn’t pick and he went home in an angry, jealous huff.
Outrage turned to concern, then panic when she still wasn’t there two weeks later. He had been driving the girls crazy with his questions until Ayobami took pity on him and told him her baby was ill and she had tests, too. He was still in shock when she called back with barely concealed venom in her voice “She used to talk about you, but you better not hurt her or you’ll answer to me!” Still in a daze, he drove home wondering why he cared so much about a woman he obviously knew nothing about. She steadied him, he realised. In the past month, that awful restless emptiness had gone down. And it wasn’t just because of the sex. Other women had bored him in a day. She hadn’t. Sitting forward with furrowed brow, he contemplated his dilemma. He wanted her around, but he was obviously an idiot. How hadn’t he known she had a kid? Or was in school?
Because you didn’t care. Buying those groceries made you feel good. But it was all about you. You never thought about what led her into prostitution, did you? No, he thought miserably. He hadn’t cared. He had even expected her to be grateful for the crumbs he threw her way. Because it was too big a leap for your mind to make that University girls could be prostitutes.
He now understood why his books went missing when she was around and reappeared mysteriously days later, why she never spent the night, why he had thought she was smart, why…
He had never been inside Agbowo before. Sure, he had passed through on his way to Lagos via the express but he didn’t know there was such a huge area inside teeming with life. Didn’t know or didn’t want to know? He shifted in his seat uncomfortably. He might have been blind but he was seeing clearly now. More than he would have liked, actually. There were children frolicking in front of houses that looked like they were built by madmen, pregnant girl- children with scraggly kids, garbage filled gutters on every side. He was shaking inside by the time he knocked on her door, unsurprised to find a clean rug in front of it. Her voice answered and a baby’s laugh urged him in.
He had fallen in love with Susan and wanted to know everything about her. He still saw her but the nights were filled with whispered conversations amidst involuntary moans of pleasure. They talked of everything: Her life, his murky past, Hemmingway, Website design, Politics, Thermodynamics and Shakespeare. She was a great listener and an avid reader so talking with her was like drinking from a cool stream every night. He still slipped money in her purse when she left each night even though she had stopped going to her corner. He picked her up at Agbowo instead.
She had been shocked to see ‘Kanmi in her room and had been very vocal to Ayobami about it. However, he had charmed her baby and neighbours. And he really wanted to take care of her. She was tired of struggling alone so she let him. Now she thanked God for him every day. Her baby was happy and well fed, he had gotten her a new apartment, school was good, and she had stopped the night-time circuit. She even had a boyfriend. (That last thought was said furtively and wistfully. She still didn’t know what he saw in her)
He started going to church a few months after and invited her too. She went to please him. When he stopped sleeping with her though, she got alarmed and started worrying about her future again. He tried to soothe her, saying he wasn’t going anywhere but it didn’t make sense. What did he want with her if not sex?
She started writing applications and was poring through the newspaper, looking for ads when he knocked. Her heart caught in her throat as she saw him and she finally admitted to herself why she was looking for a regular job instead of claiming her corner again. Sure, she could type pretty well now and he had taught her the rudiments of web designing but that was not it.
He bought her flowers, sent dark chocolates to her classes, folded his love into exquisite paper swans until her room resembled an origami park. She made him dinner, walked through her demons with faith, wrote him poetry in her mind, studied hard to make him proud.
They got married at the end of the year. His older guests were shocked at her friend’s dresses. His friends loved them.