"Please don't waste my time. I've already paid for the room. Can we go in now?"
I looked frighteningly at the potbellied short man sitting opposite me at the bar. There, I was; young, inexperienced with no money in my pocket to return home. I looked around the bar, praying for someone to come to my rescue like a knight in shining armour but no one did. I guess knights are only found in fairy tales and not in my world. It was already getting dark outside.
I looked at my watch: 7:39pm. I left home in the morning and here I was miles away, the distance not something I could trek even if I could, I had no idea how. For the first time, I was grateful I didn't have a cell phone on me if not it would have been ringing non-stop with calls from my concerned mum. How had I gotten here, stranded, koboless, with a man wanting to have sex with me?
My quest for a job, a means to put food on the table and be independent, that's how it all began. My girlfriend and I had combed the streets of Lagos searching for a job and we were either told no vacancy, you don't have enough qualifications and requirements or the job is not for a woman but for a man. With no money to further our education we were stuck with just our high school certificates to survive in this cruel world. I’d just discovered it was cruel. I didn't know how it was till things got hard when my dad lost his job. I never knew how it was to get up by 5 am to prepare for work or to go on a job hunt.
I bent my head to hide the tears that were beginning to form in my eyes. I and my good friend, Anita had sworn we'd be different from those girls we saw everyday who made money from sleeping with men. We would rather toil the earth than part our legs for the promise of good things even if it's just from one man. But here I am, wanting to do what I swore I wouldn't do no matter the situation.
I had left the house with only five hundred naira in my pocket which was supposed to take me to an agency I had gone in search of a job two days ago. This morning I had gotten a call from the agency manager that he has a job for me. I was so excited from the moment I got the call till I left the house. The excitement had overwhelmed me that I didn't know when I got down from the bus, forgetting to collect my change from the conductor. Trust conductors, they will never remind you that you have yet to collect your change when they have tactics to make one forget the change with them. I didn't realise I had forgotten my change until the bus zoomed off. Damn!
How was I to go back home I thought as I walked down the street to the office. I pushed that aside for the moment focusing on the job I was told I had gotten. I walked with my shoulders a little bit higher with a swag to my steps. Finally I was going to be earning money to take care of my siblings and save a little to further my education. God must be smiling down on me. It's been over two years since my dad lost his job. My siblings had dropped out of school. I was lucky, having completed my high school education. Dad and Mom were separated; with Mom in Lagos and Dad in Calabar. To take some load off Dad, I’d decided to move to Lagos with one of my siblings to stay with Mom who was a petty trader.
Dad didn't know how to save much probably because he’d wanted the very best for us. We weren't rich but he made us comfortable. We had attended one of the best schools in Calabar. He put good food on the table and we had almost all the luxuries the rich kids had, except going abroad for vacations. Dad never wanted to hear or see that his kids didn't have clothes on their backs, good toys to play with, food to eat, that we had to trek from school so he’d paid a driver to always pick us up when we closed. I didn't know what poverty was till it came knocking at our door but I was determined to make it in life. Nothing was going to get in the way of becoming the best in what I do.
I got into the office smiling like someone who had won the lottery. I was already spending my salary in my mind, visualising my siblings back in school and once again having some of the luxurious things they were accustomed to. I was yet to know how much I'll be paid but since the man had told me the pay will be very good due to the fact that my grades are good, I had started making plans for my first salary. He said he had sent my details to a company and they were impressed with my WAEC results. I had studied hard for that exam and my parents had been ecstatic at my performance. It was so ironic that after my hard work I couldn't further my education with the certificate, mocking the effort I had put into it. I was glad now that it was finally going to be put to good use. Anyone can understand the way my heart was broken into a thousand pieces when the manager took me to a guest house telling me the only way I would be given the job was if I slept with him. That was after he had me waiting in his office for hours while attending to everyone but me.
I tried so hard to stop the tears from flowing. I hate to let people see me cry. I wasn't going to let this vermin see me cry. I sniffed quietly. What was I going to do? I looked around the bar one last time. There was this guy looking at me strangely and something in my head told me to go explain my situation to him and beg for money. But I couldn't. I didn't even know how to. My dad was strictly against begging. It was a rule in my house that you do not ask anything from anyone, not even friends or neighbours. We were forbidden from collecting anything from anybody. Always reply with "No thank you." Anyone who was found to have broken this rule will be severely dealt with. There was this four-mouthed cane Dad used to establish law and order in the house. If we wanted anything we were to ask only my dad. I remembered once I had collected banana from one of Dad's girlfriends. I didn't think I was breaking the rule. When Dad saw me eating it, from the look on his face I knew I was in trouble.
"Where did you get that from?" the 'that' was the banana.
"Aunty Tina came to look for you but you were not around and she gave me this bana..." I didn't finish saying the word. He had run into his room to get the four-mouthed dreaded cane and with so much anger flogged the taste of the banana out of my system.
"How many times will I have to tell you not to collect anything from strangers?" With each word he spoke the cane landed on my back, my head, my face, and everywhere. But Aunty Tina is not a stranger I said silently while I screamed my lungs out. I didn't have the guts to tell him that. In his vocabulary, strangers meant family friends, his girlfriends, in short anyone that's not living in our house, even uncles and aunties. I never forgot that day. Walking up to a total stranger and asking for help was the hardest thing for me. Hell! He might even be worse than this fat man in front of me.
"Look girl, don't waste my time. It's getting late. The ball is now in your court. It's up to you if you want to make money or not. Most people wait on God and nothing happens. Nothing happens because God gave the opportunity but the same people let it pass them by and at the end they blame God."
He stood up.
"Oya let's go."
He left me at the table walking towards the counter, that way making my mind up for me. I stole one last glance at the strange man looking at me. I could have sworn he had this look begging me to walk up to him for help. Maybe it was just my imagination. I wish I did but instead I followed the short potbellied man to the room.
While he was on top of me, groaning and moaning like an animal I thought how life was just not fair. I recalled the punishment given to Adam and Eve. Men were to till the earth to survive while women were to give birth in pains and be submissive to a man. But now women are tilling the earth and still giving birth in pains. How did we get to this point? Some say it began the day women decided to wear pants made for men. If that is true, wasn't there a good reason for that? If Abraham had not loved Sarah so much he probably would have gotten smitten by Haggai and her son. If he was like most of the men we have these days, he would have abandoned Sarah because she didn't have a child. But thank God for his love and intervention, Sarah might have gone back to her father's house with probably nothing but her clothes. This is exactly why a woman decided to take the hoe and dig the earth making our punishment greater.
Men in our society can get away with almost anything. A man can decide to marry in his forties and nobody says a thing but not so with a woman. A man can sleep with as many women as he wants and yet he gets away with it but a woman cannot. She gets called different names and labelled. A man commits adultery and it's the norm but let his wife do the same, she either gets stoned or sent back to her father's house, the list goes on.
People reading this story will definitely have many suggestions of what I should and shouldn't have done then blame me for allowing this man take advantage of me but few will have words for a matured man who decided to take advantage of a young girl. Shaggy must have smoked something strong when he sang, ''I wonder if God is a woman'' because if He is, things won't be as they are. Yes, women have the strength and power over some men but not the society and we are governed by the society. No wonder feminism came into play. I applaud their good work which has helped and is helping lots of women.
Sorry for digressing, back to the story. When he was done, he gave me five hundred naira for my transport. If I was whoring, I would definitely be paid better than this. Well that night I considered myself no different from a whore. I cried inside as I embarked on my journey home. I was sad and glad at the same time. Glad that I was finally going home. I had this fear of sleeping out in the open and being raped by hoodlums, if I hadn't given in to him. I've heard stories about the streets of Lagos. People are scared to give a total stranger money because they either think you'll use it to steal their star or you are in the 419 business. So, just a handful of people will stop to listen to what you have to say.
I got home after 10. Knowing my mom will talk and yell at me for hours for coming home at such an hour, I immediately told her I had gotten a job. She danced round the house forgetting to scold me for coming late. I went into the bathroom scrubbing my skin so hard, trying to wash off the man and what I had done off my skin. I was in the bathroom for almost an hour but I couldn't scrub the memory out of my head. My sleep was plagued by nightmares and I woke up with a puffy face. My mom brought her phone to me. Since I don't have a phone I used her number on my CV. I had a message from the agency manager with an address for a job interview at Victoria Island by 11 am. I was confused. A job interview! I thought I was just going to be called to resume work. Well, maybe they just wanted to ask me a few things before I started. I took my bath, dressed up and hurried off to V.I only to get there to meet a crowd of applicants, some with better qualifications than me.
....to be continued
By Tessy Peter Hans