It’s 2 A.M and Lokoja is wet from drizzles that nagged all evening up until midnight. The air smells of wet rusted metals and the sky is starless. The street is dark but for the halogen light in front of the gate of Club Havana that shoots a ray of bright yellow light across the road. Soko stands in front of the club, her handbag clutched to her arms as she awaits a bike. She’s wearing a short red gown that tightens against her skinny body, accentuating her slim figure and small perky breasts that has her nipples protruding without the inconvenience of a bra. There are a few patches of people grouped in twos hanging around the club, some of them leaning against the cars parked at the entrance.
A man staggers out of the club, perspiring and inebriated and mumbling to himself. He flails towards her with his sturdy frame and round protruding belly that raises the hem of his shirt, heaving and tripping and just managing to stay upright. He gets to her and says with a breath laden with the stench of alcohol, “baby gyal, foro me go my hotel loom and rehmie treat you nice.”
She recognises him immediately — the leech who wouldn’t detach himself from her the moment she took the dance floor. Not that he could dance. He was only pinned on latching his groin to her ass and simulating her curves with his erection. She gets even more irritated now, looking at him standing in front of her with his drunken eyes half closed, asking for cheap sex.
“How much can you pay?” She asks, derision in her voice.
“How much do you want?”, he asks, then belches, spewing stale smell of alcohol into the cold night.
She takes a moment to dissect him, from his feet to his face, as if trying to measure his worth with her eyes.
“10K”, she says. For her standards, that is quite a low bargain. But she has thought briefly about it and she realises she has nothing to lose. Dawn will not take so long to come, and if she goes home now she goes to nothing but the snoring of Salim, who had been too ill to come to the club with her. She could make an extra ten quids by letting this half drunk man who was probably married to a fat out-of-taste woman fuck her. Moreover, she knows that he’s too spent to last much before he comes and flops on the bed and drool off. Quick dirty sex, ten thousand naira in her purse. Fair enough.
“Una don start again o”, he says aloud, knees wobbling. “You these Federal University students sef una own too dey cost! If una dey go university, una toto dey go university too? For this Buhari economy fa.” His voice is a tad loud, floating above the muffled music coming out from inside the club. “You no go collect four taazan?” He teases.
A dark man on blue jeans and a grey t-shirt walks by them, possibly catching a whiff off the conversation, and takes a quick glance at them as he walks past them.
She’s disgusted by the stark cheapness of the man before her and is suddenly uncomfortable with the loudness of his voice. If she’s going to be a hoe tonight only herself and her client is to know, and not an over-assuming passerby. After all, she’s a Runs Girl, not an Ashawo. Suddenly regretting her decision to bargain and without willing to indulge him further, she rolls her eyes at him and walks away without giving a response to his liquor-induced haggling. He shouts after her and a lot of incoherent yells later, he finally concedes and walks back into the club.
The brief but irritating encounter refuels her urge to just go home and sleep. Her joints ache from swinging her body to loud afrobeat music and a little tipsiness kicks in too. She leans her back against a crimson coloured Toyota Camry and the antitheft alarm goes off, startling her. She walks briskly towards the entrance of the club and just as she approaches the gate her eyes catch the headlamp of a bike bending out of the corner. She mumbles a “thank God!” in gratitude for what looks like an escape from a chain of unfortunate events as she flags down the bike.
“I dey go Phase One. How much?”
“250 ke”, she says, rolling her eyes at the bike man. “You no collect 150?” She’s not trying to needlessly exercise her haggling prowess, the amount she asks is what she actually has left in her expensive leather purse; a crisp note of a hundred naira and a crumpled note of fifty.
“150 no do. Na midnight be this and Phase One far small. Bring 200.“
“Na 150 I go pay, dey go if you no want”, she says, her voice acrid from the growing sourness of her night. The bike man ignites his engine and leaves, cursing beneath his breath.
She walks back from the side of the road where she had bargained with the bike man to a space beside the club where cars are parked, only this time she’s careful enough not to lean against anyone of them. A moment later a figure emerges from the exit of the building, walking towards the cars and making a call. A slim tall man comes into view, dressed in full dark blue kaftan and wearing a Hausa cap. He appears to be walking to his car when she catches his attention, so he makes a detour towards her. She’s had enough of sour encounters for a night so she tightens her face in further irritation as she notices him walking towards her. By the time he gets to where she’s standing he drops the call and — phone still in hand — walks to her and says hi.
Her brows part and her lips unpause when she looks at his slim, pretty face. He is bright brown, and his well polished beards further shapes his face into an oval. His thick, long brows spreads across his almond-shaped eyes and his long pointed nose sits over his small mouth. He smells of heaven, a smell sourced from a fancy bottle of the most expensive cologne.
“Hi”, she says back, trying to look pretty even though her face has become a mess from the sweat that drew lines across her heavy makeup.
“Mind spending the night with me, please?” He asks in impeccable English. Politely. Too politely for someone who will be willing to pay for time. Here is the conflict:
He’s ravaging attractive, but she wants a little cash for the night. Will asking him to pay chase him away? Should she just follow him to wherever the hell he’s going to spend the night and just fuck him for free? But how many cute guys is she going to fuck for free? After all, cute doesn’t pay the bills does it? After all, didn’t she have an attractive boyfriend who is broke most of the time? But will trying to fleece the too-pretty-to-be-true young man standing before her for money make her appear like a regular prostitute to him? Wouldn’t that ruin any chance of anything more concrete developing between them? She looks at him top to down, and concludes he’s loaded. His skin shines as bright as his clothing, and in his grip is a pricey S10+. He’s pretty and rich; not the sort of guy to let go after one sex. He’s Hausa, or Fulani. Only them dress to the club like they are attending a traditional wedding. And oh boy, malo guys are loaded! So she makes up her mind to go with him without asking for a bargain. After all, what does she have to lose? But she’s not going to agree too quickly. She’s not that cheap.
All these calculations take a moment. It’s a skill; making situation analysis in time to decide whether or not to fuck a guy in seconds, quick enough to say yes or no before the guy realises the pause in the moment.
“I really want to go home”, she says, in a way that doesn’t sound too firm, so he doesn’t get discouraged from pressing further.
“Come on, just spend the rest of the night with me. You’re going to enjoy it, really.”
“Where are we going?”
“My hotel room.”
A spark goes off in her head. The cheapest room at Desville goes for 40 gees a night and that’s where all the rich and bougie kids nest. She would know because she’d been there once. She tries to make her expression as firm as possible, to conceal the gust of excitement that has suddenly piled up in her, gnawing her every hollow insidiously. She suddenly makes up her mind to push her luck and ask for a little incentive, at least, not minding the long term consequences.
“Hmmm….OK then”, she says, sounding as dispassionate as one could be. “But what do I stand to gain? You know time is money.”
“How much do you want?”
“How much are you worth?”
“Quite a lot”, he says, wearing the sexiest, cockiest smile she has ever seen.
“OK then, you’re worth my time”, she says, still trying to sound as stolid as possible. Sounding too excited reduces a girl to a little hoe. She is nothing of such. She’s a hustler. A classy hustler.
He takes her hand and walks her to his blue Ford Explorer SUV, the type driven by commissioners and special advisers. He’s probably in the government, she thinks.
“My name is Jibril, but you can call me J.B”, he says as he pulls the seat belt across his chest. “What do I call you?”
She doesn’t expect this line of conversation. She hadn’t thought about it, the need to exchange names. After all weren’t they just going to fuck and part ways? She quickly makes up her mind she isn’t going to go through the onerous task of teaching him how to pronounce Sokolayam properly. Moreover, it’s sheer naivety to tell a client your real name. Bad for business. One has to separate her real self from her business personality. So she tells him: “Patricia. Pat for short”.
“Patricia”, he repeats, slowly, as if weighing the name on his tongue. She hates that he did that. He turns on the ignition of the car and Mario’s Let Me Love You automatically comes on the car’s stereo, sung midway through. She feels the goosebumps as she becomes overwhelmed by sheer nostalgia. She leans on the seat and rests her head against the headrest and lets a feeling of cosiness and warmth wash over her as the melody and lyrics of the song from her childhood serenades her insides. How long ago had she heard this song? Ten, twelve years ago? The song has never sounded so beautiful to her.
The road is empty at night, so his feet only relaxes on the throttle when he’s dodging a pothole or navigating a bend. The song ends as they approach the government house and she’s just going to ask him to repeat it when Wyclef Jean’s 911 comes on, the strings of guitar at the start of the song sending her into ecstasy. She lets herself soak in the melody of the song, in the beauty of reminiscence as she closes her eyes and nods to every note of it. She feels the car come to a halt. She opens her eyes, wondering if they are already at the hotel. They are at the Zenith Bank junction instead, just by the Stella Obasanjo Library where a chain of Hausa fruit sellers display a rich assortment of fruits. She wonders if they ever close, if the night ever sucks them back to their shells.
“Would you like some fruits?” He asks.
She obliges, even though she doesn’t understand the necessity of his gentlemanness. Although she finds it cute, from experience she has come to know that an overly nice client is bad for business. They mostly end up underpaying you while trying to overcompensate for this by an unnecessary show of hospitality.
He buys a water melon — cut into fractions —diced pineapples, oranges and a bunch of bananas. The ignition comes on and the car is moving again. Ten minutes later they navigate through the gate of the majestic Desville Hotel. Just as the car pulls to a complete stop in the parking lot of the hotel, Nelly’s classic with Kelly Rowland, Dilemma, comes on. She asks to wait till the song ends before they alight.
Salim is in the room of their self-contained apartment reading one of those big romance novels with brown, dog-earedpages. It’s almost 10 in the morning and Soko is not back from the club and her numbers aren’t going through. She probably left the club to Teejay’s house, she thinks. Or maybe she went home with a man that has a deep pocket, enough to spend on university girls half his age. At a corner of the room is a heap of dirty clothes, waiting to be washed by a Salim that has refused to get out of bed since she woke up.
The door opens and an exhausted looking Soko staggers in. She drops her bag on the floor and flops on the bed just at the base of Salim’s feet. She doesn’t say a word.
“How far?” Salim asks. “How body?”
“Body dey where e dey abeg”, replies Soko, sounding disengaged from the conversation. “I no just dey alright.”
“What’s wrong with you nau?” Salim queries. “How did your night go? Where did you sleep?”
“Desville!” A sudden surge of interest rushes into Salim as she drops her novel and sits up. “Babe you are balling fa! You found a rich man shey?”
“Something like that”, Soko replies, unenthusiastically.
“Correct babe! Chai I for follow go yesterday o. Oya come cut me my share sharp sharp. You know I’m your number one babe na”, Salim cheers, clearly exhilarated.
“There’s no money”, Soko replies, instantly quenching the premature celebration of Salim.
“I didn’t take money from him.”
“Ah ahn, sheybi you said he was rich. Or was he that stingy?”
“He offered me money, I just didn’t take it.”
“See babe, you just won’t understand”, her voice quivering as a knot starts to build in her throat.
“What happened last night at Desville? Talk to me.”
Soko sits up, leaning her back against the wall as she recounts the events of the previous night:
“I was at Club Havana, looking for a bike to come back home at around 2 A.M when this guy came to ask me to follow him to his hotel. Salim, this guy is cuuuuuutttte!”
“Cuter than Teejay?”
“Abeg abeg, no just call that one. As in, this guy is so cute. Then his beards, so well trimmed and polished. He’s tall and slim, and he’s fair. When I saw him I thought he was a malo guy sef.”
“Wait na, I’ll get there.”
“Go on then.”
“So he asked me if I’ll follow him to his hotel. At first I didn’t want to. I was really tired and I wanted to come home and sleep. But he insisted o. And you know as things dey go na? Account dey cry. I say make I get small rubbers for hand. So I asked him if he was going to settle me and he said yes. Plus Tequila don dey make my eyes turn already. Body sef don. dey do me one kyn, na Sunday I fuck last and you know say body no be wood…”
“Hoe like you. Your mates dey convent.”
“Abeg leave that thing. Ehen, so I see fine boy wey get money wey I fit shag for the night and still get paid. I told him OK, that where is his hotel? I was praying he shouldn’t go and say Halims or Cliff Hotel. You know say person don dey castefor those places. So he said Desville. Inside my mind I said thank God o. So we entered his car, fine Ford jeep. That type that Dambazau used to drop us from the club two weeks ago, you remember shey?”
“Dambazau? Commissioner for works?”
“Yes yes I do. Go on.”
“So when we were in the car this guy started playing all those old love songs o. Wallahi ba I was seriously feeling those songs. The thing was seriously turning me on sef.”
“See your life ba?”
“Get out! Like say no be you those things dey move pass”.
“Ehen! Did I tell you he asked for my name?”
“He did o. He even told me his.”
“Did you tell him?”
“I look like pikin for your eyes?”
“What did you tell him?”
They both laugh. Soko continues:
“Long story short, we got to Desville around 3 A.M. I went to take my bath just after him, and came out wearing just my pant o. I left my boobs bare and was already ready to get down. Body come dey sweet me pass the client sef.”
“Ashawoooooo! Wetin come happen?”
“Leave matter fess.You believe say this guy give me him t-shirt make I wear cover body?”
“Is he gay?”
“Babe, I tire o. So he gave me his shirt from the wardrobe. I wore it and it kind of looked sexy anyway. I went to lay on the bed and was waiting for him to join me. My guy was sitting on the sofa across the room, eating bananas and watching BBC. By now he had changed into a short and a white t-shirt too. He was still in his socks. After a while he asked me if I was not going to touch the fruits. I left my bed to join him on the sofa. I sat on his laps, my ass on his dick. Remember I was wearing only pant o. I started sucking an orange when he started to interview me.”
“Haa! Interview ke?”
“Babe, no be small thing o. He first asked if I was a prostitute, an ashawo.” Salim’s mouth flies open in utter bewilderment. “Can you imagine? Me! Ashawo!” She beats her chest as as she says that. “I come form vex o. Told him that I didn’t blame him. That it’s because I agreed to spend time with him. I left him and went back to the bed. Salim, do you believe that this guy did not even try to stop me?”
“Ah ahn, what’s wrong with him? What is he forming sef?”
“I was even thinking he would follow me to the bed to apologise and then in the process we would you know, get into the game because at that time sef body don already full. He didn’t even follow me to the bed. He just sat there and continued watching TV and eating his fruits. I was just boiling where I was. I was even considering dressing up and walking away but then pepper must rest na. I couldn’t leave without the pay.”
“So what happened next?”
“He really took his time to finish off his fruits o. That was when he now climbed the bed and shifted to me. Me I turned to the other side o, I had to form small na. He then came so close to me that he was glued to me. His dick was even brushing my bum this time and his hand went around my waist. That was how I now went to mistakenly moan o. See how I embarrassed my whole village ba?”
Salim bursts into a loud fit of laughter. Leaning backwards and flailing her hands to the air. Soko lets out a brief, embarrassing laugh, then she continues:
“He didn’t react to it. He did as if he didn’t hear sef. He just opened his mouth to say that he was sorry for asking that sort of question. Awwwn the way he said it; ‘I’m sorry for asking that sort of insensitive question’ “, Soko mimics him. “Then I turned to him and said it was fine. You know say too much forming dey scatter. things na. I thought that was the moment o. I was expecting him to just press his lips against mine and set us both on fire. Naso Mr. man start another yarns o.”
“Ah ahn, what’s wrong with him nau? Which one he dey sef?” Salim says, irritatingly. “What was he yearning again sef?”
“He asked me what I did. I told him I was a student of Federal University of Lokoja. I lied to him that I was in 400 level, reading English. He looked impressed. Told me he was a mechanical engineer on contract with the government. I asked what state he came from. He said Kogi State. Guess from what part?”
Salim gasps. “Okene men with their big dicks!” She exclaims. “Hope he has not ruined your cervix oh!”
“Sheybi that would have been better than the torture I went through.”
“Tell me about it babe”.
“He finished from A.B.U Zaria and lives in Kaduna. Then he dropped the bombshell, he just got divorced.”
“At this point sef my urges had started to go down. I asked him what had happened to his marriage and then he told me everything.”
According to JB:
He met his wife during his final year in school, at a club. She’s from Taraba. On the first night they met, they had sex. What looked like a one night stand blossomed into marriage three years later. He was just 25 at that time, very young but he decided to settle down anyway. He said he believed that he had had all the fun he needed to have in the university and he felt it was time to get serious about life. His parents had kicked vehemently against his choice for a wife, given that they would have preferred their son married an Ebira girl or worse, a Hausa girl. Not a Pyeri Christian girl from Taraba. A girl whose culture and religion were alien to theirs. But he remained strong-headed. Driven by the passion of love, he went ahead to marry the love of his life. Everything was going well until his job started taking him all around the country, away from the warmth of his wife. His wife, who was very outgoing in her university days, was not going to allow the binds of marriage condemn her social life to relative obscurity. Especially as her husband was more often than not out of the house. She slid back to the fun of clubbing and hanging out, an addiction that marriage couldn’t save her from.
He said at first, she didn’t hide it from him that she went to the club every other Friday to get some fun, at least a break from the hectic duty of combining work with home-keeping. He said he was cool with it and only asked her to be careful. But it started getting too frequent. From twice a month to a weekly indulgence to twice a week! At some point she started keeping it a secret from him.
One day while he was paying his ill mother a visit in Abuja, his friend sent a picture to him, of his wife, clearly drunk, giving a lap dance to some man at the club. The next morning he was in Kaduna. He asked his wife what she had done in the club the previous night and she denied even being at the club before. Then he showed her the picture on his phone and she melted into a remorseful sob. Saying how she was sorry and how it isn’t as it seems.
Well, they settled that day. But she didn’t stop clubbing and at some point she developed a drinking habit. Full blown, until she became a full time alcoholic. Because of his faith he himself didn’t even drink alcohol. It got to a point that they started having a series of long arguments and sometimes his wife would walk out of the house angrily and wouldn’t return until days later, in sobriety, begging for his forgiveness. He usually did, but the cycle would repeat itself. He had to endure reports that his wife had started seeing someone else too, and he didn’t even ask her about it. He tried as much as he could to ignore the rumours. But the deal breaker was when during one of the reoccurring arguments, his wife hit him on his thigh with a wooden stool. That was when he realised that the marriage was over. The divorce was finalised a week ago. They were only married for two years. He said he felt lonely and just needed a company to spend the night with, and not necessarily sleep with. He just wanted to talk, especially to a stranger he was likely never to come across again.
“Hmmm…”, Salim sighs after the five minutes narration. Soko continues carping.
“At this point I was totally lost in the melancholy of his ordeal that every hormones in my body previously raging had relaxed. I was in no mood to fuck him anymore. At this point he had stopped looking like a client to me, but a person. A man with a heart. A broken one.”
“Eyaaa “, Salim says, shaking her head slowly. Every excitement that was previously drawn on her face has slowly metamorphised into strains of sympathy.
“Then he asked if I had been hurt before. I told him yes. He asked me to tell him about it. I really didn’t want to, but I found myself telling him about me and Mayowa. How he got me pregnant in 100 level and denied responsibility. How a week after I had flushed the baby I discovered he was fucking Oyiza, one of my closest friends. How when I confronted him about it, he acted indifferent, totally indifferent about my breaking heart. He looked at me with so much empathy on his face that he became so soft, so beautiful. Kai, I felt like kissing him deeply all of a sudden. Then he asked if I was currently in a relationship. I don’t know why, but I didn’t lie to him. I told him about Teejay. I told him I knew he was cheating on me, fucking like half the girls in his lodge but I didn’t care. My heart had gotten so stony from my series of fucked up emotional entanglements that I no longer gave two fucks about commitment. Teejay could bang the whole world if he wishes, as long as I was also doing what I wanted with whoever I chose to.”
“Then, he said, I deserved better. I said I didn’t know what he meant. He said I was living a toxic life, and had accepted it as my own happiness, which it actually wasn’t. He said I merely had an illusion of happiness, and not happiness itself. That very soon, the illusion wanes off, and I will come back to the reality of my toxicity. Then I would break into tinier shards than I had been broken before. At this point my eyes already held a still river, waiting for the slightest reason to overflow its bank. Then, he said, no matter how hurt I had been, that the only antidote to heartbreak is to love again. Loving genuinely, and not settling for a toxic lifestyle and hoping that it covers up the past. ‘You deserve the world, Patricia’, he said, and the tear dropped. You know I can be very mumuly emotional sometimes shey?”
“Hmmm”, Salim moans, merely shaking her head slowly without saying a thing. Every single word of what Soko is saying penetrates her like soap touching open wounds. “So what did he do next?”
“He wiped my tears with his thumb and planted a kiss on my forehead. I shivered as his soft, moist lips touched my forehead. Then he cupped me from behind. We remained in the position, saying nothing until we both dozed off.”
“So he didn’t…”
“No, he didn’t.”
“We had slept very late, some minutes to 5. So I woke up late this morning to meet him already dressed. That was past 9. God, I couldn’t look him in the eyes. To think that I had given myself to him as an object of sex and he did not even touch me. After I had taken my bath and prepared to leave, he handed me a hefty brown envelope. ‘For your time’, he said. But I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t need the money anymore. I just wanted to come back home to think about myself. So I told him no, that I had gained enough from him already. Took my bag and left. In the keke, I took my phone and texted Teejay. I broke up with him.”
“Babe free me! After all, what good is he to me aside having a pretty face and a big dick? That guy has only contributed to the mess my life is becoming.”
A brief silence envelops the room. Just the sound of the fan whirling above them disrupts the sudden, deepening serenity. Then Salim speaks:
“Hmmm…so what are your next steps now? Settling down into a more serious relationship? Stay committed? Stop hustling?”
“If I hear. I’m spending the night with honourable Hassan. That reps member I told you about. I dey pause every matter of relationship for now.”
“Haa! What of all the talks the J.B guy had with you?”
“Bobo was just blowing grammar jare. I get his point, and I have taken a step to drop the most toxic thing in my life right now, Teejay. But abeg, for now, I have bills to pay, and love don’t pay the bills.”
Salim sighs and picks up her novel, flipping to the page she stopped. Soko starts to take off her dress.