No girl dream to spend her day hoping a man would ask for a round or two. At least, those of us in this upstair-building. We don’t want to be here; life put us here. Like me, I wanted to do doctor; that’s why I left home and come to Lagos. Home is Oyo. I have just finished in Ladigbolu Grammar school that time. My friend, Sakiru, told me that I have gain admission in Lagos State University to do medicine but that I’ll do Biochemistry first. Everyone in my house was happy for me because I tell them I am going to do medicine. My mother, the second wife of my father – she told everyone that Kaosarat have gain admission to do doctor.
In my first year that the school put out a list in the school bulletin. Everyone in the list was sent back home for entering the school with fake result. I am surprised that my name was on the list. At first, I blame my father’s other wives – they must have been unhappy that I am doing well while their own children are not.
So, I left school but I did not return home – I couldn’t; after Alhaja have told everyone that “Kaosarat is in Lagos, doing doctor.” I want to do things right, fix everything, so I keep trying. A job here, a job there; and I keep trying but Lagos is expensive and I only made little money. It’s at a warehouse on the wharf where I work as a receptionist that I met Stacy.
I use to complain about not having much so Stacy told me about the night work. I did not want to at first but when things became bad for me, then I decided to try. You see, Sakiru was the first guy I had sex with. That’s in Oyo. He promised me that if I let him sex me he will ensure my admission to do doctor. That’s why I let him do it. It’s a few months later that he call me and told me about my admission. Since then, I’ve not been with any man.
The house where the night business take place is an upstair with dirty walls. The rooms are tiny and you can almost touch the ceiling. It was in one of the tiny rooms that I spread my legs for someone I don’t know. He said his name was Shina. That’s all I know. He came to the house asking for “fresh”. I guess that’s why Stacy bring me to him. He smelled of sweat and gin, and one of his front teeth has broken. I was crying astagafrullah throughout.
When we are done and he left, I rushed into the bathroom and kept pouring water on my private part; I wanted to wash all of him away from me. I was doing that when I break down and cried. Abeni came to meet me in bathroom and told me everything would be fine. After that night, I moved into the upstair-building with them.
IT WAS ON A FRIDAY AFTERNOON; that a middle-age man came up the stairs to meet us. He said his name is Dr. Patrick. He looked just like Abeni use to love her men – big bald head and big stomach.
“There’s a huge, exclusive social event going down next week and we need your services, ladies, and we are willing to pay you well for it – perhaps in hard currency,” he added. Stacy’s eyes widen.
Our ears stretched out wide like a DSTV dish when he mentioned ‘hard currency’. We looked on – the three of us. Abeni did not take her eyes off Dr. Patrick; she continued to adjust herself on the chair where she sat, closing her legs and spreading them like hand fan. Stacy light a cigarette stick that was in her mouth. When I asked: “How much?” Abeni looked at me with a strong face. I am quiet. When the man left, Stacy said to me: “Dollar nor be Naira, no ruin market for us abeg.”
WE’RE IN A LARGE ROOM at Peaches Hotel. That’s where he tell us that they will give us the money. The room was filled with ladies like me and Abeni and Stacy. Some, we have met in the course of business. We greeted the ones we knew and took our seats. A group of men walked in. Just behind us, a girl tell her friends: “That tall man – the one with thick afro – that’s Dr. Patrick.”
One of the girls listening said:
“That’s not Dr. Patrick. The one that told me about this event is a young man, with glasses and no afro.” Another girl spoke – “The Dr. Patrick that came to our side was an old man with hair covered in white.” There seemed to be too many Dr. Patrick. I began to wonder why. They need so many of us at the same time and that worried me. Stacy already warn me that in this our business, questions always spoil market. The less you know the better.
I DON’T REMEMBER how many of them now, they cannot be more than ten. They were wearing Polo shirts with a name on it, it is a difficult name. A young man put down a travelling bag beside an old man who stood in front of us while the other men sat in the empty seats scattered among us. The old greeted us and introduce himself. He’s also Dr. Patrick. I adjust myself in my seat, feeling a bit uncomfortable.
He told us why we have come. He say that they are all doctors and they recognize and appreciate our role in society. That, that is the reason that they’ve called us together. He said something about what we do and the risk of STDs and that they wanted to minimize that risk. We’ve all came for the dollars; we didn’t care for the speech. The girls are bored. A number of girls chew gums lousily and begin to pressed their phones. He said that they will give us a drug that will kill any sexual infection within twelve hours of sex. Including HIV.
He reach for a blue pack from the traveling bag and waved it gallantly in the air. He talked on and on. “Is this your party? Where de money, biko? You no fit keep us here when business dey hot outside.” That was Stacy; she just talked loud like that. The money was what mattered. Dr Patrick open the big bag and waved dollars in the air. We all fell silent. “You will get your money for coming tonight, just stay with us a little while longer.” Seeing the money calmed everyone. This isn’t a scam after all.
THE TALK LAST A LITTLE LONGER and in the end, the other men rise to their feet to joined the bald man at the front. They began to hand us a pack each of the pills. They give us the dollar notes – five pieces of twenty dollar bills. We’re suppose to the hospital once every month, for six months. And for that period, we expect you to not use any protection whenever we have sex. The man said that that is the only way we can be sure that it works. Quickly, I convert how much a hundred dollars is in naira; then I multiply it by six. The green notes began to do things to my head. I am not thinking clearly anymore by then.
I am uncomfortable; something didn’t feel right about the whole arrangement. There are questions in my mind but I cannot ask. Why meet us in the night and why a hotel? And why is it that all of them are Dr. Patrick? It all smelled of fish – fishy. Something felt unright about everything. And why do we have to report every month, sheybi they said the pills are safe? It did not make sense to me. I was confused, I needed the money but I didn’t want the drugs. So, I decided to keep reporting at the hospital but I don’t use the drugs.
Stacy and Abeni did.
THE NEXT MONTH, we return home with dollars again; we are excited. She put her hundred dollars in the middle of her bible. “No one fit steal am,” she says every time she put things in it. She said her grandma had given her the bible when she went to live with her after her parents died in a fire. The fire burn her left arm.
“Na only God-Pikin fit survive that kain fire,” she always said.
That’s how we gave her nickname: God-Pikin.
THREE MONTHS INTO the whole arrangement, we went to the hospital and the doctors did not show up. On our way going home, Abeni hiss and then – sigh. Back at home, Stacy fell right into her bed. She shouted –
“Na when you dey broke that the devil wants to joke with you.”
“Walahi, I don kree so tey I don dey hope for the money.” That’s Abeni.
I say nothing. No one says anything again. The disappointment is heavy, the silence is thick. I am choking of it. I left the house to make my hair before work start at sunset. The next month, we go to the hospital and the story was the same – the Dr. Patricks don’t show up.
A FEW DAYS AFTER the doctors stop showing up, I was standing on the corridor, observing the street when Abeni march out with her yam-legs, to meet me. She asked me, afraid: “You don change your last dollar?” I tell her that I haven’t yet. “Mercy just send me message say the dollar na fake o.” I remember Mercy, she’s part of us at Peaches that night – four months ago; one short, dark girl like that with a brown teeth. I was surprised but I try to stay cool. “Maybe na error. Maybe dem wan swindle am of the money,” I answered.
Stacy strolled in and join us on the corridor. “Wetin dey happen?” she ask. Abeni told her about the news of the fake dollar. “Why you go dey believe that kain girl. You no see as telling lie don brown her front teeth finish?” She opened her purse and flashed dirty naira notes before our eyes. “See am? I just change hundred dols; dey never reject am.” Abeni appeared calmed by the news but just for a while. More stories went round, the dollars are truly fake. We don’t know how Stacy changed hers. When we asked her again, she just smile and said: “I be God-Pikin.”
THREE WEEKS AFTER the fake dollars, Stacy was down with fever. After she took agbo and she was still feverish, she got Coartem. The fever disappeared for a few days. By a week, she was down again – running temperature, headaches and she loss her appetite. Then, she began to vomit. Hospital will take all the money we have work for so we sick, we don’t go to the hospital. But when Stacy’s condition don’t get better, she went to the hospital.
Stacy returned to the hospital three days after her first visit. She had lost weight; and the bones around her shoulders are showing. When she came back, she did not say a word. She stretch out herself on the bed and slept. In the pocket of her jeans trouser there was a yellow piece of paper. I slowly pull it out and straightened it. It’s the result of HIV test. Stacy is positive. Oh my God! I folded the paper and put it back into her pocket. God-Pikin doesn’t cry, she hasn’t cried since the fire. That evening, as we prepare for the day’s business, Stacy cried.
Abeni wondered why.
I know why.
IT’S A YEAR SINCE THEN. It is difficult for Stacy to get ARVs. When she has ordinary malaria or even a common cold, it is scary. Abeni, still complains about the fake dollar and everything. She has six sinblings back in Ire. They are the reason why she come to Lagos once she finished her secondary education in a public school with a name that I haven’t heard before.
When the light go out and the heat inside the house chase us out to the corridor, Abeni laments – “I tell my father I’m working in a factory while running a part time program in Lagos State Polytechnic; he don’t know that I am sleeping around with man.” In those moments, I will try not to think of myself – how I ended up in the upstair-building. “I wonder if it worth it leaving Ire to come to this Lagos sef,” Abeni always concludes with deep sighs.
“I do the trial for my biz idea,” she said one afternoon as we sat to eat noodles. She says she’s hoping to start out a business if she got the whole six hundred dollars. “I think that with the six hundred dollars, I can begin my business – be selling cream and beauty products.” She adjusted the strap of her bra, “I just sad that I’m in this Lagos and I’m not making the money I think I will make when I leave home many years ago.” Her words are sad, I feel for her.
These days, Stacy – her words – they have become fewer and fewer.
I guess that’s how people die: their words fade till no word is spoke again
…and everything falls silent.