Monday is always the same, not just for me but for many of us. I too hate the heavy feeling of obligation awakened simultaneously with the screeching sound of the 4am alarm. The sting of reality spurs us all into action in the same manner on this day.
Waking to the sound of the harsh buzz of the city and confronted by the gloom of the tiny, worn-down flat that is a kind of home, thoughts of the injustice of life bare down consistently. How long will I have to conform to this way of life? Stealing time from my ordained days on this earth to labour for rewards that seem to never last long enough and whose gain comes at such a high cost..?
The first sight through heavy eyes, still drunk with sleep, affirms the injustice with greater severity. Even the pleasure of sound sleep in darkness is intruded upon by the city lights that rudely beam through the shattered window pane and tethered lace curtain. The only reaction to this hostile circumstance that seems fair is a swift push of the snooze button and a snug cover of the blankets, this time including the head in defense against the spectrum of bright light.
In order to have a fair level of peace in life, we must accept that everything we love will cease and such is the case with the lovely indulgence of sleep after the snooze button. Much can be tolerated once there is an adequate level of acceptance; in fact this can be achieved with relative ease if one is determined enough and has access to the right kind of ‘help’. Dragging myself out of bed and facing the stench of staleness and decay on the old carpeted floor without thought, is as a result of that acceptance. I have long accepted the tatty state of the place in which I exist, from the moldy roof and stained walls to the dingy porcelain toilet and rusty bathroom fittings.
Like the majority, I simply cannot afford the luxury of dwelling on emotions while hunger beckons. Long hearty drags of a joint left over from the dread of slow Sunday afternoons are just enough to nutrilise the weariness and start the process of getting ready for the day. A quick shower, spruce up of the hair, figure hugging dress and just enough red lipstick to better competitors while still radiating class take all of 30 minutes to achieve. At R50 a round, one simply cannot take for granted the importance of an early start.
Monday also happens to be the day of my regular meeting with Joe, and also a rare opportunity to score big. Like all my appointments, discretion is key when it comes to my appointment with Joe. As a general rule I never ask too many questions, the work I do usually requires more listening than talking, (save for the occasional rogue stallions that demand dirty talk to incentivize the moment). All appointments follow the same trend and one has to know the rules in order to survive them, always take cash up front, always take enough spliff to be stoned but still alert, always carry a weapon sufficient for doing enough damage to make a quick getaway and most importantly don’t think about anything. It would seem easy for an experienced hooker like me to simply keep to the rules, yet with Joe, one can never predict any aspect of the appointment. In eight years of all manner of man one has had unspeakable encounters with, none can compare to the peculiar nature of Joe.
Joe exudes all that one imagines a man in control to be, his perfectly chiseled body, expensive taste in clothes, extreme tidiness (almost to the point of obsession) all reinforce this persona. All things about Joe seem to be intentionally and carefully procured to make a very clear statement, ‘I am a black diamond, I am successful, important and in complete control’. Of all the things about Joe’s appearance the most striking is his intense and menacing presence, which has the uncanny ability to infect one with unmanageable insecurity and anxiety.
5am, on the corner of Nugget and President street, warding off the racing thoughts and nerves with deep intakes of cigarette puffs, as if to soak into the chest every bit of nicotine in each puff, and releasing gently and slowly, careful not to let the smoke escape without drawing maximum enjoyment. I only notice the crimson rear of passing cars in the darkness of the winter morning, while pacing slowly along the sidewalk and completely absorbed in the emotional war within me. A host of knots build up in my belly, when, in an instant the brightness of two headlights are headed in my direction, slow but swift, with the agility of a snake hunting its prey. The car is unmistakable (BMW 330 diesel M sport), it too spells Joe’s characteristics, pretentious in nature built through hard work to spell refined when it is really the opposite, and the product of a society that thrives on deception and lack of substance. When the car comes to a halt, the cigarette immediately loses its effectiveness and the pleasure of moments gone by seems unreal, so it is tossed away as the car door opens. The uncertainty of the coming moments combined with thoughts of the gushing blood, torn clothes, bruising and tear that resulted from the last session, are almost enough to prompt me to turn away from this appointment, but money doesn’t grow on trees, so I jump in.
The location is never the exact same one, only the area is a little more predictable, which only adds to the torture of the looming mystique. It is only when we turn on the corner of Main Rivonia Road and 11th Avenue and proceed along an elaborate driveway and finally come to a stop at a luxurious building, that I experience a slight relief from the deafening silence, dryness of mouth and my thumping heart. Not for hope that what is to come will be bearable, but for the knowledge that one is at least a step closer to the end, and closer to affording a hit that will sooth away the pain and more importantly the feeling of filth and worthlessness that always seems to come on at full strength after any interaction with Joe.
‘The Grand’, the words are written in bold and in gold, looking at them one can see why grease balls like Joe would command so much respect in a place like this. All they have to do is throw their money around and the world around them will blindly yield to their every desire, as I am about to…
8am, having been dropped off by a client on Oxford Road near the opulent Rosebank mall, I indulge my raging hunger at KFC. Nothing is more satisfying than two fatty pieces of chicken (leg and thigh), and a generous serving of pap after having been ravaged by a man with a penis the size of French bread, for a straight hour.
I suppose I should be grateful though, at least this appointment didn’t result in the same nipple burn from Joe’s animalistic demands, which I am still recovering from. The memory of the horror that took place in that fancy room at The Grand instantly brings on a sudden need to heave and loss of appetite, so I do what I do best, stop thinking and shove another dollop of pap in my mouth as retaliation against my own weakness, tendency to think too much, my life, all of it.
Looking out the window and seeing the hurried sights of so called ‘normal life’, I find myself wondering how I ended up the way I did. On one level it’s easy to answer the question, I live with three girls in my flat and we all have the same life and similar backgrounds. Snowie (S’novuyo) ended up a hooker after falling for the lies of a pig that took advantage of her, promising her the world and delivering hell instead. Pearl and Victoria are village girls from Kenya, they too fell victim to the hope of a better life in the city of gold. I simply fled from Zimbabwe at the peak of the political unrest of the indigenisation drive, forced to abandon a perfectly descent life as an admin clerk in the Harare High court, a mother, daughter, sister and friend for a life in South Africa befitting a rodent.
On another level I find the question impossible to answer, how does God, if he even exists, decide which destinies we are to fulfill as individuals, how are we chosen for the lives we are to lead? This is the haunting question whose answer eludes us all. Being what I am, I have had to endure the judgment of many self-righteous, so called ‘normal people’ deluded by the lie of their seemingly innocuous life that fools, only them, I know a slave when I see one. It is pure slavery that compels the relentless chase that brings this city abuzz; it is the malevolent control of the wealthy that drives the early morning rush that results in daily car accidents. ‘Normal people’ dwell in elaborate, air conditioned offices, power dress their way to respectability to nourish their polished outward appearance, all in an effort to hide the blemishes. Gals like me know better than to believe that appearance, low lives like Joe are a perfect reminder of the filth and pretence that those people walk in, while passing judgment on others. To this day I have not figured out what the deference is between these people and I, besides the professions we ended up in.
With the tummy thoroughly filled and the intense suckling of marrow from chewed up chicken bones inducing the feeling of the injustice of life being more bearable, the mind allows for fleeting relief from the burden of life. I cease the moment and start making my way through the aisle of tables and eventually find my way through the queuing crowd, and cross the street to the taxi rank all the while yearning deep sleep after the long night shift.
2pm, I am awaked by a loud, violent bang of the door and the beastly voice of a man hurling insults in a heavy Nigerian accent and the screams of what I think are female voices. As I sit up, and before my mind is able to comprehend the cause of the commotion, I am flung back by a gnarly blow to the temple. Astonished and stunned, I struggle to balance myself on the bed and am only able to come to a stop when I end in a painful thud on the floor.
Confused and unable to will the mind to focus fast enough to understand the situation, I give into the unexpected appreciation of the carpeted floor that has cushioned the fall slightly but effectively enough to prevent dislocation of the shoulder bones. After lying in that same spot for what seems like hours, hearing the fait sounds of the screams, the beastly voice and the bangs, I hear, more clearly the clink of the bed as it is thrown across the room and the footsteps of a large gorilla like figure approaching. It is only at this point that I finally make the connection and understand exactly the source of the chaos.
I am unable to react fast enough to avoid the fatal kick to the ribs that sees at least three of them completely obliterated by the force of the kick. I struggle to draw breath, I can only wheeze and strain to hang on to life. All my efforts to escape are met with incessant failure, my movements are laborious and unsteady as though I were a calf learning to walk. Each new attempt to get on my feet is met with a cruel shove with the sole of a timberland boot, administered by the gorilla man that stands over me, tormenting and stalking me as a lion does with dying prey, asserting his dominance and then in a final act of humiliation, draws from the depths of his nasal cavity a slimy sludge of spit and splatters it on my face.
With this, my defiance and fighting spirit are finally broken and I cave in, I feel the strength leave my body and loosening all the muscles in my limbs, and I tumble and land on my back. The terror and anger that boils up inside me spews a steady flow of effortless tears, warm against the face, inducing a slight sting to the now bruised face. I want to let out a wail but my voice fails me, I cannot let it out through the tightness of the belly and the intense burning of the chest, my mouth wide open and my soul agonizing, I can only manage a gruff groan at irregular intervals. The only confirmation to myself that my groans are indeed the cries of a woman too burdened by life, is the salty invasion of moisture that finds its way through my widely opened mouth.
In this state of surrender I am more aware of my surroundings again, I can feel the breath of the gorilla man as he nears his face to mine and whispers ‘I want my money bitch (pronounced muuney through the heavy accent)’ in a low yet amplified tone. He then retreats through what my obscure vision makes out to be the hollowed space where the door once stood hinged to the frame. I am left on the floor thanking God and cursing him at the same time. There is both silence and ringing in my ears, particularly on the side where the blow to the temple landed, then finally after what seems like a prolonged second, I hear Snowie’s cries and calling. I am barely aware of the movements of what I assume are Snowie and Victoria attempting to resuscitate me, lucidity escaping me all the more with each passing second.
The pig who orchestrated most of the events which led to this dark hole, not just for me but for Pearl, Victoria and Snowie, is the same man who delivered the blow and what you might call our pimp and also the reason why we are all still slaves to this kind of life. Des (short for Desmond) is a Nigerian immigrant who is rather simple to figure out, his mindset and whole state of being revolves around financial gain. Des is the sort of man whose outlook on life is heavily bent towards gratifying his own needs before those of any other, this manner of existence is what has bred the monster that is today.
I suspect it has been many decades since Des has articulated anything either than greed to anyone, especially himself. His nature is that of a man who has no moral boundaries, a man ready to destroy anything and anyone who stands on the path of his bottom line. His tall, broad frame and dark manly face, aid perfectly in the execution of many nefarious street dealings. His treatment of me and the girls is, like everything in his life tied to his obsession with capital gain, we are but a means to an end, our humanity is second to his ambitions.
Nothing about Des’s appearance gives the impression of intelligence; in fact the eye is immediately drawn to the domineering button nose and overwhelmingly white buckteeth, which are only more noticeable due to his extremely dark skin. His eyes are wild and have a permanent tinge of crimson, the sort of crimson one gets after a hefty consumption of alcohol. His generally crass choice of words in his general speech, extroverted personality and loud dress sense all work against any semblance of intellect in his appearance but are perfectly suited for the streets, which is where he thrives.
It was these buck teeth that smiled at me in the beginning of what was to become the most sordid relationship of my life. Looking back, I wonder how I could have been so stupid, how could I have not seen through that annoyingly insincere smile, how could I have been so fooled by what was so obviously a sham? Perhaps it was desperation that weakened my judgment or his ability to suss out vulnerability or even a combination of the two. He knew I was homeless and had nowhere to turn to, I was without food or hope and he knew just how to take advantage. I often chastise myself for accepting his flat as accommodation; any fool could have foreseen the eventual hints and demands that would follow, a man like Des would obviously expect something in return for his kindness.
That is how my debt with Des was established. It was only a few months in to our volatile relationship that he suggested that I would have to start earning my keep. That suggestion quickly snowballed to a demand, which was accompanied by beatings and verbal badger. For a while I trudged along the streets looking for work at bars, schools, cleaning services, restaurants, court etc to no avail. It was after yet another long day of searching for work and a verbal onslaught about my uselessness, that Des revealed the news of a friend of his who had a keen interest in me and was willing to pay good money for ‘just one night’.
I was repulsed by the idea, and made that very clear to him, but he was not willing to lose out on money, especially after the ‘kindness’ he had shown me. That was the time I learned a lesson that I will never forget, never trust a man, love him, fuck him, feed him but never trust him. Des’s brutality in enforcing the demand was shocking and instantly woke me up from the fantasy world which I had bought in to. My mutiny and resistance saw me kicked out of his flat, with nothing but the clothes on my back. I was alone on the street again, no food, friends, family or anyone to lean on and it was not long before I was back at Des’s door, begging for him to take me back. With that, I succumbed to his demand; it was only supposed to be that friend and just the one time, fifty friends later I finally left.
There are some people in life who just don’t take kindly to being left, for any reason or anything, Des is one of those people. On the day I left he insisted that I pay back all the food he had bought me, the water he had provided through his flat, the clothes he bought me, the money had had sent home to Zim for my family and so on and so forth. Knowing full well I would not be able to do so anytime soon and was utterly powerless against him, Des had achieved what he had intended to achieve all along, create a never ending tie to a constant source of money through pimping me while holding on to a warped relationship with me. Even though I followed through with my decision to leave, Des is a constant cancer that always seems to pitch when most unexpected and unwanted.
Now I lay on this bed as a result of my naivety of years gone by when I met Des. The thought of his flawed logic in beating me so badly for the sake of recouping his money is laughable, how does that idiot expect me to make money in this state, especially leading up to the buzz of the weekend?! I want to let out a burst of laughter, but my body is simply too loaded with pain, drugs, alcohol and weakness. So I lay there on the bed he had thrown across the room, trapped yet again by his hand.
The usual euphoria of this day is marred by my present circumstance, with the side of my face the size of a raw mango, and my soul a sea of misery, the usual prospect of making money and early morning partying with the girls feels distant, like the life of someone else and not my own. Being a whore is not the life I would ever have guessed I would lead, I will admit it is a harsh life to lead but it has its moments, in fact, in the midst of it all I have had many moments where I have experienced total and utter freedom. I suppose when you know you are trapped, over time a bizarre mental shift begins to occur, a sort of sympathizing with the circumstance you are in, that allows the mind a dangerous level of acceptance.
I know this condition intimately, I have evolved from a young woman with dreams and a decent future, loved to no end by her family, a Christian desiring God and a life worthy of his teachings to a mere whore, a walk over, a receptacle for filthy men to discard their cum and satisfy their twisted sexual fantasies, I am just another menace to society walking the streets with no dreams or true inclination toward a better future or sense of morality. No, this condition has allowed me the uncanny liberation that allows me to be content, to not look beyond today and now, to party without limits, knowing I would not be missed nor would the world lose out because of my death. There is a lot of power in knowing the world is not moved nor changed in any way by your presence in it, that is if you are able to get over the profound depression that comes with this knowledge.
I have to settle for hearing the ruckus of Friday from bed, and the occasional updates from Snowie who has always been closest to me and has chosen not to venture far for her consultations for the sake of keeping an eye on me. Her latest check in has seen her scalding me gently for not keeping the ice pack consistently in position for combating the swelling, ‘how are you going to regain your hot looks’ she retorts with a warm smile while she props me up on the pillow preparing me for a short chat, which Is aimed at lifting my spirits. She knows my misery all too well, not just because she has walked in on me in tears several times since the incident with Des, but also because she knows the life. We have shared many unkind moments which we have often scoffed off and forgotten, choosing to see the humour in the situation and accepting the harsh reality with the help of liquor, never has she witnessed me on such a low, so inconsolable and laden.
Snowie, undeterred by my dreary mood, seats at the foot of the bed, clears her throat and chuckles as she begins to tell of the latest consult which was with the fattest guy she has ever fucked. She spares no detail about the encounter, from the man’s stench which was so over bearing that she had to use toilet spray to keep from heaving, the enormous belly that hung over the legs, covering the minute uncircumcised penis that appeared as though it were a revolting slug like creature, only darker to match the man’s skin tone. She tells of how she had been shrewd in the transaction, not allowing the now hardened slug tube to make contact with her ‘cherry’, squeezing it in between her thighs instead, fooling the panting man into paying for what never really took place. Snowie’s exaggerated facial expressions and animated gestures to aid in painting the picture of how the man had stood in the room, hands wrapped around his own belly trying to expose the little penis, barely able to move in effective thrusts and sweating over her hind are nothing short of hilarious and for the first time since Des appeared I burst out in guileless laughter.
6pm, enough laying around losing out on money and what little bit of life I have left in me. Blemished face masked in a thick layer of makeup and a dose of free clinic drugs mixed with strong alcohol (courtesy of the gals) administered, I prepare for work.
It has only been a few days and already the streets have moved on, I find a skinny yellow bone chatting up a male which I recognize as one of the many men who have been inside me on occasion, harmless for the most part and pays alright too. The sight rouses a quick surge of distress, following the events of the week, competition is the last challenge I would have liked to take on, especially with my face looking the way it does. With the insecurity suppressed to a place somewhere beneath the surface, I roll up my mini skirt to the level where my buttocks are just about exposed and simultaneously tune my mind for hours of walking on high heel shoes, pacing slowly along the sidewalk, making knowing eye contact with men who know what girls like me are all about, staying alert enough to always spot the police before they spot me.
Seven hard hours of labour only yield a measly three rounds, which means I only pocketed R150 for the blistered feet that have had to endure excruciating friction between the skin and the inside of the cheap plastic shoe I wore for the occasion. Feeling frustrated and in pain, I decide on retiring for the night, my shoes are off the feet and are now clutched by the right hand as I trot along the street and make my way back towards the flat.
The cover of night permits the darkness that lives in all of us to soar forth and plunge into unspeakable atrocities… I should know. 1am. Snowie, the girls and I decide to make a call to Tshepo and his friends for ‘a good time’. It is a common Saturday indulgence, in exchange for a little ‘company’ for Tshepo and his friends, who are never shy around such ‘gatherings’. In fact, they had crossed the line on occasion and had been called to order by Tshepo himself with bludgeoning authority and typical street brutality, and we always handled it the way we handled anything traumatic, with lots of laughter and liquor. Such is the price of a life not lived justly, it becomes worthless, one takes solace in the emptiness and loses the unassailable contentment that comes through hard fought victory. I guess somewhere deep inside me I know that I have been fooling myself, how can any sane being choose heart clenching darkness over hope and honour?
I met Tshepo several months ago from when he had accompanied one of his low life friends for a fuck at the flat with Victoria. He is easy going, has a streak of unexpected kindness in his personality but comes across as a hardened kasi guy who has had a fair share of hard blows dealt to him in life. He arrives shortly after the call had been made, and parks the taxi he drives across the street, as he had done a few Saturdays ago when we had a similar outing. The girls and I make our way to the taxi, where we greet the throng of men packed in the taxi in a rather salacious manner, and with that the good time begins.
The taxi parks along the sidewalk on Struben Street in Pretoria where we jump out and proceed to the dingy bottle store on the corner of Struben and Van de Walt. It is precisely the sort of place we are used to, a meter away from where we jump off, is a burst sewerage pipe and the putrid smell is heavy in the warmth of night. The chaos of the night still at its peak, emaciated males loitering as though they were scavenging animals, passing cars with music blaring, competing with the bellowing of people over the music which blasts from within the bottle store, screams of partying, the nuisance of bums begging every approaching individual and the crowd of people surrounding the bottle store entrance, smoking, drinking, fucking in dark alleyways and indulging in all manner of gluttonous cavorting. We simply join in the festivities.
6 am. We have looked for Snowie for an hour and tried her phone several times to no avail, a sneaking suspicion and feeling of doom growing intensely inside of me with every failed attempt. There is something sobering about the position which I find myself in, the fun seems so insipid, so inconsequential at this moment and I am obsessed with finding her. I want us to share laughter again, I want her to be my partner in crime again, as random thoughts of the affection she had expressed in the week seem to weigh me down as I hastily walk around inquiring. The taxi is now revved up, filled with the crowed it had brought along and Tshepo calls out ‘let’s go baby’.
I won’t leave, I need to find her, I need to thank her properly for what she had done for me, I need her to know how she has filled my life with a warm companionship I could not have dreamt of. How she had given me the hope that I had turned my back on, how she was my hope, the last reason I had for living. I cannot leave her, Snowie holds the power to break me out of the imprisonment of my depression. I begin to picture a life without her and every sensibility in my body wanes, I feel my belly convoluting in nauseating nerves. Then I hear it. It was not so much the pitch of the scream or the volume, it was the piercing undertone of horror that accompanied it. It rippled along the streets as through it were a violent wave crashing along the shore.
Something about how the woman screamed drew me to race towards the direction of the voice. When I was as near to the source of the scream and emerging commotion as I could get, I notice a crowd had now gathered in the alleyway along the bottle store where people had disappeared into its darkness to fuck. The women seem to steal a gaze at something on the ground and begin to wail and throw their hands on their heads in bewilderment; the men cover their mouths in shock.
It was indeed Sonwie’s lifeless body, mutilated and nude from the waist down that had caused the heart wrenching scream. The image of the blood that seemed to flood the spot where she lay, eyes widened as though they had witnessed the coming gruesomeness prophetically and the indignity of the way she had been left for dead cause me to lose my inhibitions and I wail as the women had.
Waking up from a nightmare at 3pm, dazed from the ruckus, splurging and horror of the previous night, knowing that life is no different from what I know it to be, weighed down by reality, my only thought is who cares, just get through the day… Like the multitude of people in this city, my life has no true meaning…